Millions of Australian families are dreading the countdown to Christmas.
Forced to make devastating decisions between feeding their children, affording household bills and purchasing school supplies – Christmas will be a trimmed down affair for many.
For over a decade, Uniting Family Services Senior Practitioner, Raeleen, has made it her mission to support families teetering on the edge of crisis.
“My role at Uniting is to get care teams together and put support systems in place so children can stay living with the people who love them,” says Raeleen.
“We work with families to ensure that children aren’t relinquished because of their high needs and disabilities.”
Life can change on a dime
In her years of supporting families, Raeleen has seen how quickly someone’s life circumstances can change.
“I support one mother who grew up in a lovely area and home. She married, had five children and lived the white picket fence life,” she says.
“Then, one day her husband passed away and everything changed. It happened in 12 hours. She went from having everything to nothing.
“I don’t think people realise that your life can change on a dime.”
Raeleen has heart-wrenching conversations every day with struggling family members at breaking point.
“I’m all alone. I’m 78 years old and I don’t know what to do anymore. But I love my grandchild and I don’t want him to be taken away from me.”
Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles call in a state of panic and hopelessness as they face the agonising decision of relinquishing the care of their children.
“My husband left me this morning, he said he can’t cope. I don’t know how I can care for my children on my own.”
After struggling through years of insufficient support and no respite, some families feel they have no choice but to give up as they can no longer cope with the demands of their children’s disabilities among other pressures.
At just four years old, Ella* found herself without a family.
Her biological mother, struggling with alcohol and drug dependency along with complex mental illness, could no longer care for her.
Ella was born with foetal alcohol syndrome and as a result lives with a hearing impairment, making it hard for her to communicate with others.
Extended family members, Tom* and Georgia* worried what Ella’s future would look like entering into the foster care system so young.
The pair considered kinship care but had their reservations.
“They were very unsure because they were under 25 at the time and newly engaged,” says Raeleen.
“The child had also experienced significant trauma. They weren’t sure if they could support her.”
Raeleen worked closely with Tom and Georgia, knowing that with just a little bit of support and guidance the couple could be a family to Ella.
“We were able to support the couple to learn sign language, so they could communicate with Ella,” says Raeleen. “They sent me this wonderful video of them all talking together and thanking me for helping them to communicate.
“She’s very loved this little girl. They’re a family now, she’s such a happy child.”
*This is a true story about real people. Some details such as names have been changed to respect the wishes of the people featured.
Compassion goes a long way
Generosity, kindness and compassion are what can get a family through crisis.
“Anything you can spare can change a person’s life in a way you can’t begin to imagine,” says Raeleen.
“Because when you’re living in your car or sitting in a home in the dark with no electricity, it’s a really dehumanising place to be.
“These moments are going to become these children’s memories. Our children deserve to grow up with very strong and happy memories of childhood.”
If you’re able, please help us help families in need.
Let’s ensure no one misses out this Christmas.