Communities and Justice

A strong confident mum

Leah's story

To protect her children, this brave mother fled her abusive partner, and with the support of two incredible women, created a better future for her young family.

A mother smiling at two children sitting at a desk writing

Somewhere to turn

Leah*’s story is tragically common. Heavily pregnant and already a mother of one, Leah’s abusive relationship had left her isolated and scared. As the abuse escalated, Leah made the courageous decision to leave her partner for her own safety and that of her young daughter and unborn child.

With the help of her DCJ caseworker Tanyia, Leah was able to seek shelter at a local women’s refuge. Tanyia, who had been working with Leah in the time leading up her decision to leave, says Leah initially had reservations about working with DCJ.

“Building trust with Leah became my focus,” Tanyia says.

Tanyia knew she needed to reassure Leah that she would be supported to make her own choices and to keep her children safe.

“I respected her. It’s her story, it’s her life. We can’t change anything if she’s not willing, or able. I waited for her to tell me how she wanted to change or what she wanted to do and offered any guidance I could.”

Tanyia could see Leah’s deep commitment to her children was her driving force. To help her develop the skills needed to support her children in their new life, and rebuild her sense of self-worth and confidence, Tanyia connected Leah with Natasha, an Aboriginal Family Worker from CatholicCare.

Tanyia says she refers a lot of her clients to Natasha, "She’s my go-to. She’s got that personality about her, she’s just so easy to get along with. She’s well respected and knows a lot, especially in the more remote parts of where I work.”

Leah remembers the first time she met Natasha and the instant connection and immediate sense of calm she felt when they began working together.

“I felt like I’d known her for a long time, [we] just had an instant connection.”

Leah’s in control

When Natasha began working with Leah, Leah was in crisis. Natasha knew Leah needed to feel respected, listened to and cared for, to develop the tools she needed to become the best mother she could be.

“She had really huge anxiety. She called me nearly every day when we first worked together.”

Like Tanyia, Natasha offered support and guidance rather than making decisions on Leah’s behalf.

“I observed and listened to her, and through that identified what was causing her stress and anxiety and helped her develop the skills to improve those things. I let her guide me in what she needed. It was important for her to have control and autonomy because that had been taken away from her in the past.”

With Natasha’s help, Leah joined one of CatholicCare’s Targeted Earlier Intervention support programs. Through the program Leah completed parenting and life skills courses, which focused on learning to manage her daughter’s hyperactivity, making and sticking to a budget and cooking healthy meals.

As her confidence grew, Leah joined a mother’s group, fitness classes and began to spend time doing different types of craft which helped relieve her anxiety. She even ran a weaving workshop for the other women living in the refuge, whose gratitude and enjoyment gave Leah a sense of satisfaction and pride.

With Natasha’s help Leah was also able to rebuild her support networks and connect with her community. She’d had a strained relationship with her mum in the past, but also managed to reconnect with her and they now enjoy a supportive and close connection.

From needing help to helping others in need

Today, Leah lives at home with her two children. She volunteers in a women’s peer support group, helping women going through the same experience she survived.

After assessing that Leah’s children were safe and well cared for, Tanyia closed her case with DCJ. Tanyia remembers being surprised when Leah was disappointed that they would no longer see each other. “She actually gave me a hug!”, recalls Tanyia.

Leah still has a close relationship with Natasha but lives independent of the intensive support she needed when she was experiencing crisis.

Tanyia and Natasha’s collaborative support helped Leah build up the skills and confidence to start her life again. However, Natasha says it was all Leah.

“Leah did all the hard work. She did things she was nervous about and afraid of, and she persisted because she wanted to give her kids a better life and help them be happy. I’m very proud to have been a part of this little family’s journey.

Watching this timid young mum turn into a strong confident mum has been amazing.”

*To protect her privacy, Leah’s name has been changed and stock photography has been used.

Going deeper into the practice

Are you a TEI practitioner or someone with an interest in TEI practice? Take a closer look at the practice behind the story and learn how these TEI practitioners were able to connect with their clients and communities to achieve strengths-based and person-centred outcomes.

Digging deeper with Natasha from CatholicCare

Natasha is an Aboriginal Family Worker for CatholicCare. Natasha began working supporting families after originally training in Early Childhood. She’s passionate about helping parents to be the best parents they can be.

What is the key driver of success in your work with the community?

Empowering people is a key driver of success in my work. I want families to believe in themselves as much as I believe in them. I want them to know that if they’re having problems, they can make change and have wonderful lives and give their kids wonderful lives too.

How do you connect to the community in your practice?

We mostly connect with the community through our centre and our playgroups. I often invite families to come to playgroup and they in turn invite other families to come along. I also invite other services to come to playgroup and talk to our families about what they do and what they can offer.

Why is it important to have dedicated Aboriginal family workers like yourself working in communities?

For members of the Aboriginal community there can be a lot of past trauma associated with the department. Being an Aboriginal woman, I understand that. So, when I’m working with families it's important to build trust and demonstrate respect.

I usually start working with families through our supported playgroups. This gives me a chance to observe their interactions with their children and the other families. Through observation, I can work out what their needs might be and make suggestions to the group as-a-whole. I don't single anyone out, I don’t embarrass them, I don’t act like I know everything. I work alongside them and listen and build up their trust before I offer suggestions and support.

What particular support did you bring to your work with Leah?

The trauma Leah had in her background had left her lacking confidence as a mum. Having just left her abusive relationship, she didn’t have a lot of support. I personally felt very sad for her and for the situation she was in, but I knew I had to put aside my own emotions and focus on helping her however I could.

I focused on encouraging her to think about herself and her children and no one else until they really got back on their feet. I talked to her about the importance of her children’s education. I knew that I needed to help her build up her confidence.

How did you help Leah build up her confidence?

We run a great parenting course called ‘PUP’ or Parents Under Pressure. It helps parents understand who they are and what they want out of having a family.

With Leah, we went through what her beliefs were, her values and who she wanted to be as a parent. And it became really clear to me, and to her, that she really wanted to be a good parent. That was a really important realisation for her.

We also did practical things to help her control her anxiety. She learned to recognise when she was becoming anxious and to do some slow breathing and calm herself down. A small thing but something that can have a big impact.

Why are you passionate about early intervention? Why does it matter?

We have the opportunity to make such a huge difference when kids are young. Pre-school education is so important for children, socialisation, mixing with other kids and other adults, learning confidence. It means that they are ready when they go to big school.

I remember when I was a kid in the early years of school, there were certain things I couldn't read or do because I didn’t have that early support. And, you know, kids could be bullies and they'd laugh and things like that. That's why it's important that kids get that education, so they don't have to go through that.

Support in the very early years, sets children up to hit milestones at school and beyond, and now we know that 90% of a person’s brain is developed by the time they turn five. The earlier we support kids and families, the more we can help them and the better their chances are!

How do you feel when you’re working with families?

To me, supporting families feels natural. That’s when I feel most myself and most ‘normal’. When I’m working with families I am 100% dialled-in and give them as much as I can. I think a lot of it is intuition and from the years of experience I’ve had.

Refer yourself or a friend

If you believe someone you know would benefit from some extra support or connecting with community services, search TEI on ServiceSeeker to find a service. If you need help finding a TEI service visit Family Connect and Support.

Practitioner referrals

If you’re working with a family or young person and would like to refer to one of these services, search TEI on ServiceSeeker.

Last updated:

07 Jul 2023