By Anglican Family Care | Posted: Tuesday November 9, 2021
Family Start (FS) is a home visiting programme that focuses on improving children’s growth and health, learning and relationships, family circumstances, environment, and safety and helps to ensure there are positive outcomes for the parent/caregiver and child. The programme supports whānau to negotiate through some of life’s challenges that may impact the wellbeing and safety of the parent /caregiver or child.
Having raised her own three children, who are now adults and living independently, *Heather was beginning to look forward to having more time on her hands to socialise with friends and the freedom to put her wellbeing first. Due to circumstances outside of her control, the reality was soon to be very different.
Married at 18 years old and a young mum, Heather recalls feeling lost and not ready for motherhood. “I didn’t feel maternal, I was still young and wanted my freedom, looking back now I’m aware how my own feelings and parenting style had a significant impact on my children growing up.”Heather’s daughter, already a mum to one child, (who was not in her care) found herself pregnant again. Heather explains, “Because of my daughter’s poor choices, it was clear that unless she made some drastic and significant life changes to improve her situation, this baby would not be safe in her care. I was feeling very frustrated and concerned for the overall [future] safety of my grandchild.”
Oranga Tamariki (Ministry for Children) were supporting Heather and her daughter to establish a plan for the wellbeing and safety of the new-born child. It was during this process a referral was made to Anglican Family Care’s Family Start team.Family Start whānau worker Cathy explains, “Heather had a strong focus and desire to ensure the safety and wellbeing of her grandchild and that they grew up in a safe nurturing home, where all their needs were met. She supported her daughter tirelessly through her pregnancy and when baby was first born.”
“Meeting Cathy for the first time was a life changing experience,” reflected Heather.“Keeping my grandchild safe was my main priority and having Cathy there to advocate for me through the daunting statutory and family court process, so I could take legal guardianship of my grandchild, was such a relief.”
Having made the decision to become her grandchild’s caregiver, Heather had to adjust to a life with her grandchild in her full-time care.
The relationship with her whānau worker continued to be valuable, as she focused on raising her grandchild while balancing her own wellbeing and juggling work commitments.
“It was a very challenging and emotional time for all involved. My role was to help ensure that the baby’s safety and wellbeing remained the focus” said Cathy.
“My grandchild can be strong-willed and sometimes I do feel overwhelmed. Cathy would visit us and reassure me that my parenting approach was on track. She never judged me. I appreciated the practical advice I received from her too. My grandchild is an early riser, I would get tired easily and struggle at times to cope. Cathy encouraged me to take time out for myself and find my own coping mechanisms.”
“I supported Heather around child development, this involved some good conversations regarding parenting styles and their impacts on parenting/caregiving, the child’s wellbeing and development and accessing supports for Heather as required. A large part of my role at this time was supporting her as she negotiated the Family Court process.
During our work together, Heather was open to support and information. She had a strong drive to ensure her grandchild did not repeat the cycle and wanted them to thrive and grow up to be healthy, happy and confident.
We had some courageous conversations as she reflected on her own childhood, and her parenting experience the first time around, together we focused on what she would do differently with this new learning. With this new knowledge and determination, this grandmother is helping to ensure her grandchild gets the best possible start in life.”
Cathy told us Heather had a lot of challenges along the way, most of which was forgetting to look after herself. “This was perhaps the most challenging part of our relationship,” said Cathy. “Her tenacity and determination to make a better life for her grandchild is an inspiration. Everyone needs a cheerleader and at times we are that for the parent or caregiver and sometimes the cheerleader for the child. My hope is that this whānau can be cheerleaders for each other.”
Heather’s grandchild is now two and a half years old, and they continue to use the resources and tools that Family Start provided. She fondly recalls Cathy’s visits, and the delight on her grandchild’s face, when the box of toys would come out.“It was the simple things, that gave the most joy, for example, small stones in a secure container that would rattle, stimulating my grandchild’s love for exploring new things. Without Cathy, I wouldn’t have known how much fun you can have with basic everyday items with little cost.”
Family Start supports babies and their parents or caregivers early on, before the baby’s birth or in their first year. This allows time to build a relationship of trust and support for whānau to negotiate any challenges that pregnancy and parenting/caregiving can bring including access to other services to achieve their goals and be the parents they want to be.
*Names have been changed to protect client’s privacy