This is the story of a father's determination to care for his children, because no barrier is too big when love is the driving force.
Mick* was thousands of kilometres from his children when he received a phone call saying their mother was no longer able to care for them. His children, aged four and six, were being taken into foster care.
Mick had left his family due to escalating violence with his children's mother. She was impacted by the trauma of this, and her own childhood as well, and was not able to cope as a parent.
There was no question about what to do next for Mick. He dropped everything and headed back to Darwin, with one single goal in mind: to be there for his children and bring them home.
A short time later, Mick found himself sleeping on the floor in a share house. He had a lot of obstacles to overcome. He had completed school up to the age of 13 and spent time in youth detention centres. Mick had limited life skills and didn't know how to cook or prepare meals.
When Mick was referred to MacKillop's Family Support Service in Darwin, his first priority was to find suitable accommodation. The service supports vulnerable families to help reunify children safely to their parents and keep children living safely at home.
Mick continued taking practical steps to regain care of his kids and maintained regular contact with them while they were in care. Family Support Service Practitioner Kerry Lane assisted Mick to secure housing and furniture and move into his new accommodation. Mick had never assembled flat pack furniture, and this was one of many things to navigate on a steep learning curve.
Kerry says that since Mick received the first phone call, he has been jumping through hoops ever since. His initial response was "I'll do whatever it takes", and his attitude has never wavered. "Mick has demonstrated dedication every step of the way," says Kerry.
Mick needed help to learn and practice cooking meals for his children. With Kerry's help, he has developed a repertoire they all enjoy and is gradually increasing his skills and variety.
Kerry has also been supporting Mick to develop awareness of how he speaks about the children's mother in front of them. "He is gaining more insight into his past violent behaviours, developing and practicing strategies to manage his anger and stress," says Kerry. To regain custody, Mick had to complete family violence counselling. He did this at his own expense, traveling hours on public transport to attend each session.
One of Mick's children has ASD and displays challenging behaviours. On a recent home visit, Kerry witnessed Mick respond to his child with patience, kindness, consistency, and the right amount of firmness when putting in boundaries. This allowed his son to feel safe and he quickly deescalated.
By far the biggest change has been in Mick's attitude. He is now less aggressive and confrontational, and has a lot more patience, consideration, responsibility, and self-awareness. Everything revolves around his children now. Mick provides consistency in their daily routines and has built strong relationships with neighbours to create a support network for the family. He stands up for his children's rights by setting expectations with his friends too: when they visit, Mick insists they behave appropriately in front of his children.
Mick's children have settled into their new routine beautifully.
The kids love Mick and are stoked to be with him. They're very happy and excited to live with their dad now.
After seeing so much change in such a short time, Kerry has told Mick what a great sense of pride he should have. He has come so far and put in so much.
Kerry says that witnessing and supporting Mick to transform his life so he can be there for his kids has been profound. "This is why I do my job. Seeing Mick's success is a buzz. His two kids are out of care, they're back with their dad, they love him and they're doing well. It's amazing to see someone get ahead in life; to really get what they want and what they deserve," says Kerry.
Most profoundly Mick now reports an increase in his self-belief, self-confidence, and determination. He accepts praise and has goals and dreams for the future.
*Name changed and model image used to protect privacy