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'My children are not a number': Rocky mum turns lives around

CHANGED FUTURES: Bailee Stjernqvist, Penny Martin, Kazzi Doyle and Nathan Baira. Penny has taken in several teenagers who have turned their lives around with her help and support.
CHANGED FUTURES: Bailee Stjernqvist, Penny Martin, Kazzi Doyle and Nathan Baira. Penny has taken in several teenagers who have turned their lives around with her help and support. Michelle Gately ROK180917martin1

WHEN Penny Martin came home to find two strangers hanging out with her teenage son, she was ready to tell them to get out.

By the end of her discussion with the boys she had taken in two new children.

One of the boys was homeless, had no identification or bank cards and needed to see a doctor.

The other had been expelled from a South Rockhampton school after racking up more than 60 days absent and lived with his mother near the airport with no means of transport to hang out with his friends.

Soon more teenagers joined Penny's brood, including people whose only other housing options were living on the riverbank or with siblings who had just been released from jail.

In the space of a year, she has taken in six teenagers between 16 and 19, adding to her three own "blood babies".

All of Penny's new "babies" were on the fast track to getting caught up in the justice system and growing up without an education.

Now, they have all started to turn their lives around.

You only have to spend an hour with Penny to see how deeply she cares for all her children. You only have to hear her choking up and see the tears welling in her eyes to understand just how proud she is of the progress they've all made.

They might not be winning school awards, but one of the teens who had been expelled is now in a new school and passing most subjects and has logged only 14 days absent this year.

Others have still struggled with the school system, a failing which Penny says is down to the way society looks at students or those struggling as individuals.

She believes more effort needs to be made to understand the reasons why individuals may lash out at school, or why they might end up in the juvenile justice system for flipping bottles and causing public nuisance in a shopping centre when it's the only place they have to go all day.

Penny said the cycle wouldn't be broken without systematic change to suit all individuals.

But even when Penny's boys have struggled, with her guidance and understanding they have found traineeships or work.

While Penny wouldn't change the outcome, "adopting'' so many extra children as a single parent with a small business has been a struggle.

Penny has worked with the State Government system to become a carer for one teenager, but it was a slow and laborious process.

"I don't have time for these boys if I wait for the system to fill in all their paperwork," she said.

"I need someone of importance to see what's inside my children and look at the individual.

"My children are not a number.

"People don't see them for who they are, they see them for what they are on the outside.

"If I can change six kids' pathways in one year on my own, with a little bit of support, if the government looked at it they could change a lot.

"They're not looking at it right. They haven't looked at ground zero, they haven't looked at what they kids are asking. They haven't asked the kids."

Penny said she was lucky to have grown up with a caring family and to have had the financial and educational backing she hopes to provide for her new children.

While it's a complicated system to change, Penny does have a small suggestion for how her children and everyone like them in Rockhampton could benefit.

She said improved funding for the PCYC could see teens in a safe and productive environment, rather than just hanging around shopping centres or fast food outlets.

"All our youths would be there, breaking the cycle way," Penny said.

"Make it look inviting and friendly to all youths, brown or white.

"They have connections for the individual, I can tell them the boys cannot read or write, have no self-esteem, but shops and fast food can only guide them to children's court.

"The staff at PCYC have helped me no end, but they can only do what they can in the hours they have.

"So when the kids are hungry, they steal. They're all over Rocky, trying to find a way to survive.

"I'd say police are crazy busy trying to keep control.

"If PCYC had better funding more staff, maybe the youths would use it.

"I am so proud of my family for being able to give up a few simple pleasures to be able to add their brothers from another mother to our home.

"We are not just numbers.

"We are our country's, state's, town's future."

Topics:  child safety education homelessness juvenile crime juvenile justice



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