Ava and Zach's Story


‘Failure to thrive’ is far too common a result of childhood neglect. Poor nutrition and disturbed social interactions contribute to inadequate weight gain, delayed development and abnormal behaviour. Ava and Zach displayed worrying signs of severe failure to thrive.

Homeless. Hungry. Helpless.

The police report would later document that the children had been living in an abandoned shed with their mother and father, who had both served time in prison for drug offences. There was virtually no food in the makeshift home and both children appeared to be very malnourished. Drug paraphernalia was discovered throughout the shed, within easy reach of the young children.

Traumatised and frustrated

Four-year-old Ava and three-year-old Zach were placed into the care of their grandmother, who had no idea the family had been homeless. Within weeks, Grandma would phone Act for Kids, desperately seeking help for the traumatised siblings. Both children had retreated into a world of virtual silence. Neither would look their grandmother in the eye and they barely uttered a word, aside from outbursts of anger and frustration. But it was the way Zach treated his big sister that troubled Grandma the most.

On multiple occasions, she had seen the boy violently punch, kick and bite his sister. When grandma would try to comfort Ava, she would scream in terror. She couldn’t bear to be touched: even with kindness. Instead, she would retreat to a corner of the room and stay there, rocking back and forth, until she calmed herself.

Helping Eva and Zach learn and grow

After being assessed by the Act for Kids integrated therapy team, Ava and Zach met with Amanda, one of our Speech Language Pathologists for their therapy session.

Almost a year later, Amanda and the team are still working with the family.

The trauma runs deep for these children,” Amanda said.

They had been left in a cot – day and night – and their parents, possibly due to their drug use, didn’t talk to them, hold them, play with them or show them love.

Left all alone – then taken from ‘home’…with nothing but the clothes on their back.

When she first met Ava and Zach, Amanda was struck by how underweight they appeared. “They were, and still are, very small for their age,” she says, describing Ava as looking ‘like a little porcelain doll’.

Our integrated therapy team, comprised of speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists and psychologists, use their combined skills to look at different aspects of the development and functioning of each child and their family.

From speech and play therapy to psychological interventions and developing school readiness skills, Act for Kids continues to support this family as the children work their way through the damage caused by their traumatic early years.

Thank you!

With the help of generous donations and integrated therapy sessions, Ava and Zach are having a second chance at childhood, free from abuse and neglect.

Both children are making progress, but there’s a long way to go. While they are still somewhat withdrawn, they have learned new social skills, are now talking, and Zach is having fewer outbursts.

These days, the siblings are helping each other in sessions more and are better able to identify and share their feelings. To Amanda’s shock and delight, Zach said something to his big sister at a recent therapy session she never imagined she would hear: “I love you!” he declared. That’s an incredible emotional breakthrough for a little boy who didn’t utter a single word during his first three therapy sessions.

Teach kids to be safe

If you have little ones at home and would like a fun and interactive way of talking to them about feeling safe, please download and print our Friendly Emmy Puppet and our Informative Bookmark!

The Bigger Problem



…were abused or neglected



…every 13 minutes

Under 12 Months

Most likely

…to be abused or neglected

Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Child protection Australia 2019-20.


Abuse and neglect

The majority (54%) experience emotional abuse, followed by neglect (22%). One in five (14%) experience physical abuse and 9% experience sexual abuse.

Abuse and neglect can impact a child’s brain development, how they feel and think about themselves, how successful they are at school, even their physical development and skills. In the long term this can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, difficulty developing and maintaining good relationships, unemployment and all sorts of social disadvantage.


Early intervention makes the world of difference

With early and appropriate support, children can overcome their experiences and go on to have happy and productive lives. With continued support and positive reinforcement Ethan will be able to overcome his traumatic childhood experiences and achieve his full potential. Thank you for helping us give these kids the childhood they truly deserve.

How you can help

We can’t do this important work without your help. We rely heavily on donations to support our intensive therapy programs for abused and neglected kids, and early support for families at risk. Your donation will help us keep our doors open and expand our services.

How you can help