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Tara’s story

Young Person  

There are many reasons young people come to YSAS. For Tara Schultz, it was a problem with marijuana. “I was nervous,” Tara remembers, “because I thought cannabis wasn’t a big enough deal to seek help.” But Tara wanted support to stop smoking. And so at age 16, she braved the rain, caught the bus to Frankston and knocked on our door.

Drugs had brought Tara to YSAS. But as her case workers soon realised, there was much more beneath the surface she needed help with. “It didn’t even occur to me to bring up the other thing happening at home,” Tara explains. “I just didn’t know how much of a big deal it was.” But then she started to talk casually about her home life. And YSAS staff encouraged her to say more.

As she went on to explain, she had been living with a friend of her father’s since she was 12. He had been supplying Tara with drugs for much of that time, and had recently started to get violent. And though Tara didn’t use these words, she revealed that he had been sexually abusing her for years. “I’d tried to leave, but I kept going back and I didn’t understand why,” Tara says. “I reasoned it must have been the drugs, which is why I came to YSAS. And that’s where I met Warren.”

Warren Eames, then a YSAS youth worker, remembers the day he met Tara. “I was just struck by her courage,” he says of the day, nearly 20 years ago, when she walked in the door and sat on the couch. Warren helped Tara get into our residential withdrawal program in Fitzroy, and later, after she’d opened up about the abuse at home, into supported housing. These were the basic tasks of a caseworker. But Warren went further, working to establish a meaningful relationship with Tara that extended beyond her initial assessment.

“We don’t just pass clients along the conveyor belt so the next station can do their piece,” Warren explains. “To make a difference, you have to build trust. And you build trust by forming a relationship.” To do this, Warren would visit Tara to go on walks or have lunch. Sometimes he would call, just to chat. And when she would stumble on her path to recovery – say, by going back to her abuser – he would focus on understanding why. The result was that Tara always felt like she could rely on Warren. And this meant she always had a path forward open to her.

And forward Tara went. After years of moving in and out of supported housing, Tara finally stopped living with her abuser for good at 20. At 24 she enrolled in university, aiming to one day get into social work. Her studies showed her that her childhood wasn’t unique, and inspired her to tell her story – including, eventually, to the police, who arrested her abuser in 2018. The resulting court case was a re-traumatising experience. But through it all, Tara stayed connected to Warren. “Our ongoing relationship has been the most vital thing throughout all these years,” she says.

The feeling, Warren says, is mutual. Over the years, Tara has worked on behalf of YSAS to advocate for everything from drug law reform to more funding for youth services. “Her assistance has been at a pretty high level,” he says. “She just brings so many insights and so much wisdom that will keep YSAS on its toes and make sure it delivers services that young people value.”

As for Tara, things came full circle in February when she started work at YSAS as a youth outreach worker. “It feels really good to be here,” Tara says, adding that her ongoing connection to YSAS allows her to see just how much the organisation has changed over the years. “They do so much more than substance abuse now,” she says, reeling off a list of services that weren’t on offer when she first walked through the door.

Warren agrees, though points out one important continuity. “YSAS has grown exponentially, and the services offered have really broadened out. But the relationship-based approach – the call to be practical, to be useful, to be client-led – that’s still the DNA of YSAS’s practice.”

Tara Schultz

Former YSAS client

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