Hope, Self-determination and Courage | How Family Start Helped Monica and Harry

By Anglican Family Care | Posted: Monday May 1, 2023

Family Start is a home-visiting programme that focuses on improving children's growth and health, learning and relationships, family circumstances, environment and safety. It helps whānau who are struggling with challenges or problems that may make it harder for them to care for their baby or young child.

When Monica found herself pregnant with her third child the relationship with the baby’s father was new and already strained, she felt trapped and angry. Terminating the pregnancy wasn’t an option.

“It was through my midwife, that I first heard about the Family Start programme. I was struggling to accept the pregnancy and bond with my unborn child. I met my whānau worker Cathy when I was just a few months pregnant, and I immediately connected with her,” Monica told us.

“Cathy would visit me in my home every week and gave me exercises to help me bond with my baby, which not only helped me connect with my unborn child, but also helped me process some grief, having lost a baby during a previous pregnancy with my ex-husband.

One activity was to shop for baby clothes, which had initially felt difficult, but with Cathy’s guidance I started getting excited, choosing clothes for him and talking to him during my pregnancy – all of these exercises really helped me connect with my son before he was born.”

Whānau worker Cathy explains, “By giving Monica the time and space to hear her story, and by acknowledging what she was feeling and felt comfortable with exploring and to reflect on, helped build a rapport and a trusting relationship, so positive change could happen.”

An experienced mum, Monica recalls how challenging it was in those early months, especially as her older children were model sleepers, so coping with a baby who would only sleep for short periods, cry for hours on end and wouldn’t settle was challenging. Taking him outside for a walk was difficult, so it was easier to stay at home. Apart from the hospital visits, Monica felt isolated.

“Harry was born with some medical problems which required an operation at 11 months old. Prior to this procedure, I thought he was deaf, so I learnt some basic sign language skills to help communicate with him. While recovering in hospital he was able to hear for the first time in his life – I was overcome with emotion and cried with happiness.”

Harry’s health issues were still challenging for Monica, and he was referred to a speech/language specialist, where he was recognised as being autistic.

He was behind in some of his developmental milestones, including his speech and was displaying classic signs of autism, e.g., continually banging his head against the wall, was extremely sensory, wouldn’t touch or eat certain foods and had a complete dislike to sand.

One morning he woke up and it was like a switch had gone off overnight and all these symptoms disappeared. He’s quite the miracle little boy,” Monica said.

Harry attends daycare three days a week which has been instrumental in developing his social skills, which previously were non-existent. Not long after Harry was born, he was diagnosed with an anxious personality. Monica told us that he still gets anxious when he’s separated from her, but she’s reassured by his early learning teachers that as soon as she leaves, he settles very quickly.

“I now have a very bright and cheeky 4-year-old who is inquisitive and eager to learn.

I’m home-schooling my 14-year-old daughter, and Harry just wants to join in. I’ve just begun preparing him for school and using flash cards to help teach him to read and write his name and he already recognises the letter H.”

"Every parent needs a cheerleader, someone to recognise and talk to their strengths of which Monica had many. This is especially important when families face adversity, and they don’t feel strong in that moment. I helped her reflect to real time which enabled Monica to observe her own strengths and build resilience,” Cathy – Whānau worker explained.

We asked Monica to sum up her experience with Family Start.

“After having [Whānau worker] Cathy by my side for four years, I felt so sad to let her go, she’s helped me so much, even being an advocate for me.

I wouldn’t have been able to get through the last four years without Family Start.

Cathy was literally my guardian angel. The programme gives you that strength so you can get through, which was especially significant having a challenging child. It’s reassuring having that support and means you don’t find yourself in so many dark places, knowing that help is there. No matter how many bad nights I had in a row, Cathy always left making me feel happy after her visits.”

Client names and images have been changed. 

1,201 people received support through the Family Start programme between 1 July 2021 & 30 June 2022 — Image by: Anglican Family Care