The last time I wrote about Chad it was July when one side of his face had swollen from an infected tooth. We managed to fit him in between appointments with a dentist the following day but Chad forgot. The infection must have cleared as he has not complained of pain since although there has been plenty to keep him focussed in other areas of his life. As a recovering drug user Chad has been attending weekly counselling visits and he participates in these conversations well.
When I met Chad, he, his partner, Samantha, and five week old baby were homeless. Over the course of nine months the services wrapped around the family found a two storey apartment in a high density suburb. The area is low socioeconomic with a thriving drug culture: support services are reluctant to do home visits. It wasn’t the best outcome but the family were housed and Chad set about building fences and establishing shrub and vegetable gardens.
On Mondays and Tuesdays Chad attended a work for the dole programme and on Thursdays he attends his probation and parole obligations by completing eight hours of community services. Wednesdays and Fridays were divided between family time and keeping appointments. Chad has pride in his abstinence and enjoyed being able to keep up with home and parenting tasks as well as get to appointments.
Things started to change at home, his partner would not go out of the house and became suspicious of Chad and how he was spending his days. Bouts of domestic violence started again – these had ceased when Samantha started taking prescribed medication for anxiety and depression some months before. Chad was shaken by the change in his partner and the violence and level of noise their baby was being exposed to. When things settled down life in the home resumed as he saw Samantha and the child as his world that he wanted to preserve at all costs.
The services involved with the family met to talk about ways to support the couple. Things improved again when Samantha started taking the medication again but the added pressure of being intensively monitored by child protection services weighed heavily on both parents.
Chad missed his one Thursday of community service to stay home and care for the baby because Samantha had not returned home from an early call to the grocery store. She returned several hours later without explanation and became angry when questioned about her whereabouts. That night she asked Chad to leave the family home and became violent when he tried to reason with her. For the next week he slept rough and checked in to the community centre for meals and cadging a shower from friends.
Police were unsympathetic to Chad’s report of domestic violence and would not attend the home to speak to Samantha, they advised him to remain away until things settled.
Days later Chad received a text from Samantha arranging to meet so he could see his child on Christmas eve. Samantha arrived two hours late and was verbally aggressive towards Chad who left without spending any time with his baby because he was afraid there might be a scene. Thinking he would be seeing his child on the Thursday of Christmas eve, for the second time he missed his Thursday community service appointment.
When he became homeless again Probation and Parole placed Chad with his sister and family in a two-bedroom house, he sleeps in the lounge room in a sleeping bag. The area is two train rides away from Samantha and his baby. Last week services concerned about Chad’s wellbeing met to find a way forward in what seemed like an impasse between the couple. Samantha had told Chad that he was not able to see his baby and that the directive came from child protection services. There was no such instruction. The couple exchanged text messages but Samantha’s texts confused Chad: one text invited him home the next was abusive. Similarly she had told child protection services that she wanted him home and then changed her mind.
Little was resolved in the meeting. Chad remains living with his sister in an over crowded house, he has not seen his baby and child protection services have advised him to stay away from the home because it would ‘look better’ when he goes to court for access to his child. He has information to start a process of mediation through family law court.
A condition of the intensive community order is that Chad miss no more than three Thursdays within his two year probation period – he has missed two within the first six months. Another condition is that he provide urinalysis drug screens that are clear from all illicit drugs and non prescribed medications. Despite the circumstances he has remained abstinent as he tries to hold his head high knowing the extent of the unfairness of the situation.
Chad feels powerless and detached and hopeless. He is the parent who has attended multiple parenting courses, taken his child to play group and spent nights nursing her when she has been unsettled.