It felt like we were a team
I had no idea I was pregnant until just before Kaylee was born. I was 20 years old at the time and I didn’t have any signs of pregnancy.
I didn’t really put on weight and I never felt sick or run-down. Looking back, this might have been because of the drugs I was taking.
The day I went into labour I was at my (now ex) partner, Dave’s house. I was having really bad stomach pains so Dave called an ambulance. It was too late – Kaylee arrived before the ambulance did and Dave had to deliver her.
I never felt like Kait and Charlotte were just my caseworkers, it felt like we were a team – that we all had the same goal. This made it easier to give up drugs. Kait and Charlotte were looking out for me and I didn’t want to let them down.
Dave was taken to hospital because he was in shock. I was in shock too – I remember the paramedics telling me I should hold Kaylee but I just didn’t think she was real. I was so scared, I had never even changed a nappy, never mind everything else that comes with being a parent. But everyone was so helpful and kind to me at the hospital and I started to feel really excited about being a mum.
A social worker from the hospital came to see me. She recommended the Red Cross Young Parent’s Program and said someone from FACS would also visit me in hospital. As soon as I heard this I was so worried – I’d been using drugs before Kaylee was born and during the pregnancy. I decided to tell the social worker about the drugs. I just thought it would be better for me if I was honest with everyone.
I didn’t know much about FACS, other than the stories I’d seen on television. But as soon as Charlotte walked into the room I knew she was there to help us.
Charlotte was so nice and supportive – I felt a bit more comfortable about them being involved. I told her I was going to stop using drugs and that I wanted to give Kaylee a really good life.
After I left hospital things were good for a while but then Dave and I started fighting. I also started using drugs again.
About this time I went for an interview to join the Red Cross program with Kait. Kait told me I wouldn’t get in if I kept using. I knew Red Cross could help me keep Kaylee in my care so I had to make changes. After that interview, I started to do everything I could to make sure I got into the program, including stopping the drugs. I was accepted.
I moved out of Dave’s and found my own place. Kait and Charlotte were visiting me and things were going really well. Then one day Kaylee and I were with Dave when he got arrested. That was a really hard time for me and I used drugs again. I was honest with everyone and had some pretty tough conversations with Charlotte and Kait.
Charlotte told me this was my last chance and I could lose Kaylee if I kept using. Even though it was one lapse, it was a final wake-up call for me and I knew what I needed to do.
I was selfish before I had Kaylee but now I had to be responsible for my little girl. She needed her mum.
It wasn’t easy to give up drugs like I thought it would be. Fortunately I had lots of good support from my family, counsellor, Kait and Charlotte. I was always really honest with Charlotte. I knew there was no point lying to her. Charlotte would never make me feel bad when I messed up. Even when things were hard, I didn’t dread her visits, I was always happy for her to come and see me and I was always comfortable talking to her. She was so helpful. She would offer to drive me places and was always looking out for us.Kait made me feel better when things were tough. She was gentle and kind when she spoke to me. Our conversations with her were insightful and I always came out knowing what I could do to fix the problem.
I never felt like Kait and Charlotte were just my caseworkers, it felt like we were a team – that we all had the same goal. This made it easier to give up drugs. I didn’t want to let them down.
Charlotte gave me another chance after I messed up. I know she didn’t need to – she could have taken Kaylee away when I started using again. This is part of the reason why I tried so hard, I didn’t want to fail her. I wanted to show her the risk she had taken had been worth it. I would have been ashamed of myself if I had let people down.
Now I think I am ready to make the rules in my life and be independent. It’s been nine months since I last used and I’m looking to move out of social housing and rent a place. I’m studying at TAFE now and my goal is to get off Centrelink and get a job. I see other people my age saving for a deposit on their own home and I want to do the same. I’m a bit behind but I know I’ll catch up. I’ve proven to myself I can live independently and take care of another person. Kaylee makes it so easy for me to love her – she is such a happy baby.
Charlotte, Family and Community Services caseworker
I first met Hannah right after Kaylee was born and I visited them in hospital. We got a report that Hannah had been using ice and marijuana during her pregnancy. She was homeless and because she didn’t know that she was pregnant she hadn’t had any antenatal care.
When I walked into the hospital room Hannah was holding her baby. She looked happy, relaxed and was responding to all of Kaylee’s cues.
Hannah seemed determined to make a good life for Kaylee and stop using drugs. She thought it would be easy. Maybe she was a little over-opt imist ic about this. In a way though, it helped with our casework – it was something we could build on.
I was probably a little over optimistic myself. But I was always clear with Hannah that she needed to work hard to stop using drugs and she would need lots of support.
The hospital had already made referrals to the Red Cross young parent’s program and a midwife support program. Hannah had decided to live with her partner Dave while she was waiting to get into Red Cross.
Things started to deteriorate when Hannah was living with Dave. Services were having trouble getting in touch and she missed a couple of drug tests. She gave me excuses why she couldn’t make the tests and they sounded legitimate, especially as she had a newborn and couldn’t drive. In hindsight, I think Hannah probably started using drugs much earlier than I thought. When Kaylee was just over a month old, Hannah tested positive for drugs. After this, I realised I didn’t know as much as I needed to about how ice affects a person, especially their parenting. I consulted our Clinical Issues Unit and watched videos of people under the influence of ice. This was consistent with Hannah’s behaviour – she was very fidgety when we met and sometimes would be almost jumping off her seat. I also learnt when someone takes ice they can feel the affects for up to two to three days, and it could take two days to come down.
When I thought about what this meant for Hannah’s parent ing, I realised her drug use wouldn’t work for a t iny baby.
For three days Hannah could be so high she wouldn’t really be with it, then for two days she would be coming down and would probably need to take something else to take the edge off. I was concerned about how Hannah would be able to put Kaylee first.
Naturally, Red Cross were also concerned. I went to the meeting with Hannah and argued for her to be given a chance. They took her on the condition that she would work really hard to address her drug use. She lapsed once after being in the Red Cross program.
After her relapse, Kait and I had some hard conversations with Hannah. I told her we had given her all the chances we could. The bottom line was that she needed to start making some better decisions. I told Hannah I couldn’t leave Kaylee in her care unless she started to protect her.
Thinking back, Hannah’s relapse was a turning point for us. I could have chosen to see her behaviour as manipulative and the case plan as unworkable, but I tried to understand where she was coming from and really, she needed as much education as I did about what her drug use meant for Kaylee.
I believe children should be with their parents where we can make it work. Removal is such a huge thing for a young baby. Kaylee deserved a chance to live with her mum.
If we want to keep families together we need to have faith that a parent can change. I had faith in Hannah and I knew she could change. Underneath it all, she always had this drive that was pushing her along.
There were times when I didn’t agree with the other services. The drug counsellor and I had a couple of tricky conversations about the best plan. The counsellor’s view was that relapse was part of the recovery process. While it was good to hear this, I also needed to be clear about what Kaylee needed. We both had to be on same page about Kaylee. In the end, I learnt a lot from her expertise and I hope that she learnt from me as well.
When I closed Kaylee’s case, I wrote Hannah a letter and said that I hope she kept it to show Kaylee when she was older.
I want Kaylee to be proud of her mum, for all the hard work that she did to keep Kaylee with her. She is a beautiful baby and I’m proud of the great job that Hannah has done with her so far.
Kait, Red Cross caseworker
When I first met Hannah she came across as pleasant, polite and friendly. She was eager to join our program. I remember her thanking me for the opportunity and telling me that she wouldn’t let me down. I never had a young mum make a promise like that before.
Hannah moved into her new home and I began to visit her weekly. We quickly developed a good relationship and over time our conversations became more meaningful. I remember her telling me a few times about how she wanted to focus her energy on the positives in her life – Kaylee, having her own home and her studies. I believe Hannah truly understood if she continued to use, Kaylee would be removed and she would lose her place in our program. She made such great changes in her life – it was beautiful to watch.
The tag-team approach with Charlotte was fundamental to our work together because we were on the same page. Hannah knew I shared information with Charlotte and our joint home visits helped reinforce this. I felt supported by Charlotte and I knew she respected my opinion.
With help, Hannah has built a safe and stable family environment for her daughter. She comes to parenting groups with our program and Kaylee is thriving. We are looking forward to supporting her to live independently.
Executive Director Policy Programs and Strategy, Department of Family and Community Services.
What a great outcome for Kaylee and her mum Hannah. It is very clear that Hannah was driven to be able to continue to love and care for her daughter, Kaylee and was supported to do so by a dedicated casework team who worked honestly and upfront with her. Hannah through working with Charlotte and Kait sought their support and was honest about her problems which showed she was contemplating change.
A successful partnership is highly dependent upon the practitioners’ capacity to communicate genuine respect for, interest in and commitment to parents regardless of the conditions that have brought about statutory involvement.
Charlotte was able to reflect on her own practice and assumptions which enabled her to access clinical expertise to improve her knowledge base about the impacts of drugs on parenting capacity. This meant that she was better able to understand the impacts of Hannah’s behaviour on her ability to parent and to have the tough conversations to make sure Kaylee was safe. As Hannah stated they all worked as part of a very effective team to support Hannah in continuing to care for her daughter.
Both Charlotte and Kait worked with Hannah from a strengths-based perspective but also were frank about when there were risks for Kaylee when things weren’t working as well.
Research and practice experience indicates that engagement is a dynamic process where there will be elements of connection and withdrawal, shared understanding and dispute, which may require tenacity and persistence by all parties, including in this case Hannah.