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Robyn knows loss better than most. SIDS took one of her children and we took the other three. Losing another wasn’t an option for her. She showed me right from the outset that she was going to fight to keep her new baby. I knew I had to give Robyn the chance to be the mum she wanted to be.
I work in a small remote Aboriginal community. Everyone knows everyone and I had heard through Robyn’s family that she was pregnant before the report hit our system.
I wasn’t surprised when my manager added Robyn to my case list.
Even though I had heard about Robyn through the community, I didn’t know much about her past involvement with us. I read her files. I knew I had to understand this mother’s trauma and the significant loss she had experienced before we met. I had to know what had happened for her to have three children taken and what might be different now if I were to make the right decision for her new baby.
When I rang to introduce myself as her new caseworker, Robyn’s fear was evident. I sensed her dread. She had just given birth to Jarakye and, like all mums, she wanted nothing more than to take him home with her. When we met for the first time Robyn’s fear was deeply etched in her face. She cried and shook as we spoke. She brought tears to my eyes – a human response to the suffering of another. I was moved and Robyn saw this. She took it as a hopeful indication that she was more than just another report on my desk.
Having Jarakye during the pandemic meant that Robyn was separated from him for health reasons. He was in the special care nursery and Robyn was in another ward. It was clear how hard it was for her to be separated given how much loss she had already experienced. I knew that Robyn understood why Jarakye was separated from her, but I also knew doing something about this was my opportunity to show her that I supported them being together. I rang the hospital social worker to arrange for Robyn to see Jarakye by video so she could see how he was going with her own eyes.
I hoped it would help her understand that I was there to support her to be the mum she wanted to be.
When Jarakye was ready to leave the hospital, I picked them up and drove the three hours home to our small town. On that ride home Robyn shared her story of recovery including rehabilitation and relapse. She also told me about the violence she had experienced in her relationship with Jarakye’s dad.
It had been six years since Robyn had been in a rehabilitation program. She had worked hard to continue to make the choice not to use drugs and participate in her withdrawal program. But the violence from her partner had continued and with that the reports to us. The more I got to know Robyn the clearer it became that so much of her life had changed since her other children were taken from her. Robyn didn’t see herself as she was, nor did she want her old life back, she just wanted to keep her baby. It was important for me to see the person she was now and not just her history.
Robyn spoke openly about her 16 year relationship with Jarakye’s father and his ongoing struggle with alcohol and drugs. She didn’t want to raise Jarakye around his substance use or violence, but she still wanted her son to grow up with his father involved in his life. She wasn’t sure how to give Jarakye both. Unfortunately Jarakye’s dad’s alcohol and substance use was getting worse, filling Robyn with sadness and disappointment.
One day Robyn called to say she wanted to leave, she was sick of it. I supported Robyn’s decision to leave her partner and organised for her and Jarakye to stay at a women’s refuge.
Robyn has always showed me that she can put Jarakye’s needs above hers, no matter how hard it got for her. She left everything behind to ensure Jarakye was safe and protected in an environment free from violence and substance use. I admired her decision. It took courage to start over but she did it, determined to give her boy the best possible start in life.
As a non-Aboriginal caseworker I am always mindful of the historical impact of our department and what this means for families and communities today. Tapping into culture is the best way to create safety for children. You need to build trust with the local Aboriginal community, understand the impact of colonisation and intergenerational trauma, be transparent, listen carefully and follow through on what you say. I tried to do this in my work with Robyn.
Robyn is resilient, determined and strong. She is responsible for the positive changes in her life and I have been lucky enough to be the one to remind her of this and to offer ongoing support, encouragement and guidance when needed. Robyn and I have placed trust in each other, with Jarakye’s safety and wellbeing at the centre of our relationship.
Seeing Robyn completely change her life and getting to know her for the caring and protective person she is, I know that Jarakye is exactly where he needs to be – in her arms and growing up strong in culture.
30 Mar 2023
We acknowledge Aboriginal people as the First Nations Peoples of NSW and pay our respects to Elders past, present, and future.
Informed by lessons of the past, Department of Communities and Justice is improving how we work with Aboriginal people and communities. We listen and learn from the knowledge, strength and resilience of Stolen Generations Survivors, Aboriginal Elders and Aboriginal communities.
You can access our apology to the Stolen Generations.