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Ashley, mother

Mother and son.

Ricky’s dad Matt and I were together for almost six years. We met in high school. Some would say high school sweethearts. It might have started that way but that certainly isn’t how it ended.

I first started to notice changes in Matt when Ricky was six months old but it wasn’t until Ricky was one that I realised Matt was using ice. Before then we  had our arguments. I used to think that was just normal couple stuff but then he started to hurt me and put me down. He kept telling me I was a bad mum and that I was going to hurt Ricky. I didn’t tell anyone about what he was doing to me. He got into my head and I started to believe all of the bad things he said about me. I got scared that what he was saying just might be true.

Of course, having all of these thoughts swirling through your head isn’t good for your sanity. When FACS first came out to speak with me it was about my mental health – guess I shouldn’t have been surprised about that! The caseworker must have suspected that Matt was hurting me though. She wanted me to leave him but I just wanted her to bugger off so I made out everything was okay.

I did leave Matt a few times but I kept going back because I thought it was the right thing for Ricky, for him to have his dad around. I figured I could put up with the abuse for the sake of Ricky having his dad in his life. But the abuse got  worse and I knew it had to come to an end.

The last day Matt had the chance to hurt me was the day I left him. He beat me badly that day and burnt me with his jet lighter. I walked barefoot for three kilometres to the local hospital after that beating, desperate for help. I ended up in there for four days. When mum turned up at the hospital to see me she just broke down and cried. I was black and blue – there was no more hiding or explaining away the violence I had  suffered.

A young boy sticking out his tongue.

After Matt hurt me that last time, he took Ricky. I was physically and mentally broken and couldn’t fight back. I felt like I wasn’t even there, I was empty. I fell to the ground when I heard that he had hurt Ricky just like he had hurt me. Ricky’s face was really badly burnt and he too ended up in hospital. Nothing prepares  you for that kind of news.

Ricky needed so much help after being hurt. I didn’t want him to go into foster care but I knew I needed time on my own to get stronger, mentally and physically for him. He was always in my thoughts. Your child never leaves your mind when they are taken from you. I was lucky that I had some good support to help me at this time, which was important to me. I felt listened to and I knew that I always had someone around who would help  me.

I was so happy when I got Ricky back. It was so good to have Jayne there for me during this time. She was an amazing support, and I knew that I always had someone to talk to and help me.

We are doing great now. We’re living with my grandparents. I’m back at work and Ricky goes to day care, which he loves. He still has some nightmares but with Jayne’s help I’ve learnt how to talk to him about what has happened and how to help him recover. We still have a tough road ahead of us but we are on the right track. I made it and I made it out alive. It seemed hard at the time but when I look back now, it really wasn’t that hard. I had the support, I just had to use it.

Jayne, FACS SafeCare caseworker

Ricky, Ashley and Jayne.

I first met Ashley after Ricky was back home with her. At first I was confused about why she needed my help. Ashley had some really good parenting skills. She had started a childcare course in the past so she already knew lots of important information about caring for children, but it turns out that this wasn’t enough to prepare her for the type of care Ricky needed. He had experienced so much – he had seen his mum get hurt and he had been really badly hurt himself. When you are too little to talk, the only way  you  can  communicate your pain and confusion is through behaviour. For Ricky, some of his behaviour was starting to get worrying.

I got to work on taking Ashley through the SafeCare program. SafeCare offers really practical ideas to suit the unique circumstances parents like Ashley find themselves in. Over 18 weeks we worked on making the house safe; understanding Ricky’s physical health needs; and importantly for Ashley and Ricky we spent a lot of  time rebuilding their relationship. This included setting routines, playing and interacting together in ways that helped their obvious love for each other flourish. It also involved ways to support and reward Ricky’s good behaviour. When a  child has been hurt by one parent it can be easy for the other parent to be overly lenient with them – it’s their way of trying to make up for the past hurt, but in the end this doesn’t help anyone. SafeCare helped Ashley with how to structure their day, how to set the right limits and how to show Ricky that home was safe by putting in some clear rules that she stuck to no matter what. What Ricky needed most was to feel secure and the best way to do that was by making things as predictable as possible.

Ashley was eager to learn. It was great to have such a willing participant! She spoke openly with me about things that were going well and things she needed help with. She wanted nothing but the best for Ricky and for her that meant making sure she had all of the skills and knowledge she needed to help him heal from the past. She persevered, embracing everything SafeCare had to offer; she practised new skills whenever she could and she did her homework between our sessions. Before too long, Ricky was a different boy. By Ashley being really predictable in how she responded to him, and just as importantly, strengthening their relationship through play and the nurturing love that only she could give, he blossomed. He felt safe and cared for – the magic ingredients he needed from his mum, and Ashley provided them in abundance.

Reflection

Sarah Bramwell

Manager, Office of the Senior Practitioner NSW Department of Family and Community Services

Ashley’s bravery is truly extraordinary. She has suffered deeply – from the violence she has endured from Matt over many years, to the pain of seeing her beautiful boy hurt so badly. But Ashley has shown so much strength to resist Matt’s violence. And she had so much courage to acknowledge she and Ricky needed some time apart, so she could get herself strong and ready for Ricky to  come home.

SafeCare was the perfect program to help this family. The practical, intensive approach meant Ashley and Ricky were given the resources they needed to heal and adapt to their new life together. Ashley was determined to seek the right kind of help from our system. With the support of great practitioners like Jayne, Ashley has been able to take back control of her life and restore her dignity, confidence and self-worth.

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Last updated: 24 Sep 2019
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