This story was written by Sean Dondas, who initiated contact with Communities to share his positive experience. He has agreed to share his story for National Child Protection Week.
My name is Sean Dondas and I was a former ward of the state with my two younger brothers, Matthew and Aaron.
I was 16 when our mother passed away from cervical cancer on 20 September 2009. She had sole custody of us three boys, and considering our father had remarried for the third time and had another child he could not and would not take custody of all three of us. He offered to take two of us, while mum's family expressly wanted us to move to Malaysia even though we had spent our whole lives in Australia. With neither option being tenable, we became wards of the state.
We went on to live with a couple in Warnbro who we were distantly related to, which would maintain our cultural connection to relatives in Malaysia. We met with our case worker Tania a few times during 2010, which also happened to be my final year of high school before attending university. I ended up achieving an ATAR of 89.25 and began a double degree in Economics and Arts at UWA, continuing my mum's dream for me to get a good education and hopefully get a good job. In 2011, I was one of the Young Achievers in the University Achiever category, and in 2012 I spoke at the ceremony as a previous recipient.
I am now living in Canberra, completing my graduate program in a policy role in the Attorney-General's Department. I am absolutely loving being in the public sector, it was my chosen field and what I wanted to do once I finished my Masters of International Affairs and Security last year.
Working for the government has definitely given me a greater appreciation for all the work your staff do working in child protection within the limited resources provided. I acknowledge that I had enormous support outside of the Department for Child Protection (DCP), in the form of school networks, family friends and other support from organisations such as CanTeen, a youth cancer charity, which provided a strong buffer in the face of challenging circumstances. At the time I wondered why we did not have much interaction with our case workers but now I understand the allocation of resources to other children in more complex circumstances.
I received support where it mattered, and appropriate for the stage of life I was at. I distinctly remember having driving lessons provided by the department. Tania was helpful in ensuring I was aware of all the supports I could access such as the one-off allowance before turning 25.
And on that note, I would like to pass on some positive feedback for the staff who sorted out my Transition to Independent Living Allowance (TILA) really quickly before I turned 25 last year. I am eternally grateful to staff who ensured I managed to get my first proper bed and associated furniture, especially as I only contacted them less than a month before turning 25. When I moved to Canberra at the start of 2019, the fact I had some proper furniture made it a bit less stressful as it meant a few less one-off costs to bear.
The big takeaway from my experience with the Department is that I may have interpreted those little and minor interactions with case workers as insignificant at the time, but I later fully appreciated the Department making me aware of all the supports available when I left care and turned 25. Support and attention from those around us had been the greatest when mum passed away, but it's in ongoing, everyday living that those supports are most needed, especially when transitioning to moving out of home, finishing university and finding a full-time job.
The main message I'd like Communities staff to take away from my story is to never underestimate the impact of those seemingly minor interactions, as case workers may be the only stable presence when the home or schooling situation is uncertain.
Thank you for everything you do.