Emma’s Story

" Emma was only 7 years old when she came to Act for Kids but she had lived in lots of different places. She was passed from home to home because her mother struggled drug abuse, domestic violence and her own mental health issues. "

When a child is severely abused or neglected early on in life it can lead to a reactive attachment disorder. Children with this disorder are so disrupted they have extreme difficulty establishing normal relationships and attaining normal developmental milestones.

Unloved and alone

Her disruptive childhood convinced Emma that she was the problem and that no one loved her. Emma was removed from her mother’s care when she was 4 years old and went to live with extended family members. She had never met her father and her relatives did not get along with Emma’s mother. The tension within the family caused Emma to feel confused and ashamed for caring about her mother – very big feelings for a little person.

" The emotional scarring left from being neglected and rejected at such a young age means that children may struggle to maintain healthy relationships and lack the ability to function normally at home or at school. "

Family relationships broke down…

Tension within the family escalated and Emma went to live with a foster family. Sadly, the family were unable to look after Emma long term and she was moved again to a new foster family, a lovely couple called Michelle* and David*. Even though her change of placement was not her fault, Emma believed that no one liked her and she didn’t deserve a family.

With her unsettled history, when Emma first moved in with Michelle and David she was very cautious of opening up to them as she believed they would leave her eventually. Despite this, she craved a close relationship with them because she’d never experienced one before. Sometimes she would cuddle up to Michelle or play a game with David but the next moment she would yell or swear and break things in the house. She was so scared of feeling rejected again that she was trying push them away before they could ‘push her away’. This pattern was also occurring in Emma’s relationships with her teachers and peers at school which lead to multiple suspensions…

Moody and mistrusting

How we helped

When Emma first started therapy at Act for Kids it took her a long time to open up to her therapist; sometimes she would show real vulnerability and other times attempt to push them away with words and actions. It took 3 months for Emma to start to develop trust with the therapist and once this relationship began to build, she was able to talk about her thoughts and feelings around why her family and past carers don’t look after her anymore.

" At Act for Kids, we helped Emma understand why she had to change placements and help her understand that it wasn't her fault. "

Emma’s therapist helped Emma identify her strengths and abilities as she had begun to believe that she was a ‘naughty girl’ because she was getting into trouble at school so often. Emma learnt about making friendships and managing her big feelings. This helped her to feel calmer when she spent time with her friends and with Michelle and David. Finally, Emma started to get in trouble less at school and started settle into her new relationship with Michelle and David.

The bigger problem


Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Child protection Australia 2016-7

Abuse and neglect

" Of the more than 40,000 kids who experience substantiated abuse and neglect in Australia, the majority (48%) experience emotional abuse, followed by neglect (24%). "

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 a world of difference

However, after 6 months of therapy and living with Michelle and David, Emma began to push them away again. Now that she had formed a stable and trusting relationship with them, deep down she felt like she had more to lose. A block of music therapy was begun with the family. This included Emma, Michelle and David writing songs together about their experiences as a family, helping Emma to express her affection for and fears with Michelle and David and develop strategies using music to help Emma feel calm when she gets worried.

After 2 months of music therapy Michelle and David reported a big decrease in Emma’s challenging behaviours at home and an improved connection with her. Emma is now achieving well at school and believes that she is lovable little girl that deserves to be happy. Emma will go on to have a stable, safe and happy childhood thanks to your kind ongoing support and we can’t thank you enough!

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.

Donate Now

Donations over $2 are tax deductible. Every donation, big or small, combines to make a real difference.


Donate Monthly

Your generosity means we can continue providing our integrated therapy programs for abused and neglected kids, and support services for families.

Becoming a Kids’ Crusader and donating monthly is the best way to help us help kids and families – it means we can direct funds where they’re needed most and make the biggest impact over time.

Workplace giving

As an employee, workplace giving enables you to make a regular donation to Act for Kids through your payroll, directly from your pre-tax pay. This means that you receive an immediate tax saving as it reduces your taxable income.

Donate in your will

By leaving a bequest to Act for Kids, you can make a positive difference to the lives of children and young people who have experienced abuse and neglect. By including Act for Kids in your will, you offer a gift of hope to future generations and you will help us give abused and neglected children the chance to lead safe, happy and fulfilling lives.

Dr Neil Carrington

Act for Kids

Read next

Brodie was just four years old when he came to Act for Kids. He had lived through four long years of being chronically neglected by his parents.

More stories

Ava and Zach

When authorities removed four-year-old Ava and three-year-old Zach from their parents, the siblings left with nothing but the dirty clothes on their backs.

Lacey-Jane’s Story

Neglected and scared, four-and-a-half year old Lacey-Jane began running away from prep school.

Thomas’ Story

At three years old Thomas could barely walk or speak, and his body was covered in scratches.



If you have any questions or would like to access our free counselling and support, please call us directly to discuss or make an appointment.

Completed referral forms can be accessed from the services section on our website and email to
mail@actforkids.com.au or call 1300 228 000

  • Drop files here or

Find a centre

Select a state to tell us where you are


Referral Services

If you have any questions or would like to access our free counselling and support, please call us directly to discuss or make an appointment.

Completed referral forms can be accessed from the services section on our website and email to
mail@actforkids.com.au or call 07 3850 3200

  • Drop files here or