Even in the face of unimaginable adversity, small victories can be found, but often it takes the belief of another to have faith in oneself, writes Director Dale West in The Advertiser.


Slapped with labels such as meth-head, loser, homeless, nut case and disabled, they are judged at face value by their symptoms, with no consideration of their past.

Such negativity seeps into other aspects of South Australian life, but the impact it has on our most vulnerable is often particularly cruel — confidence and self-esteem is eroded, and they feel defeated and demeaned. What would happen if we chose to nurture understanding and tolerance, instead of writing people off?

Even in the face of unimaginable adversity, small victories can be found, but often it takes the belief of another to have faith in oneself. Despite what community stereotypes lead us to believe, situational crisis can happen to anyone regardless of your address, employment status, finances and family situation.

If your entire family and friendship networks break down, how do you extricate yourself from the whirlwind if you do not have support?

Encouragement goes a long way. The proof, if you need it, is in the faces behind programs such as Centacare’s voluntary Family Preservation Service (FPS). The service works to address safety concerns and other lifestyle factors affecting ability to parent in families with children from birth to 18 years who are experiencing abuse or neglect.

Common symptoms of neglect include lice-infected scalps, skin sores, malnutrition, developmental delay, and poor attachment with parents or caregivers. Generational dysfunction often plays a part, and unemployment, financial difficulty, mental health challenges and environmental stress may also be present.

The FPS traces clients’ backstories to put their past, present and future into context. They are people like Rosie who had it all until a family tragedy turned her life upside down. She was referred to the FPS due to concerns about her children’s safety.

Overwhelmed by grief, Rosie was struggling with substance misuse and was at high risk of self-harm. The family lived in squalor and had multiple pets. For a woman who had once led a highly successful professional life, it all became too much.

From the outset, our hope for Rosie was the same as for every family we support: that when we step away from the case, they have a strong foundation for success and improved health outcomes, and the capacity to enjoy family life. Working in partnership with the State Government, Centacare provides households with intensive one-year case management, including health intervention by a clinical nurse. This includes in-home and community support up to twice a week in order to build resilience and parenting capacity.

We look for the slightest indication of strength to make positive change. Using a strengths-based approach, we try and normalise challenges so families do not feel shame or that they are being judged.

Sadly, this is a foreign concept for many parents who may have been discounted for much of their life. When vulnerable parents see that we believe in them, they start to believe in themselves, and they begin to take the first of many small but significant steps forward. While we don’t get to see the long-term outcomes, it is what we do with families and children in the period of time we support them that can set them up for life.

In Rosie’s case, her involvement with FPS led to improved school attendance and health outcomes for her children. She was supported to access counselling, financial management and help around the home, and her self-confidence grew as her social isolation decreased. Rosie reports she is feeling hopeful and more in control of her life today.

In 27 years at Centacare, I’ve never yet met a mother who appears not to love her child — some parents just need more support than others.

As a community, if we can walk with those we see struggling and be kind to one another without judgment, perhaps we can prevent today’s children from becoming tomorrow’s clients.

■ Dale West is director of Centacare Catholic Family Services