Helen and John*
Helen and John returned from an overseas trip and after seeing first hand the impact of poverty and homelessness on children, they decided to apply to be Parent Carers. Helen and John's own children were adults at the time and no longer living at home, so both of them had the experience and resources to commit to caring for a child. They started as Parent Carers in a house on site at Parkerville and although they cared for a variety of children, one girl (Susan) remained constant in their care. After 18 months as a Parent Carer, Helen and John committed to caring long-term for Susan in the community. Almost six years later Susan, now aged 16, is still in the care of Helen and John in a community placement, with her future looking brighter than ever.
Andrea, Emma and Kristy*
Andrea was a single mother of two grown up children when she first enquired about becoming a Holiday Host. Andrea was originally matched with two girls (Emma and Kristy), aged 7 and 8, who were living in a house at Parkerville. Over the coming months, Andrea committed to regular contact with the Emma and Kristy at their home and also took them to activities within the community.
The relationship between Andrea and the girls grew stronger and closer as time progressed. When the time came to explore a Community Placement for Emma and Kristy, Andrea re-arranged some commitments in her life so she could be available to care for them full-time. Although Andrea did not originally intend to become a long-term foster carer, the strength of her relationship with Emma and Kristy made her a great option. Andrea has now been caring for the girls for two years and the situation is extremely positive for the whole family, creating a loving, consistent nurturing environment for the children to continue to thrive and develop.
Eric, an 11year old boy, was homeless for many years, sleeping on the streets with his mother who had a serious drug addiction. His memories from his time with his mum included carrying all his belongings in a black garbage bag and having sores on his feet from walking so far. After escaping from this reality, Eric was placed with his father where he experienced chronic neglect and physical abuse, including being hog-tied with his legs and arms behind his back and left in the backyard shed, where he was fed only raw onions and tomatoes. He was kept in the laundry separate from his father's "real family". While in his father's care Eric was also sexually abused by a neighbour who had taken advantage of Eric's situation as a chance to "groom" him. He offered Eric food, warmth, affection and comforts not afforded to him by his father. When asked about his perception of this man, Eric replied "He was still nicer to me than my dad".
Eric was referred to the Therapeutic Family Services Programme to help him 'manage and understand' the sexual abuse he had experienced. In addition to this, much time and effort was spent working with Eric to understand why his mother and father had treated him the way that they did. At the end of therapy, 8 months later, Eric was able to say "They (referring to his parents) have their own problems, and those problems were not my fault". He had also gained a confidence in himself that he had never experienced before, so much so that he had auditioned for a school play and been granted the lead role. This brought a sense of joy to his face as he told his news in session.
Paul is an 8 year old boy who has witnessed chronic domestic violence between his mother and her boyfriends, and experienced severe physical abuse by some of these men. His abuse was so severe that he had been suffocated, had his hand held in a pot of boiling oil and was held up to a wall by his throat. When Paul first entered counselling he often looked at the floor or at the walls, would not engage in conversation, and would only answer questions by nodding his head. The only activity he enjoyed was playing Lego and so over time, through Lego, Paul was able to trust the therapist and feel safe in the counselling relationship. Paul began to complete activities in session and eventually he was able to complete the Protective Behaviours Programme (a personal safety programme).
Some weeks after finishing the programme, Paul said in session that during the week his mum and her boyfriend were arguing again, and he saw his mum getting hurt. Paul reported very proudly that he ran to his room and grabbed the poster from his wall that we had made in session. He took the poster and slammed this on the kitchen table near where his mum and her boyfriend were fighting. As he slammed the poster down, he told his mum's boyfriend "I have a right to feel safe and you need to leave now!" Paul was very pleased that he was able to tell an adult what he needed to feel safe. Paul would not have been able to access the programme without the specialised training of staff and the resources provided by Therapeutic Family Services to facilitate the programme.
Sasha is a 16 year old girl who, since the age of 5 years has experienced ongoing sexual abuse perpetrated by her father. This often involved her being restrained and made to have sex with her father at least 1-2 times per week. When Sasha was 14 years of age she ran away from her family home and began living with various friends. She began using drugs and binge drinking; one night while out she was gang raped by four males. She reported this incident to the police, but she was unable to identify her attackers. This latest sexual assault was just two months prior to her referral to our Child Sexual Abuse Therapeutic Service. When she began treatment, she was suffering from severe post trauma symptoms of anxiety and depression, had begun self harming (cutting) and had daily ‘flashbacks’ of the gang rape and of being tied up by her father.
Sasha was provided with harm minimisation strategies for her drug and alcohol use, relaxation and coping strategies for her anxiety and depressive symptoms and finally, exposure based therapy to lessen the distress of her trauma re-experiencing (flashbacks). Sasha was engaged with the programme for just less than 12 months. When she left the service, Sasha reported that she no longer feared her father, or the men that raped her, and although she still had the memories of the abuse, they weren’t distressing to her anymore. Sasha was also able to stop using drugs, cutting herself and reduce her binge drinking. With the help of CSATS, Sasha was able to understand that while she had experienced sexual abuse, this did not define her, and in fact, was only one small part of her life.
The Smith Family
The Smith family of four children, Bill, Ted, Nancy and Megan (15,13, 8 and 4 years of age) were referred to Support and Counselling Service for support as their mum’s addiction to drugs had led to the family becoming homeless. For several months prior to the referral to SACS, the family had been living off the kindness of friends and relatives, at one point even living in the back seat of their car. The children were often left without food, they were unable to attend school and had no friends. They experienced the breakdown of their parents’ relationship, which included many violent episodes and eventually led to the father abandoning the family. Bill, the eldest boy had to work full time to support the family when their father left; Ted, so distressed, had become unable to control his anger and had become violent towards his younger siblings; Nancy and Megan simply withdrew from any outside human interaction.
SACS was able to create a holistic wrap around service for the family which included;
- Providing support for the children’s mother, allowing her to recognise her drug problem and seek support; staff also supported mum by attending drug rehabilitation information sessions, and were eventually able to find her a placement in a residential drug rehabilitation programme.
While mum was under going rehabilitation SACS liaised with the father and supported him to care for the children.
- Counselling services for Ted to help him better manage his aggression.
- Liaison with the children’s respective schools, to re-engage them in educational programmes.
- Education for mum on appropriate behavioural management strategies for the children and consistent routines for the family home.
- Ongoing counselling for mum to help her remain drug free and continue to care for her children
- Normalisation activities for the children such as sporting activities, dance, Prepare (group for pre kindergarten aged children), Girls group, Boys group, school holiday programmes.
- Providing the family with the Protective Behaviours programme.
The Smith family have been engaged with SACS for approximately 18 months. The children are now all attending school full time and excelling in their respective education programmes. Bill is currently exploring his options to become a teacher, Ted has become a keen drama student, Nancy has developed a strong social network and is doing well in a local dance group, while Megan is loving preschool and loves story time with mum. Mum has been drug free for 6 months now and loves spending time with her children; dad is currently looking for a full time job to better support his children. ‘Family time’ is now a priority for the Smith family.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals.