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Teacher, PhD candidate, and activist, Amy Gill (b. 1983), was in kinship care, residential care and foster care as a teenager.

Amy was born in Cleveland, Ohio in the United States. She was thirteen when she went to the authorities and spoke about the abuse she was experiencing in her family, primarily from her father.

Initially, Amy lived in kinship care with an aunt and then with her grandmother, but after that, the child protection authorities became formally involved, by which time Amy was around fourteen years of age.

After a brief time in emergency care, Amy was placed into congregate or institutional care, specifically treatment residential care which is an institutional setting on a campus for young people with complex needs. The one Amy was in was run by a religious organisation.

They do it differently in the US. It was called residential care, treatment residential, and the aim is to go from that to family foster care.

Amy’s foster parents were African American Christians who were strongly motivated to care for children, taking in five teenage girls at a time for more than 20-years.

They were also raising their two grandsons, who would have been a decade younger than me, and also in our household was their adult daughter—who they had adopted—and her husband. So we were eleven people under one roof, in a two bathroom house.

Compared to many foster care placements, Amy’s was relatively stable in that she stayed there until after she completed high school and just before her 18th birthday and even though some girls “aged out” and left and others came in. In her final year, a new girl arrived with her young infant.

Amy remains in contact with her foster mother (her foster father has since passed away), her foster siblings, and even one of the welfare workers via social media.

Amy experienced a significant contrast in the commitment and responsiveness of welfare workers. At one end of the spectrum was a government-employed worker who was particularly withdrawn and difficult to get in touch with, whereas at the other end was a non-government agency worker with a high degree of aptitude and personal understanding of the system, and who was far more responsive and engaged in her work.

She had come from a difficult background herself, had been adopted, she knew, she did it as a passion, she would turn up for things just to be supportive…take everyone out on their birthday, I enjoyed spending time with her…

Amy’s overall experience of care was positive. Being out of the abusive family situation and in a safe, secure environment allowed her to thrive in education, and Amy notes that this was not possible for some of her biological siblings who were not taken into care: one brother died from a drug overdose, one is in prison, one has not finished school.

However, there is the legacy of trauma in being separated, moving, and being moved around. Sometimes Amy wondered if she would survive until the age of 18 and she still sees survival as a major accomplishment.

Plus, there is the ongoing impact on how Amy sees herself:

It has fundamentally influenced how I see myself as a mother…the process of being separated from your family, even when it’s for the best, has that tremendous influence on how you see yourself… what you think family bonds are, what mothering means, how you do it.

I do still try to maintain some level of relationship with my own mother but the process of being separated fundamentally changes your whole life course – for good or bad – and so it’s something you take on for the rest of your life.

From foster care, Amy went on to college where she lived in student accommodation and completed a liberal arts undergraduate degree (majoring in Psychology and Sociology).

Amy then traveled to the United Kingdom and Europe on her own and, at the age of 23, moved to Australia where she attained a Graduate Diploma in Primary Education.

I considered social work as a profession but thought that was too close to my experience and would be too triggering but…doing my teaching training we had to do a research essay on some aspect of teaching and education systems for a group of students and I chose students who were in out-of-home care.

 Amy’s tutor was exceptionally encouraging in her response to the essay, insisting Amy should do a PhD on the topic, at which point Amy recognised her passion for advocating for those in out-of-home care. As a teacher—including working in remote Aboriginal communities—Amy always connected particularly well with those children for whom there were child protection concerns, etc; these were the children she “could assist more.”

While on a break from teaching, Amy worked briefly as a youth facilitator with CREATE Foundation, a national organisation representing children and young people who are/have been in out-of-home care. It was while working with CREATE that Amy realised she wanted to focus on advocating for children with a care experience, especially through conducting research and by using her own lived experience.

Amy has since completed a Master’s degree looking at educational support for students in care and is currently completing her PhD (at the University of Sydney) which explores support needs among care experienced young parents—an area she is particularly passionate about since becoming a mother.

While doing her PhD, Amy has become involved in the international care experienced community: she is an active member of the Alliance for Care Experienced People in Higher Education, has spoken at a Care Experienced History Month symposium, and has written about the challenges and advantages of being a care experienced researcher while conducting research with young care experienced mothers.

Amy finds that advocacy and activism on behalf of care experienced people is tricky in an academic setting where lived experience is not always valued. She can feel “tokenized” and, more often, silenced:

People without lived experience take a clinical, almost harsh view sometimes – not everyone – but I’m encountering that a lot. And so when I bring a different perspective – “shouldn’t we consider the feelings of the young people?” or “why does this research overlook the young people in care?” – it’s not always received well.

While doing her PhD, Amy has found that much of the research in the out-of-home care space does not actually consider the “rights of the young people the research is for” or the “meaningful impact” it might have on young people in the care system.

Based on her experience—that she did not have extended out of home care support past 18 but knows of many people who were positively benefited from the additional support—Amy sees that the biggest change needed in the current child protection system is out of home care until the age of 21, currently not available in Queensland and New South Wales.

…that’s something I didn’t have the advantage of in the US, but in those very challenging early… emerging adulthood years…it is what makes or breaks the rest of your life.

I am in favour of US models, like New York State, where young people can gradually transition from care between the ages of 18-21, and re-enter placements should they desire for any reason. Personally, I was more than ready to be independent, “emancipated” was the term used at the time, as soon as possible as I had a full college scholarship and could live in the dorms most of the year. I did not want to be scrutinised by a caseworker at that time and valued being able to make my own decisions. However, every young person leaving care is on an individual path, and for many, continuing to remain in a funded care placement is the best choice.

Even though she was in student housing while at university, there were still times when Amy wondered where she would live.

…the research is there, my personal experience is there…because when once you leave care you can’t go back so…all of your choices are dictated on what you can afford—can you afford to pay your rent, can you afford to go to university—alleviating that burden on young people in their emerging adulthood years would just transform and alleviate so many problems.

For Amy, Care Leaver Advocacy and Activism is, unfortunately, “niche”, that is, it is not a mainstream concern—unlike other topics such as climate change—but should be. Because of the lack of interest, it is therefore primarily those with lived experienced who do “the heavy lifting” in advocating for change, for improvements.

…It needs to be more accepted and acknowledged – firstly, that things are wrong; secondly, that they need to change; and thirdly, that it’s not the sole burden of people with lived experience or personal connections to the issue to solve.


Alliance for Care Experienced People in Higher Education.

Care Experienced History Month.

CREATE Foundation. 

Image supplied by Amy Gill