Placed into child protection at the age of 12, Paul had grown up among a revolving door of support staff.
Instead of the nurturing embrace of a loving family, his teenage years were spent in the professional care of adolescent mental health workers, child protection workers, disability support workers, youth justice workers, adult correction workers and psychologists from the Department of Human Services, the Department of Health and the Department of Justice. As a result, says YSAS Project Manager Dom Ennis, by the time he was 20 years old Paul felt like he was “a collection of problems” to be fixed.
After encouragement from Dom, Paul agreed to go along to a YSAS day program in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy. It was a no-strings-attached service with health, legal and vocational support, as well as food, music, art, massage and acupuncture. Crucially, young people weren’t turned away if they arrived under the influence of drugs or alcohol, so it was a space where they could feel safe to be themselves.
Later, Dom asked Paul what he thought of the program. “It was the only place in my life I’ve gone where people are happy to see me,” said Paul. “I’ll walk in and they’ll go, ‘Hey Paul!’ I’ve never had that before.”