Steven, FACS caseworker
I’d never met anyone so sad. I would be talking to Nakita and out of nowhere she would start crying. The tears would just quietly run down her face. She was so young, so softly spoken and so heartbroken.
Nakita was still a child when her first son Nash was taken from her at two months of age. I met her a year later, 16 and pregnant for the second time. Her grief and pain were as fierce as the day Nash was taken. There still isn’t a week that goes by without Nakita telling me about how it all went down. The phone calls, the knock on the door, who said what to whom.
My colleagues told me that when Nash came into care, he had been hospitalised with feeding troubles and they’d been worried Nakita used drugs and never stayed in the one place for more than a few nights. At this point, Nash’s caseworkers didn’t have plans for him to go home with Nakita because they thought there was too much risk. I knew I had my work cut out to help her get ready and stay hopeful that it could be different this time around. That’s the great thing about working with pregnant mums. There is this precious window of time where motivation can be so strong and we can set out on a different path than ones already walked. So I chose to put everyone else’s doubts aside and work with the young woman I saw before me.
When I thought about how I could help Nakita, I put myself in her shoes. Nakita’s own childhood had not given her any experience of safe parenting. Now she was barely in her teens and having a baby without the help of a partner or her family. I have two young girls myself and remember how overwhelmed I was being a new dad. And I was lucky enough to have a partner, a job, a home and grandparents to help settle colicky babies and cook dinner. She needed the support we all need and someone to believe in her.
I had to do all the talking in the beginning. Nakita was like a brick wall. I told her I understood why she was so guarded and that she had every right not to trust me. I probably told her a hundred times that I wanted to help her keep her baby. Over and over again I said those words but I knew she didn’t believe me.
Nakita may have been quiet, but she was firm on a few things – like she wasn’t using drugs. Tests confirmed she was telling the truth, so I moved on to helping her find a safe place to live. Nakita really wanted to live with her girlfriend’s mum Katy. She was like a mother-figure to Nakita and when I visited I felt hopeful it could work. The home was safe and I was happy that there would be a caring adult close by to give her a helping hand.
Next I wanted Nakita to have support in the early weeks after the baby was born – with feeding and settling and other tricky things that crop up with new babies. I found a local service that lets mums and babies live in a house with support from workers around the clock. It was perfect and I booked her in for when the baby arrived.
By now I was slowly getting to know Nakita. She was kind and spoke with great love for Nash. The more I knew her the more I really believed she could be a great mum with the right help. When I spoke to one of my managers, he supported my belief in Nakita, but was still concerned about whether she was ready to take on such a huge responsibility. His worries were real, but I didn’t give up. I kept working with Nakita to help her make changes needed for her baby to go home with her. Nakita was so motivated and committed to this outcome. Ultimately my manager agreed that the best plan for Nakita and her baby was for them to go home together.
Right from the start, Nakita spent every dollar she had on her kids and never asked for anything from FACS. All on her own she saved up to buy the cot and the pram, the rompers and the wraps. Everything for the baby was set up beautifully. But things didn’t go exactly to plan. A few weeks before the baby was due, Nakita rang me to say that things were not working out where she was staying. This was a big deal. Nakita had never rung me before and I saw it as a chance to show that I was there to help, in ways she actually needed. I jumped in the car and drove straight over.
When I got there she was standing in the yard, eight months pregnant and patiently waiting with all the baby things she’d packed up. It was getting late, so I arranged a motel room. It was nothing flash, but she was grateful for a safe bed all the same.
A few weeks later, Chayse came into the world. Nakita texted me the morning after but I didn’t go to the hospital. I’d told her I believed that she could care for this baby and I had to show her I meant it. I know that mums can feel ashamed when FACS turns up at the hospital. I wanted to give Nakita the opportunity that she missed the first time around to simply enjoy the early days of motherhood, just like every other mum on the ward.
When I did get to meet Chayse a week later, I was touched by Nakita’s tenderness. She was so in love. Nakita was feeding Chayse in another room and I could hear her quiet murmurings of affection and little snorts of laughter when he did something cute. It was beautiful to hear and confirmed everything I thought about Nakita. Right from the start she was a good mum.
After Chayse arrived, Nakita and I started to work as a team. It was as though she needed to have her baby and see for herself that I had no plans to take him away, before she could really let her guard down. Nakita did so well at the support service and the staff were impressed with her care and her calm around Chayse. In the background I was working double-time to find her a new home. After a few weeks she and her baby boy moved into a lovely townhouse my housing colleagues found for them. It was the perfect place to start their lives together.
I organised a few practical things like a fridge and a washing machine, and helped Nakita sort out issues with her missing birth certificate and getting her L’s. Then Nakita did something that really blew me away. She took herself down to DALE Young Parents’ School and enrolled herself to finish the HSC. The school is amazing. There’s an early learning centre onsite so Chayse would be well cared for while Nakita could get on with her studies. Even more importantly, the school really believes in the girls and understands that a baby’s chance of future success is all wrapped up with its mum – they both need lots of help and care. The teachers are flexible and patient and I feel like they are extra cheerleaders on Nakita’s side. Something she really needs.
In her first term I picked Nakita and Chayse up every day and drove them to school. I was so impressed by Nakita’s motivation, even with the juggle of breastfeeding and nights of broken sleep. I still text every morning to check in and make sure she’s going. I see so much potential in Nakita and I want so badly for her to succeed.
Even with the excitement of Chayse’s arrival, Nakita always speaks about her sons; it is never one without the other. She revels in her time with Nash. When I take Nakita to visit, she texts me half an hour before I’m meant to be there to make sure I’m on time. She doesn’t want to be late and miss a minute with her boy. She always has presents for Nash and loads the car up.
I’m now working with the NGO that cares for Nash to get him home to Nakita. I’ve watched Chayse doing so well with his mum, how could I want anything different for his big brother? My manager is behind me and I’m glad that Nakita will now have the chance to show everyone, including the courts, what an amazing job she is doing.
Nakita is absolutely beautiful with Chayse. He’s healthy, and so happy he even laughs in his sleep! Nakita is the best mum I’ve ever worked with and fills me with hope for all the young mothers I support. I think Nakita always had it in her; she just needed a little bit of help and someone to believe in her. I’m so glad it could be me.
Nash is a real boys’ boy and of all the things, he loves hiding in boxes and everything to do with football. Chayse smiles all the time and has just started eating solids. His favourite at the moment is mashed potato. The best part of having him home with me is getting to have lots of cuddles and being able to breastfeed him.
I didn’t want anything to do with Steve. I thought, ‘Oh great, not this again.’
But now that I know him I can see he is different. I felt like the other caseworkers were against me and kept telling me I was doing the wrong thing even when I wasn’t. They gave me a list of things I had to do when Nash was born – go to parenting courses, go back to school, find a house to live in. I remember thinking, ‘How can I do all these things?’ I had a new baby and was exhausted.
It took me three months to trust Steve. At first I got agitated when he called and texted, but I got used to it. I didn’t believe that he thought I could keep the baby, until he came to Katy’s house and started planning everything with me. He told me he would fight for me. Those were his actual words – fight for me. No one had ever said that to me before.
Steve always has my back. Another worker tried to tell me that Chayse looked underweight, but Steve said, ‘Well let’s take him to be weighed properly and see.’ The chemist told me Chayse was perfectly fine, it was just that I’m breastfeeding him and sometimes formula-fed babies are fatter.
I’m not going to say it’s easy, doing everything on my own and going to school and studying, but I think I’m getting better at it every day. At the moment I’m thinking about doing hair and beauty or motor mechanics after I get my HSC. I like working with my hands.
I love being a mum. Now I’m going to do everything I can to get Nash back.
I feel lucky I’ve got Steve to help me; he is the best caseworker I’ve ever had.
Senior Caseworker and Chairperson State Aboriginal Reference Group NSW Department of Family and Community Services
Nakita and her young child Nash were separated from each other when she was so young. This greatly impacted on Nakita and placed her in a highly vulnerable and emotional state. Her personal trauma was visible to Steve on their first meeting. With the fear of losing her second child, coupled with her sadness, Nakita seemed to have lost hope of parenting either of her children. Steve thought differently and chose to work with Nakita in a trauma informed way, by asking not ‘What is wrong with you?’ but ‘What has happened to you to make you this sad?’
Steve worked on engaging Nakita with great empathy and respect. He wanted to empower Nakita, to give her the best opportunity to be the parent she wanted to be and later on, the hope that her first born son Nash could come home and grow up with his brother.
Nakita responded to Steve’s casework practice – she felt supported, trusted and believed. Nakita was able to leave behind the fear that she would lose her second child because Steve was inviting her to demonstrate that she could parent. With this invitation, Nakita responded with great courage and not only provided safe care for her child, she was able to regain her own life and re-enter school to complete her education. It is wonderful how the belief and hope of just one caseworker can transform the lives of a whole family.