If there’s one thing you learn here at Open Family Australia, it’s that everyone has a story – and it’s not always what it first seems.
Rachel is 24 years old and has four children – aged eight, six, four and a baby of just eight weeks. She came to us through circumstances relating to her children being taken away, and she was beside herself with grief.
The reasons for their removal are not straight forward. The house they lived in was messy, but of greater concern was Rachel’s boyfriend at the time. When her baby “fell off the bed” when in his care, authorities rightly intervened.
“I’ve lost everything,” Rachel says with her voice breaking. “There’s no light at the end of the tunnel.”
Rachel’s story might sound like a sad but familiar tale. And yet, when our outreach worker, Viv, met with Rachel, she could see in her anguish that she loved her children as much as any mum.
And she knew there was more to Rachel’s story…
She was right. Rachel has known a world of hurt in her life. She grew up in an abusive family – her mother was in an unstable relationship – and she was mostly raised by her grandparents. During these years of being shuffled around between houses, the unthinkable happened to Rachel - she was sexually abused by a family friend.
While just a child herself, her whole idea of family was broken. Her love and trust for her mother was broken. And now, she’s putting her children at risk of the same hurt.
Perhaps worst of all, she feels helpless to stop it. You can imagine the deep sadness this must bring her. And something else we saw in her eyes – shame.
Shame is not what these vulnerable young women need. What they need is something they may never have experienced before in their lives:
Kindness. A hand of friendship. Arms opened in comfort and trust. And practical support.
Viv goes to court with Rachel every week, and sometimes twice a week to plead her case. She’s also helped Rachel clean up her house, so it’s a safe place for children to be raised. And she’s supported her as she puts her abusive relationship behind her, and builds a new life for herself.
It’s not easy. It never is. That is why it’s so important that our outreach workers like Viv are experts in their field. They know the milestones of real life change, and they recognise the warning signs of setback. Viv knows that Rachel is making tremendous steps forward.
“I just want to prove I’m a good mum,” says Rachel with quiet determination.
And what of Rachel’s children? They’re in safe hands. They’re fed. And yet every morning, they wake missing their mum – the youngest, too small to know anything but the sense of loss.
We’re supporting Rachel by providing parent training so she learns how to be the best mum she can be, and family counselling when it’s needed. We also act as an advocate to help her with the bills she’s fallen behind on. And of course, we’re making sure there is ongoing support for Rachel’s children when they come home.
Together, we can break the cycle of hurt in these children’s lives. And give Rachel the help she’s needed since her own childhood.
*Named changed to protect client privacy.