A Disturbing and Powerful Story of Growing up in State Care
Influenced by her experiences of growing up in state care in early 1990’s Victoria, Stone Girl by Eleni Hale is a disturbing read. The story starts with twelve year old Sophie being interviewed at the police station, following the death of her mother from a drug overdose.
Treated like a problem to be managed, rather than a child to be cherished, Sophie is moved through a succession of group homes, many lasting only a few days. The homes are run by social workers doing shifts, where pantries are kept locked and kids come and go without warning or explanation.
To escape the ever present threat of violence in the homes, Sophie decides to run away. Alone on the city streets, she is an easy mark for predators, and soon catches the eye of Elvis wannabe, Milo. He buys her fish and chips and lures her back to his place with the offer of a fizzy drink.
All little girls are told never to accept lollies from strangers, but Sophie has no one else to give her things and make her feel wanted. She accepts the gifts from this stranger and soon learns that adults are not to be trusted.
Sophie returns to the homes where she learns to survive by keeping her feelings to herself and never truly trusting anyone. She becomes stone girl. For Sophie, everything comes at a price; love, friendship, cigarettes, train fare. She learns to read people’s motivations and weigh the risks, risks that kids with homes and families never have to consider.
For her sixteenth birthday, Sophie is given meth by her dealer boyfriend and a packet of cigarettes by Phil, her latest social worker in a succession of many. Phil tells her that her days in state care are numbered and soon she will be on her own.
This is a wake up call and Sophie knows she has some tough choices to make. Following a dramatic series of events that almost destroy her both emotionally and physically, Sophie finds a new way to live and the chance of a better future.
In her work as a journalist, Hale has attempted to uncover the truth about the broken state system but has been stymied by government secrecy. Also, teenagers are not an easy sell when it comes to raising awareness. Hardened by their experiences, they often present in ways that are socially unacceptable or even threatening.
I hope that Hale’s account of the lived experience of growing up in state care will draw attention to the way that we are failing the vulnerable young people in our society. Stone Girl is a powerful and engrossing novel that gives voice to the young people society tries to ignore. It has certainly changed the way I will look at the kids who hang out on Flinders Street Station.