Accredited children’s law specialist Neisha Shepherd filed a statement of claim in the NSW Supreme Court in August 2012 on behalf of her client Jolene, alleging the state was negligent in its duty of care.
But Jolene, 28, died early on November 22 this year, before any hearings.
“It’s the executor’s decision, but this is something that she would have wanted me to finish for her,” Ms Shepherd said.
“It had been so absolutely incredible for her, she felt she had been believed, she was able to try and get accountability for what happened.
“It was about justice, as well as not letting it happen to other people.”
Ms Shepherd said Jolene had talked about witnessing domestic violence and being sexually and physically abused at home and in care.
She was only four years old when she started self harming and while in care was admitted more than 100 times to hospital, where she felt safe.
“Those multiple placements affected her mental health, her feelings of instability, her attachment issues.”
Psychological trauma from the sexual abuse led to Jolene’s bladder not working and she discovered in recent weeks it was likely to be a lifelong problem.
Jolene was 18 and had suffered a “horrific” assault when her counsellor referred her to Ms Shepherd for help with advocacy.
“She was walking around the room, she was really distressed and upset,” Ms Shepherd said.
“She was no longer in the ministers care and she was uncertain about her future, she didn’t have anywhere to belong, nowhere to permanently lay her head.”
Over the 10 years they worked together, Ms Shepherd became the most consistent presence in Jolene’s life.
Ms Shepherd advocated on Jolene’s behalf for support services, victim’s compensation and applied for her DOCS and medical records.
Ms Shepherd said during this time, the selfless young woman with the quirky smile started developing a sense of self-belief, resilience and inner strength.
“She really thought she could make a difference from the tragedy she had been through,” Ms Shepherd said.
“Jolene said ‘No matter what you role is, it is your place to help a child brave enough to ask for your help,’.
“She wanted to one day speak at conferences, to set up an organisation for young people leaving care, for her story to live on.”
Jolene also found love with a now “devastated” family of a mother and two sons, who she lived with for about five years.
She used her experiences as inspiration for poems and short stories, which Ms Shepherd is planning to publish.
“Jolene wanted to see changes to the system, she wanted there to be more consistent decision making when dealing with young people,” she said.
“Her legacy is about inspiring other victims of abuse to rise to what they have been through and be resilient and strong.”
“Her legacy will be to ensure children are listened to and believed, that children in care have one placement and that when they leave care they are provided for.”