When alcohol turned this family’s life upside down, read how caseworker Zoe supported three children to be safe and their mum to create the change she needed to get them back home again.
Looking back to when we met, I quickly understood that when Annette is sober, she is honest and reliable and completely focused on her children. But when she drinks, nothing and no one else matters.
In the beginning our relationship was rocky. Annette had so much fear and too much to lose by opening up to me about her drinking. She had done a good job of hiding just how serious it was getting. I tried to explain how devastating it was for her children – the chaos at home, the lack of supervision, the conflict and the fighting. But Annette wasn’t ready to hear that at the time. She had all sorts of ways of justifying her drinking in her own head. She taught me more about addiction that anyone I know or any book I’ve read. It was all-consuming. I knew I just had to stick in there.
Pictre of the ocean.
‘She taught me more about addiction than anyone I know or any book I’ve read. It was all-consuming. I knew I just had to stick in there.’
Picture of Annette laughing.
While my relationship with Annette was tenuous, my relationship with her children was blossoming. Very quickly they began to tell me what life was like for them. I think they could sense that I might be able to help their mum. The girls started calling me when they were worried. One time they rang and said there was no food. Another time they rang to say their mum was drinking again. I let them know they could call me about anything. I wanted them to know I was there for them.
It took a long time for Annette to trust me. I could see that she wanted to change and I figured if I showed her I was there, one day she would open up. Annette eventually found the courage to tell me her story and reach out for help. I say courage, because I know how deep Annette’s fear ran that her kids would be removed if I ever found out just how much alcohol had a hold on her. What she didn’t understand is that I already knew this – the kids had been telling me everything. I was just waiting for the time when she would tell me, so that together we could find a way to bring about change.
Annette wanted to change, but there needed to be action. The alcohol made Annette unpredictable and angry. The risks became too high. The kids needed to be somewhere safe while we worked on getting Annette help.
The intention was always to have the three children and Annette living together soon. Annette agreed to a Temporary Care Agreement but I knew that this short separation hurt her. I wasn’t surprised when I got a call from a worried friend that Annette was in trouble.
My job is about keeping kids safe and that means I need to connect with and care about their parents too. So after that call I knew I had to go and see Annette. When I arrived I got really worried. The mix of alcohol and pills had taken effect. I did all that I could to get Annette to a hospital, but she wouldn’t have a bar of it. She tried to hide by locking herself in the bathroom. Little did I know that she had a bottle of wine in the bathroom cupboard. She drank it all. I literally had to bang down the door until she opened it.
Picture of Annette and Zoe.
'My job is about keeping kids safe and that means I need to connect with and care about their parents too.’
As soon as I walked in, Annette collapsed and was barely breathing. I called an ambulance and did everything I could to rouse her and keep her alive. It was touch and go.
In those horrifying moments, I was so sure I was going to have to tell Annette’s children that their mother had died. There was a long wait at the hospital before I knew that I didn’t have to find those words. It was a tough day in a job I love.
That day was Annette’s rock bottom. I will never forgot it and the days after – the worry that we all held, the sadness and anger that it caused the kids. But I will forever recognise it as the day Annette had to have. It was her turning point.
I knew that Annette’s only chance was rehab. Annette knew that too. The six month waiting list for a spot was not going to work for Annette or the kids. I was supposed to ring once a week to secure a spot. I rang the next day and the next and every day after that until they admitted Annette. She got in. It was Annette’s turn to make the most of it. And she did.
You can’t explain the feeling that you get as a caseworker when you see a parent become all that they have always been able to be. Annette was determined to regain her old self, and with that the love and trust of her kids. I involved Annette in all of the decision-making about her children, even when she was in rehab. It was important that she showed everyone that she was getting back to the parent she once was – responsible and capable.
Leaving rehab was going to be a critical point for Annette and I knew that she would need all the support she could get to stay well. I called a Family Group Conference. It mattered to get the right help and the right people at the table. That group of people came up with a plan to support Annette to remain sober. Everyone played their part and the plan worked. But there was so much hurt in the family, so much of the past that couldn’t be forgotten. I got a Family Functional Therapist to work with the family too. This really helped. Together, Annette and her family shared their feelings, and together they are healing.
Annette and the kids are all together now. She makes the decision every day to stay sober. Annette is making all the right choices and she and her kids are all the better for it.