The family I’m working with today have been through a pretty tough time. Their story gives me goosebumps but also a sense of purpose for the tiny difference I might make in their lives. Their story is one of terrible domestic violence, struggles with mental health and alcohol use, a family scared and looking for a safe place to restore the connections between a mum and her children who have had over a year in out of home care due to the family’s struggles.
Yesterday I helped mum get the children off to school. I could relate, as a teenager I was not jumping out of bed early, getting myself dressed and bouncing off to school happy. I too would have preferred to stay in bed all day and play video games. But we had success. The kids were treated to eggs on toast as a reward for getting up and dressed on time and though extremely reluctant they each bundled into the car and we transported them to school.
I can only imagine what it’s like to change school a number of times because you’ve had to move houses and suburbs to escape the domestic violence. Making new friends and forever being on edge and hypervigilant about who is around. One of these little people has an ASD and ADHD diagnosis, coupled with the trauma they’ve both experienced making it even more difficult to make friends, settle into school and although they want to fit in, this doesn’t come easily.
Today though we’re having a fun day. I’m taking the two children out to give mum a bit of a break, it can be hard to be a single mother, navigating the child protection system, NDIS system, multiple appointments and therapies for everyone in the home and working to keep yourself and your children safe from a violent ex-partner.
I arrive at 9am, the kids are excited for my arrival. They let me into the home and ask where we are going today. I remind them we had agreed to go to a local indoor trampoline park. They quickly gather their socks and shoes, with some prompting and we head out. Mum is planning to spend some much needed self-care time which she notes will likely include doing some uninterrupted housework and general relaxation.
We arrive at the trampoline park and it’s quite busy with the typical Saturday morning crowds of birthday parties and other families taking their children out for the day to burn off some energy. The kids and I play together for about a half hour before I can see they are confident to play on their own. I watch nearby as they each make a new friend with another child. They play without issue and its heartwarming to see these two children playing and acting like ‘normal’ children without too much of a worry despite what they have been through. I do notice they regularly check in with me, making sure I’m still watching and keeping them safe, with eyes always darting around the room to check their surroundings.
We agree to an early lunch at 11:30am as our allotted time at the trampoline park is over. Through some negotiating I’m able to get them to agree to McDonalds for lunch before it is time to head back home. Not the healthiest option but it is the agreed ‘treat’ day. We head to the McDonald's nearby and once inside the children take it in turns to use the touchscreens to order their lunch. Perhaps a valuable life skill in how to order and pay for food at a restaurant is being formed. Our food is ready and I note the children use their manners in thanking the staff member when they gather their food and take it to the table we’ve claimed. I acknowledge the children’s good manners noting how proud I am of them not needing to be reminded. Manners and being polite is something we’ve been working on.
After we’ve finished eating the children ask to play in the playground. I’m reluctant to agree, we only have 15 minutes left before needing to head home and I remember the struggles we had last time. I’m also aware it would be good to give their mum another 15 minutes before we arrive home for drop off. We negotiate. 10 minutes on the playground with a 5, 2 and 1 minute warning. If they come when it’s time to leave without issue we will play a quick game of UNO when I drop them off home. The negotiation has worked this time.
We arrive home to find mum had a relaxed morning at home watching movies. There is instant bickering between the children when they get home as to who will have the Xbox first. I remind them of our agreed UNO game and we settled at the dining table to play, mum joins in, which is a nice opportunity for mum to have some positive fun playfulness with her children and I cross my fingers she is able to find time to do this when we are not around to prompt and support.
Before too long the game is over, I didn’t win (or maybe I let them win) and it’s time for me to leave. Mum walks me to my car and appears thankful for the relaxing morning she was able to have. Mum has been ‘prickly’ in the past, not wanting our support, feeling like she’s constantly being watched, resentful for the Department’s involvement, but we’re building rapport and she’s increasing open to our support.
Today was a good day. Not every day runs as smoothly but it’s the days like today where there are glimmers of hope for a positive future for this family. Glimmers of a smile on the faces of the children and opportunities for the children to have fun, a moment to forget or at least put to the back of their mind the troubles of the past.
Tomorrow I’ll be spending the day with a 15 year old young person who is struggling with education and vocational direction, beginning to engage in risk taking behaviours with some not so favorable friends and is showing some early signs of mental health struggles, namely depression and feeling down. We’ll spend some time working on their resume, looking at what Centrelink options there might be for them. We will do something fun, probably ten pin bowling and chat about what’s going on for them. My plan is to gently remind them of the possible consequences of their risk taking behaviours and make some suggestions around other services they could be linked with for their mental health. We’ve been working together for about six months, have developed good rapport and I know I’m able to push them gently in our discussions because of the relationship we’ve been able to form. Sometimes plans don't always come to fruition especially when working with young people, so I’ll think of a back up if I can’t get them out of the house tomorrow.
There are days where I ring the team leader on the way home from working with a child, young person or family to debrief, raise my worries and advocate for additional support for the family or individual I’ve been working with. On these more challenging days I know I have the support of the whole leadership team if I need. I know it’s just one day and carry hope for the next day where I get to make a difference and see smiles on the children’s faces again – and maybe next time I will win UNO.