Living in the shed of her Mum's home with five young children was the only option open to Rebecca Poole.
It was a choice she had to make, it was to be a temporary solution as she sought a rental property to call home after the end of a relationship marred by domestic violence. Sadly, repeated rental application rejections in the Great Lakes area saw the temporary solution evolve to become permanent, with Rebecca and her children, Mieka, Riley, Xavier, Isaac, and Molly, living in the Tuncurry shed for years.
"I lost count of how many applications and phone calls I made," Rebecca said. "I just kept coming up against judgement and excuses, and I did not know what to do to change it."
"No-one would rent me a house because I had five kids. I had people laugh at me over the phone when I asked for a property address."
The relentless rejections eroded Rebecca's confidence, and so, it was with wariness that she agreed to meet with Nikki Reece, a parenting partner with Brighter Futures, a program run by CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning in the Manning, Great Lakes and Gloucester areas.
"Our first meeting was at a play centre because she didn't want me to come to the shed ... she just wasn't confident and was wary of the service," Nikki said.
I was wary because I thought they might think I was not capable, I was worried they would say, you can't have your kids here and we're going to take them.Rebecca Poole
"That's my biggest fear, losing my kids, because they are everything to me," Rebecca said.
That was in August 2017 and today, Rebecca regards Nikki as a friend, the shed as a home is a memory, her children are happy, she is studying with TAFE Digital and also runs PartyLite from her home, a small business that sells candles and oils.
Rebecca is animated as she shares her experience of being in the Brighter Futures program, that now also includes a pilot program, SafeCare.
The word 'support' dominates Rebecca's conversation when she shares her experience of Brighter Futures; she shares that a support letter assisted her successful rental application, that there was support to get essentials to make the house their home, support to help her to feel comfortable and capable of living on her own, and support to grow in confidence as a parent.
"There was so much help, I just cried," Rebecca said.
The children are aged between 13 years and two years old, and part of Nikki's role included supporting Rebecca to navigate the National Disability Insurance Scheme following the diagnosis of Global Development Delay and autism for two of her children.
"We went through the processes of finding all the correct people to see because I had no idea. Nikki helped me through that, and a lot of emotional stuff too, she is a good friend now."
Nikki is proud of Rebecca and of her progress.
"When I first met Rebecca it was about building her self-esteem. Helping her to recognise that she was doing the right thing, and just because she was a single mother, and no-one else would give her a chance, didn't mean she wasn't doing a great job at parenting," Nikki said. "So much of what she was doing was fantastic!"
"In the Brighter Futures program we support children aged zero to eight years, and as part of that program we are a pilot site for SafeCare. It's an evidence-based parenting program and covers three modules around health, safety in the home, and parent/child interactions.
"Rebecca was one of the first to go through the program, and it really reassured her that everything she was doing was exactly what we would hope a family."
Rebecca urges people to seek support.
"Don't be afraid to take that extra step to get help. You're not a bad person, you're not a bad parent, sometimes you just need a little helping hand, which is what I learned, and it's good to be reminded that you are a good parent. SafeCare allowed me to see that there were so many things I was doing well, and I was on the right track.
If I hadn't tapped into this program I would still be in Mum's shed.Rebecca Poole
"The kids are now more confident and so different. They were all just withdrawn and held back, but now they're out there, sometimes a little too much! It's great and it's such a relief."
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