As a new parent, nothing prepares you for bringing home a newborn baby.
In fact, in the first few weeks, I’m sure that many of us were asking where the manual was. But you muddle through, and all of a sudden, you’ve survived the first year, then primary school, and the end of high school.
But for some of us? Not only were we unprepared for parenting, we weren’t given the manual for parenting a neurodivergent child. Or a child who has been through trauma; a child who has become disconnected from their community due to unfortunate circumstances; a child who suffers from anxiety and other mental health issues that are so debilitating that they can’t leave the house, attend mainstream school or lead a typical teenage life.
Three years ago, I couldn’t have imagined the curveballs that would soon change the trajectory of my daughter’s life.
Elodie* was swimming at state level, challenging herself academically, socialising, volunteering in the community and basically being an all-round awesome human being.
Some things never change. She’s still an awesome human being.
Unfortunately, Elodie’s health and other circumstances overtook everything else that was going on in her life.
My new normal was trying to get Elodie to make it through each day. School had to take a back seat. It wasn’t how I pictured her senior high school years, but these were the cards we were dealt.
After a year of being unable to attend school, it was time to take some baby steps. Getting back into the community and re-engaging with education were the first two goals. I knew that mainstream schooling was no longer an option – not for the time being, anyway.
Homeschooling was my last resort, because I knew that Elodie needed external motivation, social interaction and the feeling of belonging to a community. Plus, she was starting to get sick of being at home with me 24/7!
So I went in search of alternative schooling.
Trying to find the right school – a setting in which my child could thrive and succeed – was a balancing act.
I looked at several independent schools. For one reason or another, they weren’t the right fit.
Then, by chance, I heard about The Bowen College in Maroubra, an independent accredited high school run by Youth Off The Streets for students in Years 9 and 10. It’s one of those places you don’t know about until you need it.
While I wish that life had just kept going along without the hiccups we’ve had, I’m thankful to have found the alternative schooling Youth Off The Streets provides. Not only has Bowen been the perfect place for my daughter; it has been welcoming, nurturing and supportive to our whole family.
We entered Bowen to get Elodie back to school. We started with one day – then suddenly, it was two, then five days. Academically, it was great! But if you blinked, you would miss everything else that was going on in the background. There was relationship-building, resilience, connection to community, pride and service-learning opportunities that I found myself wishing I could attend!
Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to meet all the wonderful young people who attended Bowen with Elodie.
I saw them bond and face their fears at camp; I saw them greet their teachers in the morning – not always with a smile, but with a sense of accomplishment that they got themselves to school today. I saw them reap the rewards of the stars they earned for the week on Fridays – because even young people love a positive behaviour and reward system!
Now, as much as Elodie wishes she could stay, our journey with The Bowen College has come to an end.
Elodie is ready to move onto Year 11 with knowledge, resilience, friendships, experiences, skills and fond memories that some young people can only dream about. She leaves with her Record of School Achievement (RoSA) in hand, along with a rough idea of what she’s going to do next.
This wouldn’t have been possible without the dedicated staff and volunteers who run Youth Off The Streets’ alternative schooling.
I cannot thank them enough for getting us back to where we need to be.
Read Elodie’s* story of strength and perseverance here.
*Name and image changed to protect the privacy of the family.