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And grace will lead me home

Read how young mum Jada worked alongside her caseworker Tash to get ready for a new baby and create a safe and loving home for her daughter.

Jada, mother

'Having an Aboriginal caseworker makes all the difference. Tash sounds like my aunty. She has the same way of talking and uses the same words. I like the way Tash says ‘bless’. Hearing her voice helps me open up because I feel safe. I think Aboriginal kids should have Aboriginal workers. '

I was only 14 when my first baby, Jakara, was taken from me at the hospital. I was 18 this time around, but being pregnant again was terrifying. Four years without my daughter had been awful and I was so sure I would lose this baby too. It didn’t matter what anyone said. I was convinced.

When I met Tash I thought, right, here is the caseworker who is going to take my baby. I hated her straight away. I could tell she was real wary of me. Tash would talk around things and choose each word carefully so I wouldn’t go off. The whole time I was thinking, why isn’t she just being straight up with me? It’s kinda funny, but even though I want to scare everyone away, I actually hate when people are scared of me.

Picture of Tash.

Picture of Tash.

Picture of Jada and Amaya.

Picture of Jada and Amaya.

In the beginning Tash would try and be kind, chatting away, and I’d totally snap. Tash would re-word what I said, telling me what she thought I meant. Then I would snap at her again because I felt like she wasn’t hearing me. I’d get violent too. It wasn’t very nice but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to let my guard down for even a minute. Tash never got mad back though. She let me get it all out.

It wasn’t until Tash came to the hospital and told me I could keep Amaya that our relationship changed. I remember literally screaming in shock. Up until that moment I had truly believed I would go home from the maternity ward alone like I did the first time.

'I named my daughter Amaya Grace, after the song ‘Amazing Grace’. She is strong enough to get through anything – I can feel it. '

It was in the hospital that I realised that Tash meant what she said. She doesn’t talk to me like I’m stupid. I’ve been raised up in care so I know what people are too gutless to say out loud. I’ve had heaps of caseworkers and they always leave. One after the other. Then I have to tell my story over and over, again and again. Why should I have to relive all that trauma? Just read my file! It’s all in there. From when I was 10 years old I decided I would never repeat myself. I would tell them all to get bent. Tash never makes me say the same thing twice. She cares enough to listen the first time around.

Picutre of Amaya.

Picutre of Amaya.

Picture of caseworker Tash and Amaya.

Picture of caseworker Tash and Amaya.

Having an Aboriginal caseworker makes all the difference. Tash sounds like my aunty. She has the same way of talking and uses the same words. I like the way Tash says ‘bless’. Hearing her voice helps me open up because I feel safe. I think Aboriginal kids should have Aboriginal workers. They will be able to get through to them a lot more. I want all caseworkers to know that this is not a job to a kid, it is our lives.

'I love being a mum but my life won’t be complete until I have both of my children with me. I see Jakara all the time because she is living with my nan not that far away. I need to get all the things right with Amaya first and then I’m going to focus on Jakara.'

Tash, caseworker

‘I tell Jada that every day she wakes up and cares for Amaya she is writing a new chapter in her family's story.’

If I’m honest, Jada scared me. She was fierce and angry and everything I said would set her off. I would tread gently, but it didn’t seem to matter what I did. It would always end with Jada yelling at me, and me struggling to calm her down. I wanted to understand her feelings and talk it out. I learned pretty quick this wasn’t going to work. So instead my manager and I decided to let Jada scream and yell. If it all got too much I would leave the room for a while and come back later.

Jada taught me that when young people are sitting with deep pain, you can’t always reframe it. Sometimes you just have to let it all come out. Her life in care was tough, no two ways about it. If I was going to be able to help Jada create safety for her new baby, I needed to learn about her life first. Make space for it. Hear her story. It was important that I understood all the times Jada had stood up for herself and fought to be heard. In her own way, Jada was showing me her acts of resistance and strengths. It was shining through underneath all that aggression. Building this relationship was important, but I also needed to find Jada a safe place to live and slowly build stability into her life so she was ready for a newborn.

Jada told me early on that she wanted to keep her baby. Jada’s resolve held me strong in our work together. As an Aboriginal woman, I know all too well the impact that taking babies away from their mothers can have on families for generations. I did not want to bring another Aboriginal child into care unless there was no other option. I had to give this baby every chance to grow up with its mum.

Picture of Jada holding Amaaya

"Picture of Jada holding Amaaya

‘It was important that I understood all the times Jada had stood up for herself and fought to be heard.’
Picture of Jada and  Caseworker Tash holding Amaya.

Picture of Jada and  Caseworker Tash holding Amaya.

It took a while to get there. In the beginning I felt like Jada’s taxi driver. I drove her to all her antenatal appointments, using the time in the car to try and build a relationship. I struggled to reach Jada or have the conversations I wanted to have. Jada would sit playing with the radio, changing the stations, not looking at me. I felt like a failure.

There was no stopping the arrival of this baby and I wanted everything in place. I felt the pressure of time. Jada wasn’t ready to talk to me and wasn’t ready to take action. I was one of a long list of caseworkers that had been in Jada’s life. Why should she trust me? I tried everything.

'I did not want to bring another Aboriginal child into care unless there was no other option. I had to give this baby every chance to grow up with its mum.'

Pregnancy group conferencing, Family Group Conferencing, consultation with other Aboriginal colleagues. Nothing seemed to cut through. I was working with Jada, but in my mind the whole time was this precious baby. I had no doubts Jada would love her child, but would the risks be too high?

It was after Jada broke down while we were developing the Family Action Plan that I realised I had to work at Jada’s pace, not be driven by my own worries.

Picture of Jada and Amaya at the beach.

Picture of Jada and Amaya at the beach.

'Jada had a lifetime of government intervention so I knew how important it was for her to be in control of her and life and feel true agency around decisions.'
Picture of Caseworker Tash holding Amaya.

Picture of Caseworker Tash holding Amaya.

Jada got upset and yelled, ‘You are setting me up to fail, it’s too much pressure!’ I realised the long list of things in the plan was not getting Jada ready for this baby, it was weighing her down. So we stripped it back. We worked on three things that would make the biggest impact on the baby’s safety. Jada needed to attend all her medical appointments, develop her parenting skills with an intensive family support worker and start to get help for her mental health.

There were lots of starts and stops in my work with Jada. Jada needed time to sit with things and do it in her own way. I had to walk beside her, not pushing her from behind or running ahead.

She had a lifetime of government intervention so I knew how important it was for Jada to be in control of her life and feel true agency around decisions. Jada often felt judged by some of her family and needed time and autonomy to create a network of people that she trusted. This small group of people supported her at planning meetings, rallied help and came to the birth to celebrate Amaya’s arrival.

Going home with Amaya was a big day for Jada, but there were lots of hard ones still to come. One of those was when I had to have a tough conversation with her about a few worries. Jada cracked it and said ‘Tash, you never give me enough praise for all the good things I am doing!’ And you know what? She was right. I felt incredible pressure when Amaya went home to make sure she was safe. This meant I was paying all of my attention on the things that weren’t perfect. Jada reminded me to see the whole picture, to step back and acknowledge the progress she had made as a mum. I had noticed it, but Jada needed to hear it.

At one point we upped the in-home support to around the clock to help Jada with Amaya’s daily routines. This wasn’t easy for Jada. She was worn down by so many people having their say about her life. Jada showed incredible strength allowing herself to be vulnerable and trust her support workers.

Jada’s confidence with Amaya just shines through now. I love to hear Jada’s insights into Amaya’s routines and development. She is growing as a mum every day. I watched with awe the other day as she took Amaya out for lunch. Jada handled the high chair, the baby wipes, the change of clothes and all the mess that only 10 month olds can make with such gentleness.

We’re still in there for now. We want this family to have the best chance of sticking together. But Jada’s confidence and happiness is growing every day. Amaya’s bond with her mum is so obvious. You should see the way they look at each other! It’s big love.

Jada told me she is scared that one day we’ll be in Amaya’s children’s lives too. She frets that her family will be trapped in our world forever. I tell Jada that every day she wakes up and cares for Amaya she is writing a new chapter in her family’s story. It’s their turn now.

‘Amaya’s bond with her mum is so obvious. You should see the way they look at each other! It’s big love.’
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Last updated: 19 Nov 2019