Identifying elements of this family have been altered for privacy reasons. However, the ‘story’ is typical of clients referred to our service which provides drug and alcohol counselling and some parenting support, for parents who have identified their substance use has affected the family functioning. We work with parents in their homes because we realise that getting to and from meetings, with children, on public transport is difficult and at times untenable. For many home is the context within which their use of drugs or alcohol takes place; being able to work within that context is helpful.
Our team of three counsellors in the last financial year, provided 919 visits to homes to support parents address their substance use. We work with child protection services which in itself is an ethical point of tension. On the one hand trying to build trust and rapport with parents and on the other acknowledging that children’s well being is paramount. It is a fine line …
Bapp is a father of five. He identifies as an Australian Aboriginal and his home language is English. At intake he was drinking up to two litres of wine (15 standard drinks) and smoking up to 50 cones of cannabis a day. He has a heart condition which requires medication that he cannot afford to purchased. He is also prescribed medication for depression and anxiety. Because of his hectic new role he often forgets his medications which he states ‘is no good because it messes with my head, and the kids know and muck-up’.
Bapp cannot read or write and is behind on rental payments and has a large debt from a previous tenancy with the Department of Housing. The department is pursuing repayment of this debt. He has recently moved away from his family of origin because of their heavy drinking and drug use.
The oldest child is eight and the youngest 2 and a half (three boys and two girls). All five children have health issues (glue ear, ADHD, global developmental delay, ODD and the oldest girl has recently been diagnosed with childhood anxiety and shows signs of parentification. Abena, children’s mother has left the family on three previous occasions, leaving Bapp to cope with running a home, caring for the children and trying to work. Abena is now pregnant with another man’s child and wishes to return to Bapp and the five children.
Bapp’s experience of child raising is that ‘it’s women’s work, Mum did everything’. He has few parenting skills and finds Abena, the children’s mother, as much work as the children. He is overwhelmed by the family circumstances. The children are fed and clothed; the older ones usually get to school before morning break. He reports having little energy to enforce rules or boundaries around homework or social behaviours. The family rarely goes out as Bapp lacks confidence to control them in public.
To date there have been eleven reports to child protection services about the family. The notifications relate to incidences of domestic violence in which Bapp has been the victim of Abena’s anger, and child neglect (head lice, poor hygiene, malnutrition, anti-social behaviours, failing to thrive). Child protection are involved at this point but have referred Bapp to our service in the hope of working with him on his alcohol and cannabis use as well as helping him to put some safe parenting practices in place.
However, Bapp’s concern are his use of cannabis and alcohol and his lack of appropriate parenting skills.
Two weeks after referral the family was evicted from their home because of alleged structural damage to the dwelling. The family was homeless. Some refuges provide shelter for women and children and others refuges provide crisis accommodation for men. There are no crisis shelter accommodation supports for fathers with children.
Tomorrow’s post will look at some of the ways in which we were able to support this family, some outcomes of their situation and how they are doing now.