woman adopted by teachers

She went through 16 foster families and 38 homes. Then her teachers became Mum and Dad

As of 2017, there were nearly 48 thousand children living in out-of-home (foster) care in Australia, a number that has risen every year since 2013. Of those children, more than forty percent of them remain in the foster care system for five years or more [1].

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A 2013 survey found that while over eighty percent of the children in foster care were happy with their living situation, still there were some who were not happy with their placement history [1]. 

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Sadly, Bobby Hendry was one of these children, and was passed around for seven years to sixteen different foster families and lived at 38 different addresses.

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Bobby’s Story

Bobby (aka Emily) Hendry was handed over to the state by her mother when she was just eight years old in an effort to protect her from her abusive father. The next seven years of her life were chaotic, and left her feeling unloved and uncared for.

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By the time she was fifteen, she was living with her sixteenth “family”- a woman who, in Bobby’s words, was “a little bit insane”. She wanted to leave this home, but at the age of fifteen she was akin to an old dog at a pound, and her case worker tried to convince her to stay.

Bobby refused, and was now faced with the prospect of having to move again, this time to a group home in Sydney, which would have meant she’d have to leave her current school that she loved [2].

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Read: 5,000 People Respond to Boy’s Heartbreaking Plea: ‘I Just Want a Mom’

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A Budding Relationship

Bobby first met Chris Harrison in year seven when the teacher was running a math competition. Chris realized right away the Bobby was a very bright girl, but she also described her as having some “rough edges”.

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“I asked for her name and she said “Bobby”. I thought, “There is no Bobby on my list.” [2]

Two years later Bobby met Chris’s husband, Peter, when she was in his year nine science class. Like his wife, he thought the girl was a bit rough around the edges but was very intelligent.

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“We just got on like a house on fire,” he said. “She was very chatty and I got to know her pretty well.” [2]

Bobby really liked her teacher, and recalls talking to him about Dr. Who, because her friends were bored of hearing about it. She also remembers working very hard in school for him, and she regularly got marks in the eighties and nineties.

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“I wasn’t a bad kid. I was tough, though. I’d experienced a lot of hurt and didn’t know how to channel it,” she explained [2].

Running Out of Options

When Bobby started handing in handwritten assignments instead of typed, showing up to school with bags under her eyes wearing the same uniform as the week before, and getting marks in the twenties and thirties, her teacher knew something was up.

Bobby opened up to Peter about her childhood and explained to him that she’d been kicked out of the home she was in, with nowhere to go.

“She was at the end of the line basically — faced with a group home in Sydney and she would have to move schools. But she loved that school,” said Peter [2].

They had to take her in

Peter and Chris had also heard stories about bullying and other terrible things about group homes. Peter went home and told his wife that they couldn’t let this happen to Bobby- that they had to take her in.

“I could just see she would be lost and never really get nurtured to [achieve] what she could achieve in life.” [2]

When Peter first called the agency, however, they weren’t very receptive to his request to have Bobby go live with them, possibly because it sounds a bit suspect when a man calls asking to take a young girl to live with him.

Chris then called, and explained that the couple had taken students in to live with them for the short-term in the past to help them through their HSC, and that Chris herself had had a foster sister and that her own mother had been a state ward. This information was what convinced the agency that Chris and Peter were more than just random teachers who felt sorry for a student.

“We went backwards through the system, basically,” explained Peter. “They gave Emily to us, then we had to pursue all the legal and training stuff along the way, rather than do the 12-month-or-so training first before we got approved.” [2]

A New Life

When Bobby received the news that she was to live with her teachers, she was speechless. For what felt like the first time in her life, someone met her, got to know her, and decided that she was worth being loved.

When Bobby arrived at their large property, she was overwhelmed that she was going to be living in such a beautiful place. The Harrisons had already prepared a bedroom for her and immediately started filling the fridge with all of her favorite foods. They were even asking her what she wanted for her birthday.

New Life, Past Trauma

It wasn’t always easy, though, and Bobby’s past trauma made for some difficult moments. Peter admits that at the beginning, she was sometimes impossible to live with- untidy, no sense of responsibility, and quite selfish because of the dog-eat-dog world she had come from.

“She’d been traumatised,” said Chris. “We had to keep saying to her, “We love you. It doesn’t matter what you do, you can always come back. You are part of our family now.” [2]

Sometimes something would trigger a memory from her past and the Harrisons would find her curled up in a ball under her desk. However, as she continued living with them, she began to see that they did things for her because they loved her, and things began to change.

Eight years after they first took her in, Bobby is, in her words, “killing it”.

“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.” [2]

Bobby knows, however, that statistically she shouldn’t have any of those things. 

“I should be homeless, addicted to the same poisons that took stronghold of my parents.” [2]

She thanks her parents for everything they’ve done for her, with the knowledge that she would not be where she is today without them.

“My parents might not have been there when I was born, or I may not have their blood running through my veins, but I am still their daughter. And I am so lucky for that.” [2]

Keep Reading: Woman Who Fostered 600 Kids in 50 Years Took in Anyone—Regardless of Age or Medical Condition

Brittany Hambleton
The Hearty Soul Team
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!
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