Odyssey’s Kids in Focus caseworker describes Kelly as strong, resilient, honest and good-hearted person.
A mother who is actively engaged in her child’s life by volunteering at school and sports activities; someone who likes nothing more than doing art and craft projects with her child to decorate their house, and someone who builds relationships with others in her local community.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Kelly grew up in a home where family violence, drug use, neglect, sexual and physical abuse were part of everyday life. Kelly had been under the watchful eye of Child Protection since she was 2 years of age. Her dad had died when she was little and she lived with her mum who had mental health issues as well as an addiction to heroin.
Kelly made it through adolescence and became a mother to a baby boy. However, her experiences as an adult were beginning to mirror her mother’s life – something that Kelly did not want but seemed unable to control. Although a proud Aboriginal women, Kelly was not well connected to her mother’s side of her family or her culture. Kelly had been struggling with the loss of her partner due to a fatal motorcycle accident and was using drugs to block out the pain. She had been to court for a number of offences and was at risk of going to prison. When Kelly was referred to our Kids in Focus program, her child had been placed in the care of his paternal Grandmother. She did not have stable housing and was living anywhere she could. She desperately missed her child but could not seem to break out of the downward spiral she was in.
With the support of our Kids in Focus Team, Kelly started to engage more with Child Protection and was able to access stable housing. After a year of working with her, Kelly was able to take her child on our Kids in Focus Family Camp. It was the first time Kelly’s son had stayed overnight with her in more than 2 years. She also began some mediation sessions with the child’s Grandmother to improve their relationship and create a better environment for her son.
The Odyssey House Kids in Focus team provides specialist child, parenting and family support to those affected by parental alcohol and other drug use. Typically, families also have mental health, housing and family violence problems as well. Our workers assist families to identify and address the needs of the parents and the needs of children, and they help manage issues such as trauma and connection to culture and community. Our Kids in Focus Manager, Anne Tidyman says:
‘Trauma affects everything – how we think, feel and see the world. If someone has suffered from trauma all of their life, including generational trauma, working with them for a short period of time is not going to fix it.’
Following a year of hard work with our staff, Kelly was able to work towards reunification with her child. This meant demonstrating to Child Protection that she was no longer using drugs (via urine screens), picking up her child regularly at school, and taking him to his Grandmother’s house. This involved more than an hour each way on public transport. Sleepovers were also a part of the process, and they became more regular as time progressed until ultimately after many months of committing to this routine, Kelly was able to be reunited with her boy.
Odyssey House Victoria’s CEO, Dr Stefan Gruenert, says that over the 10 years from 2005-2015, the number of women in prison in Australia had grown by more than 70%. In particular, Aboriginal women are the most over-represented and fastest growing group in our prisons. Many of the parents that come to us for help are at risk of incarceration, usually due to crime associated with their drug use. Dr Gruenert states that there is a large group of women who cycle in and out of prison, on remand or short sentences and unable to access the support and services they need. This undermines their capacity to care for or stay connected to their children, and prevents them developing supportive relationships with others in their community. It makes it harder for them to find housing and jobs, further compounding their disadvantage.
Our Kids in Focus program provides community-based options that are family-centred, holistic and able to respond to trauma and complex support needs. Odyssey works hard to provide culturally relevant and safe services, focused especially on the needs and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as other minority groups including Muslim, Pacifica and African communities.
Kelly’s journey with Odyssey House has now spanned two years. Her parenting skills and confidence have improved dramatically over that time and her drug use has stopped. She now has a home and a sense of belonging to her Aboriginal Community. Her relationship with her child’s paternal Grandmother is strong, and she is able to straddle these different cultures and worlds more easily.
Most families in our Kids in Focus program will remain connected to us for around two years. Funding from the Australian Government forms the basis of our Kids in Focus work, but there are always more families on our waiting lists who need our help. Your support is greatly valued and can make a real difference to people like Kelly and her son. Please help us to support families by making a donation today.