I'm so sorry, little sister.
I'm so sorry you were the little girl that nobody wanted. You deserved so much more.
I'm sorry that mum started taking off for days at a time when you were just a baby. As your big sisters, Rhiannon and I tried our best to take care of you. But I was only seven, and she was only 10. We had no idea what we were doing. We probably should have called someone who could help, but we were so scared that we'd be taken away again.
I'm sorry that when the DOCS ladies dropped us off at Grandma's, you weren't allowed to stay because you were too much for her to cope with. I can't imagine how awful it must have been to watch your sisters get smaller and smaller in the distance as you were driven away in a car you didn't recognise.
I'm sorry that every time we went back to live with mum, she would end up getting drunk and terrifying you. I'm sorry that when you were a toddler you knew that loud music coming from mummy's room meant she was getting drunk again. I'm sorry that when you were a toddler you even knew what getting drunk meant.
I'm sorry that before you even started school, you became skilled at convincing mum not to kill herself. I'm sorry that I saw more wisdom and heartbreak in your eyes when you were five than I've seen in most adults since.
I'm so, so sorry that after years of neglect and chaos and instability, you were taken away from mum for good, only to have the people who were meant to step up fail you as well.
I'm sorry that your aunt and uncle dropped you off at the local DOCS office one day because they didn't want to take care of you anymore. I'm sorry that you had to sit there, holding your little suitcase and wondering what you'd done wrong.
I'm sorry that while I was taken in by a secure family, you were left to languish on your own in the system. I'm sorry that you stayed in countless homes, sometimes for only one night at a time. I'm sorry that you were so lonely and so starved for love, that you still cry when you tell me about the foster mum who hugged you once in the car park of a Hungry Jacks.
I'm sorry about the woman who made you sleep on the kitchen floor whenever you wet the bed. I'm sorry about the lady who was a hoarder and had a basement full of dogs. I'm sorry about the foster dad who was later investigated for sexual abuse.
I'm sorry that none of your family were there to see you on your first day of school. Instead, you were living with Gwen, the woman who ripped out chunks of your hair and left bruises all over your body. I'm sorry that she locked you out of the house when it was dark and forced you to ride in the boot of the car because that's "where dogs should sit". I'm sorry that she said those words to you when you were five, and you still remember them vividly to this day. I'm sorry that when you told your case worker that Gwen was hurting you, she didn't believe you.
I'm sorry that when you were finally placed with a permanent carer when you were seven, she was cold and unloving. I'm sorry that she was much more affectionate with her two daughters than she was with you. I'm sorry that she would take them on outings and holidays that you weren't invited to.
I'm sorry that they would stop talking whenever you entered the room. I'm sorry you had to beg your case worker to take you shopping because there were holes in your school shoes. I'm sorry that you would cry alone in your room at night, wishing you could talk to me or Rhiannon on the phone. I'm sorry that you spent seven years feeling like an unwelcome stranger in their home.
I'm sorry that mum stopped her visits with you. I'm sorry that you missed her so much, the most precious thing you owned was the wrapping paper she once gave you with a birthday present.
I'm sorry that you've pretty much been taking care of yourself since you were 16. Rhiannon and I have tried our best to help you but we have no idea what we're doing.
I'm sorry for so much Tayla. I'm sorry your childhood was lonely and chaotic and full of sorrow. I'm sorry that while I got sent to boarding school, you were left with a woman who barely spoke to you. I'm sorry that I wasn't there for you as much as I should have been. I'm sorry that I didn't demand that the three of us not be separated.
I am so, so sorry that the system let you down. I know that your past still haunts you, and I'm sorry.
But above all the sorrys, I'm mostly so proud, Tayla. I'm proud that you got through it. I'm proud of how intelligent, kind, wise and full of empathy you are. I'm proud that at 20, you're studying to be a youth worker so that you can help the kids who are going through what you went through.
I'm proud that you've managed to grow into such an incredible human being, in spite of starting out as the little girl that nobody wanted.
I'm sorry that you deserve so many sorrys, because you deserve better than that.
This post originally appeared on mamamia.com.au
All photos supplied by Rosie Waterland.