interviewers Janice Pullinen & Monica Barry | photos Monica’s own | oct 27, 2016 | generosity

Monica Perret is a mother of six who, when her nephew passed away under her foster care, was greatly hurt by the laws in place that prevented long term foster parents having any say over a child’s funeral, death certificate and even possessions that the foster parent had bought for them. She campaigned to have the laws changed, calling the campaign ‘Finn’s Law’ and was successful in South Australia on the 9th of December, 2015. She sat down with our interviewer,  to tell the story of Finn, Finn’s law, her brother and his partner to Janice and Monica.

So, your brother – Do you see your brother?

No. I never saw my brother much before 2014 either. His choice.

When did you find out his partner was pregnant?

He actually contacted me just before she was about to give birth, I didn’t know she was pregnant. He was living in another state and he rang me and said ‘I’m coming to Adelaide.’ and I said ‘Oh that’s great! It’ll be good to see you.’ and we hadn’t spoken in about five years. He said ‘I need to ask you a question – My partner is pregnant.’ I said ‘Ah, good on you.’ and he said ‘Well… it’s a boy, and we’re calling him Finn, and we can’t keep him. Will you and Nathan take him?’ I thought he was joking. I said ‘what?! I can’t take a child. Don’t be so damn stupid.’ and he said ‘No, I’m serious, if you can’t take him, he has to go to foster care.’ I said ‘why don’t you want this child? You love children.’ And he said ‘I just need to know, if the time comes – would you take Finn? I said ‘If I have to take on my nephew I will, you know how I feel about children.’ and then he hung up.

Was Hannah, your granddaughter, already born at the time of that phone call? Were you raising her at the time too?

Yes, Hannah was born in January 2014; Finn was born in February 2014. He didn’t know about Hannah, he’d been away from the family.

Was Finn born in South Australia?

Yes, they came down and stayed in a caravan park, and then I get this phone call… ‘My partner is in hospital, she’s having a baby.’ I said ‘what?! You only told me yesterday she was pregnant!’ He said ‘We need you and Nathan here to take the baby.’

Did you say ‘Oh my god, I forgot to tell my husband (Nathan) we’re adopting a baby!’

I did! I just thought ‘Well, I’ll take on Finn if something happens to them.’ So I said to Nathan “We need to go to the hospital, my brother is there.”  He says “Okay…. and?”  I say “They’re… having a baby named Finn. Well… we sort of need to be there for the birth… uh, because – Well, cause… I sort of… got a phone call yesterday asking if I’d take on Finn…”

By this time, he’s got his head bowed and I said “I didn’t think he meant now! I thought he meant uh, years down the track, if anything happened!”  And Nathan said “What the hell have you done?” and I said “Honestly, I don’t know…”

We go up to the women’s and children’s hospital, and my brother says “Oh hi Mon, how ya going?” Nathan and I are speechless. A social worker pulls me aside and says “Has your brother told you what happened?” I said no. “If you don’t take this child we will have to take him straight to foster care.” I said to my brother, “You didn’t damn well tell me that!” He said to me, “How could I tell you that over the phone?” So it was simple. We took him or he went to foster care. Because it was my nephew, I just went for it. Nathan and I have a quick word, he says “Look, we can do this, we’ve raised twins before.”  So, the social worker says “That’s great, but there’s something you need to know – he has Spina Bifida. And we said, “That’s fine, we will do whatever needs to be done.” The social worker said that was really positive.

So, we get in the delivery room. That was the very first time I’d met my brother’s partner. Because of the birth defect, he had doctor after doctor in there. The room was packed with people all trying to work on his condition before she gave birth. I asked my brother “was he due today?” and one of the midwives said “No, she was only five months pregnant.” I said “What? How can she have the baby today?”

Pretty shortly after, Finn was born. They got him breathing, they had him on the bed – his back facing away from us, because his spine was open. They let me take photos of him, they rushed him to intensive care…

My brother and I went in after we got the all clear, and he said “My sister is going to be taking over his care.” I said to the doctor “Right. What is wrong with this boy?” He said to me “He’s got Spina Bifida, he’s got a hole in his heart, he’s got bleeding on the brain from when she was pushing him out, and he’ll need a shunt in his head for the rest of his life.”

I said to my brother “You did a bloody good job, didn’t ya?” And from then on, we took over. He was in hospital for another five weeks, and my brother and his partner made that hell. They blamed us for not being able to see him, Families SA stepped in – as they do, informing them it had nothing to do with us, and it was all about the baby.

How old was the mother?

Thirty Seven, and this was her seventh child.

How big was Finn?

Tiny. You know the size of those five XS baby clothes? None of them fit him. Five weeks later he came home after all the paperwork and after all the things Families SA had to do. Over those five weeks I went in every day to bond with him, feed him…  All those tubes, it was awful. He had three operations in his short little life. We took Finn home, and as our own. To us, he wasn’t our nephew, he was our son. Every day we brought him home, he just screamed and screamed. I thought I was doing something wrong. I said to Nathan “What the hell?” We didn’t know that he was in constant pain. The only thing that stopped him from crying was me holding him. That was it. There were days where I was crying because of how exhausted I was – because he had a shunt in his head, his head was huge, and his body was so tiny. When he rested on my arm, it would ache, the pain in my arm was unbearable – but if I moved, he cried. My children loved him, but they were too scared to hold him because of the shunt, you could feel it, they were too scared they were going to hurt his back. Nathan wanted to hold him but was too scared he was going to break him.

Then, he got sick with a cold. We took him to the doctor, got told it was a cold, nothing wrong – We were told that because of all his disabilities, we were just being paranoid. Got a second opinion, still got told to just take him home, give him some panadol. He got worse, we took him to a third doctor – Stripped him down, ran every test possible, nothing, two days later Finn died. He had septicaemia and renal failure, and not one doctor picked it up. The Women’s and Children’s hospital knew about it, didn’t bother telling us, and not one doctor picked it up.

The thing that I will always live with, that nobody, not even God can fix is that if I hadn’t accepted that award for mother of the year, if I hadn’t flown to Sydney… Maybe he would still be here, I wish I’d never got it, I don’t think I deserve it. I wish I’d been there to do CPR, and so does Nathan. I walked out that door that morning, Nathan walked out to go to a meeting that afternoon; my mum came over to stay and help with the children. Nathan said when he left; Finn was sleeping, like normal. When he got back, there was ambulances, there was everything, he was just lying there, lifeless. That’s one thing I’ll never forgive myself for.

Perhaps you may not have been able to help him.

Maybe. A lot of people say that maybe God did it, because he knew that it would have broken me, being there and not being able to save him. I flew back home two days later – I couldn’t leave, I was in a contract, and Nathan said to me “Don’t. There’s nothing you can do.” Anyway, when I did come back, the Families SA worker was heartbroken, they were there with flowers – They’ve never lost a child in foster care before. I said to them “Look, we need to start planning his funeral.” And they said “No, you don’t, you don’t have rights over him, after he dies, those go back to the biological parents. You can’t see him, you cannot say goodbye to him, you cannot keep any of his belongings that police took, you can’t have anything to do with him.”

I looked at the social worker and I said “So you’re telling me, this little boy that we took in, loved, cared for… we’re just supposed to pretend he didn’t exist?” The social worker said “I’m very sorry.” I said “Well, your law is [F__ed.]” and from that moment on I just fought, I didn’t grieve. I put all my anger, all my time into fighting for this law to be changed. People kept saying “Why are you doing this? It’s not going to bring anything back.” and I said “No, it’s not going to bring Finn back… but if I can stop another foster parent from being told those stupid heinous words – “You have no more legal rights now that the child is dead.” Then… we just need Finn’s Law.” We got it, it was passed in parliament 9th December 2015. Two years I fought.

What happened during that time? What came together?

I rallied a large amount of foster parents. Foster parents from around Australia, not just South Australia, got a Facebook group together. I got different support from politicians, celebrities, donations; we did a walk for five and a half hours, had shirts made for it. Adrian Pederick spoke on our behalf what we were about, then I did – I said that Finn’s Law is for long term foster parents, so that if they pass away, unfortunate though that is, the foster parents have their names on the death certificate, that they can collect any belongings they’ve bought for the child, and that they can have a say in their funeral. Before Finn’s law, there was nothing. We’ve only just got Finn’s death certificate and belongings back – His biological parents never bought him anything, not so much as a singlet or pair of booties. The police took everything, (as they have to, because they have to investigate.) They weren’t going to give it back. That’s what Finn’s law is about – It’s made it in South Australia, but now we’ve got to push for it Australia-wide.

What would you have to do for that to be Australia-wide?

Well I’ve spoken to Adrian Pederick, the MP in Murray Bridge, he’s been helping me. He’s writing to all the ministers he has to write to interstate, I’m hoping I can just go interstate and talk to them as well. Why that is important is – You can just chuck a piece of paper in front of someone and go ‘Well, blah blah, new law’ – It’s not the same. But if you actually hear someone tell you why Finn’s Law is so important, the journey of it – It wasn’t just Nathan and I, my children suffered it as well. My mother suffered it, she’ll never come back to my house in Murray Bridge – She’s too scared to, he died in my mother’s arms.

I know that this won’t take away your pain, but you are helping others going through this pain – preventing it from happening again matters, this cannot be the first nor last time something like this happened.

Yes, there’s this lady in New South Wales, she lost her foster child just before we lost Finn. He was severely disabled – And at the end, she just didn’t have the energy to fight. I don’t know who to contact – I’d like to travel interstate and talk more about Finn’s Law, our journey. I haven’t grieved for Finn yet, if I stop fighting for this, I will grieve, and I won’t stop grieving. I cannot stop until it’s made a law nation-wide.

What is your relationship with your brother now?

We don’t talk anymore. He lives in Melbourne. I love him because he’s my brother, I can’t hate people – It’s not in my nature, but I don’t like him, either, if that makes sense. What he put Nathan and I through is unforgivable, and the grief is unimaginable. We organised a memorial for all the family down in South Australia for Finn – My brother didn’t want to come. I even offered to pay for Finn’s ashes back then – He said no. It was just a hurtful thing.

How did they find out about Finn’s death? How did your brother’s partner react to Finn’s death?

I’m the one that told them, because they rang me just to see how Finn was going, and I told them – I was in Sydney at the time, the day after he died. They just cried.

That’s very upsetting. When did they first find out he had Spina Bifida?

She was apparently told he had Spina Bifida when six weeks pregnant, then she was arrested for drug related crimes.

That’s very upsetting, what a warrior you are – Thank you for your time.