A recent recipient of the 2016 NAPCAN Play Your Part Prevention Award, CPS’s Mentoring Mums program matches a trained volunteer to act as mentor to a vulnerable and/or isolated mother. One of the most heart-warming partnerships CPS has seen is Rachel and Leigh. The nature of their enduring friendship rose above and beyond the normal scope of the program. (story by Jeff Dowsing) Rachel (mother to Eliza 9 and Lucy 6) “Rachel’s always running late”, Leigh informs me as we both arrive simultaneously to an empty house in north eastern Melbourne. Empty but for Wags the dog, Rachel’s adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, whose tail can be seen wagging furiously in a narrow frosted window by the door. Eventually Rachel arrives. She was comforting a friend who’d experienced something awful the night before. “I’m one of those people who wears their heart on their sleeve”, Rachel would later reveal. But it’s the flipside of the aged care worker’s greatest attributes as a person – her sensitivity and compassion – that ultimately cause her the most heartache. Rachel smiles and laughs easily enough, but there’s a bit going on under the surface. “I find it very hard to deal with things and other people have taken advantage of me.” Without family living close by to provide support, Rachel’s problems have been compounded by bouts of depression and severe anxiety that have necessitated medication and therapy. Hence, a GP referred Rachel to CPS’s Mentoring Mums program six years ago, soon after the birth of second daughter Lucy. Both now in their mid-40’s, Leigh has proved a perfect match – empathetic to Rachel’s sense of isolation having migrated from New Zealand as a young mum. Rachel’s first impressions of Leigh was that she was also very caring, and relatable in that she was raising two girls of her own. And most importantly, never judgemental. Having successfully navigated problems with Lucy such as sleep routines and feeding, new challenges continue to present. Older daughter Eliza is a handful. “She knows how to manipulate me”, Rachel laments of her 9 year old, going on 13 it seems. “She’s dreading it with the stories I tell her about my teenagers”, Leigh chimes in. “I’ll still be mentoring you then!” Though the mentor-client relationship officially ended recently, Rachel agrees with Leigh. “I will always look forward to our chats each week.” Although they think alike and share the same taste in football team (Essendon), TV shows and clothes, there are points of difference. “She’s a lot more patient than me”, says Leigh, who also notes Rachel’s compassion, generosity and humour - “but I’m much tidier”. “I tend to give in more”, responds conflict averse Rachel. “I love to argue”, laughs Leigh. Onto more serious matters, without Leigh, Rachel fears she may have lost her daughters or had a serious breakdown. Notwithstanding, when life has seemed brighter, attempts to go without medication haven’t worked out. Fortunately she has Leigh as a safety net who believes in her. “She is a wonderful mother and a wonderful friend”, Leigh says of Rachel. “And she is really great at her job.” Reflecting on their friendship and asked to describe Leigh in three words, Rachel understandably begins to struggle to hold it together. And it’s contagious. “Caring, understanding…” After Rachel’s journey with Leigh it wasn’t a fair question without notice. How does one adequately condense six years into three words? Leigh (mentor to Rachel, mother to Rachael 19 and Emma 16) After leaving paid work and with time to spare, Leigh was looking for something meaningful to do when she spotted CPS’s mentoring mums advertisement in the local newspaper. “I thought back to when I had my children and I had no family here, and how great it would have been having someone to offer me advice and support”, explains Leigh. Besides being ‘very talkative and very friendly’, Leigh’s first impression of Rachel was of being nervous, ‘as I was too’. With the benefit of Mentoring Mums training and her own experience, it didn’t take long for Leigh to gain an understanding of Rachel’s challenges. The two clicked straight away. “I helped her overcome anxiety issues when she would get overwhelmed with things. Get her to calm down, that it’s OK. Perhaps try this and this… And just offering parenting advice based on having two girls myself. Giving her ideas how to cope with various stressful situations, such as organising birthday parties.” Mentoring Mums partnerships generally last around 18 months, typically sufficient time to build the mother’s capacity to fly solo. Nonetheless, every situation is treated as unique. “I thought it would just be for a year or two, to get her through that initial time”, says Leigh, echoing Rachel’s perceived timeline. “Then as things moved along I thought we’d probably become long term friends. I went to Lucy’s christening and their birthdays, grandparent days at school. I also thought it would be for as long as she needed me.” Leigh feels particularly close to Lucy. “I’ve known her since she was 5 months old. She always runs up to me with a great big hug and cuddle.” Not only did Leigh and Rachel’s friendship consolidate, their husbands also get along well with both being in the building industry and sharing similar personalities. “We all go out to dinner as friends. And both my girls who are a bit older have babysat her girls.” A planned babysit provided one of Leigh and Rachel’s more amusing episodes. One of Leigh’s daughters was to babysit Rachel’s girls one afternoon. Leigh received a text from Rachel’s phone saying she no longer needed help. Whilst the wording was slightly odd, Leigh thought nothing of it. When Leigh’s daughter hadn’t shown up Rachel called asking ‘why isn’t she here? Did she miss the train or something?’ ‘You texted me and told me you didn’t need her’, replied Leigh, miffed. ‘No I didn’t’. ‘Yes you did!’ To cut a long story short, Eliza (then about 5) didn’t want mummy to go to work that day so she sent the text herself on her mother’s phone. Such communications are no longer sent via SMS! As with any friendship, there is the odd frustration, besides Rachel’s ‘chronic lateness’. “Occasionally Rachel has asked for my advice, only to talk to someone else like a neighbour who convinces her otherwise. Like not to pick up Lucy when she was crying, or to not hold her when feeding!” Leigh believes her most positive contribution over the years is essentially being there with advice when Rachel’s felt particularly down or stressed. “A shoulder to cry on and not being judgemental like her family is sometimes… Rachel still needs me on some level.” Meanwhile for Leigh, being a mentor to Rachel has provided its own rewards, besides their friendship. “I feel a sense of worth, like I’m contributing to society.” For more information or to register your interest as a volunteer, please contact the Mentoring Mums Coordinator on (03) 9474 4819 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.Read the story
After much planning, ‘Girls Group’ has successfully concluded its first program for young clients who've experienced sexual abuse. The sessions, designed for girls about to transition to secondary school, commenced in July. Conducted by CPS's Therapeutic Services, Girls Group aims to strengthen social skills, enhance self-confidence, develop a sense of identity and connect girls to form new friendships. Activities included art & craft, dance therapy, yoga, puppetry and expressing emotions using music and movement. The girls also enjoyed decorating their own personal safe cushions, nurturing a plant and coining their own group name (Thunderstruckers!). The highlight though was a session at Latitude where they bounced, climbed and flew their way to a good time. Several girls with an aversion to heights bravely took on challenging activities, the result being a boost to their confidence and resilience. CPS hopes this to be the first of many Girls Groups to support clients through what can be a difficult period of any young girl's life, let alone shrouded by trauma.Read the story
Three children, family violence, a marriage breakdown and an abusive and controlling ex-husband…
This is a first hand account of how CPS helped a mum navigate a turbulent time in her life to the point where she is now excited about what the future holds for her family.