Jane* was 14 when she became homeless and started couch surfing and living with friends or extended family. Her most recent living situation, at the age of 18, saw her crashing in her boyfriend’s dining room after their relationship ended. But the household was dysfunctional and Jane was suffering mental and physical abuse from her boyfriend’s mother and his siblings.

Jane finally worked up the courage to leave in March, after a Southern Youth and Family Services (SYFS) caseworker began supporting the family.

Jane confided in Nicole, the SYFS caseworker, about the abuse and Nicole referred her to CareSouth’s Shoalhaven Youth Support Service (SYSS).

It was a difficult decision for Jane to leave. She was fearful of the repercussions and did not know what her future would hold.

“It was scary at first because I didn’t know how to leave a mentally abusive and physically abusive situation,” said Jane.

But with Nicole’s help she finally made what she now knows was one of the best decisions of her young life.

“If I didn’t leave when I did I would have been stuck (in lockdown) in an abusive household,” said Jane. “I was already self-harming and my mental health would have deteriorated even more. Every abusive house I’ve been in, I’ve found a way to get out of it but the timing with this one was really spot on. I’m in a good space now, I’m happy.”

Jane’s SYSS outreach support caseworker Kim Newnham couldn’t agree more.

Kim has seen just how far Jane has come in the few short months she has been supported by SYSS.

“Jane has worked so hard to gain her independence during a really difficult time,” said Kim. “The biggest thing for Jane was that she had no income so we  supported her apply for a tax file number, bank accounts and a Medicare card to be able to apply for a  youth allowance payment. Many young people take all that documentation for granted Jane didn’t have all the paperwork she needed at hand. So it took a while to chase all that up. Then on the day we went to Centrelink it was at the peak of the COVID-19 unemployment crisis so people had been queuing for hours.”

But Jane took it all in her stride and on March 30, a really important day for her, she received her very first payment on her path to independence. Jane is now studying for her vocational pathways course at TAFE and can’t decide whether to become a tattooist or counsellor.

She has also learned how to cook, despite a few hiccups.

“CareSouth has helped me gain independence,” said Jane. “I’ve learned how to cook, although I had an incident with accidently setting of the smoke alarm once which was a bit scary. My favourite meals to cook are chicken drumsticks and I like to cook steak too. I’m really good at cleaning, I didn’t need any help with that.”

Now that Jane has a safe space to call her own she plans to get her licence and work towards stable housing. She currently lives in SYFS transitional housing and continues to be supported by Nicole and Kim.

“It’s been a great collaboration between the three of us – Nicole, myself and Jane – to get her where she is today,” said Kim.

And Jane could not be more grateful.

“Nicole gave me a voice and Kim listened,” said Jane.

Jane celebrated her 19th birthday whilst staying at SYSS and being supported by Kim and Nicole. And for the first time in her young life Jane felt like she had a proper birthday party.

“I felt really special when they did that,” said Jane. “I wasn’t expecting it, it was a really nice surprise. It’s better than sitting in your room crying. We had a BBQ and a cake with strawberries on top. They got me a face mask and some make up. It just like celebrating with family. They feel like my family.”

Kim is so proud of how far Jane has come in such a short time and marvels at her strength of character and resilience to all the really difficult things life has thrown at her. Jane is equally proud of gaining her independence and having a place to call her own.

“Yeah never give up on yourself,” said Jane. “And never give up on hope I gave up on hope until I met Nicole and Kim, but now I have it again. So be strong, be brave don’t give up on life.”

It’s good advice from one so young who has lived through so much.

*name has been changed

*Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash