In 2017, about 48,000 children were out-of-home care in Australia, a figure that has risen every year since 2013. More than forty percent of them remained in care for five years or more. A 2013 survey found that eighty percent of children in foster care were satisfied with their situation, but some were not satisfied with their placement history. Bobby Hendry, one of those children, spent seven years with sixteen different foster families living at 38 different addresses.
Bobby Emily Hendry was transferred at the age of eight by her mother to the state to protect her from her abusive father. The next seven years of her life were chaotic, and she felt unloved and unkempt. When she was fifteen, she lived with her sixteenth family.
When she wanted to leave the house at the age of fifteen, she resembled an old dog when her clerk tried to persuade her to stay. She refused to face the prospect of having to move again to a group home in Sydney, this time to the same school she loved, meaning that she would have to leave the current one she loved. She met Chris Harrison in seventh grade when he was running a math competition.
Chris realized Bobby was a bright girl, but she described her as having some rough edges. When Chris asked her name, she said Bobby I thought, “There is no Bobby on my list.”
Two years later, Bobby met Chris’s husband Peter when she was in his ninth science course. “Like Chris, I thought she was a bit rough around the edges but she’s very intelligent. She was chatty and I got to know her. Then we got home and the house was on fire,” he said.
Bobby liked her teacher and remembered talking to her about it when her friends were bored to hear about it. I’d had experienced a lot of suffering and did not know how to channel it, she said. I remember working with her at school and getting grades in the eighties and nineties. Then I started to hand in and type, came to school with bags over my eyes, wore the same uniform every week, got grades in my 20s and 30s, and she knew that.
Peter and Chris had heard stories of bullying and other horrible things in group homes. Bobby told Peter about her childhood and explained how she was thrown out of every house she went to. But after leaving school, she joined a group at home in Sydney. And she loved it, Peter said.
Peter went home and told his wife that they could not let this happen to Bobby, so they took her in. What he saw in Bobby was someone who had been lost, who had never been nurtured and who had achieved what she could have achieved in life.
When Peter called the agency, they were not receptive to their request for Bobby to go to them, because it sounded a little suspicious that a man called and asked to take a young girl. Chris called and explained that the couple had in the past taken in students and lived with them for short periods to help them with their HSC, and that she had her own foster sister and a mother who was a state ward. This information convinced the authority that they were more than just random teachers who felt sorry for the students.
“We had to go through the system,” Peter explained. They gave us everything we had to pursue, from legal training and all that stuff to the 12 months of training before we were approved.
When Bobby received the news that she was going to live with her teachers, she was speechless. When she arrived at her large property, she was overwhelmed that she would be living in such a beautiful place. It felt like someone had met me for the first time in my life, got to know me and decided that I was worth being loved.
Harrison then asked her what she wanted for her birthday. While Harrison was preparing the bedroom, Bobby started filling the fridge with her favorite foods.
It has not always been easy for Bobby and the trauma has led to some difficult moments. Peter admits that at first she couldn’t live with an untidy sense of.
“She would be traumatized,” says Chris. We kept telling her, “We love you so much.”
It doesn’t matter where you come from or who you are. They are now part of our family.
Triggered by memories of her past, Harrison often found her curled up in a ball at her desk. But as she continued to live with him, she began to see that he was doing things for her because he loved her, and things started to change.
Eight years later, they took her in:
“I’ve got my own place, only five minutes from theirs, I graduated from college and landed an amazing full-time job, and I’ve just started my photography business,” she said. “I’m in a healthy, committed relationship, and I have goals and the ability and support to meet them.”
She thanks her parents for everything they have done for her and for knowing that without her she would not be where she is today. They weren’t here when I was born, I wouldn’t have let their blood flow through my veins if I was their daughter. I’m lucky to be where I am.