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Daniel’s
Story

From the end of the driveway, the sounds floating from the house are standard for most family homes. Clattering plates, kids squabbling, a dog barking, and an adult pleading for teeth to be cleaned and shoes to be put on…

But at this small house in a town in far west NSW, the family inside has faced more than their fair share of challenges in the past few years. Three years ago their world was turned upside down when Amber, mum to Lucy, Daniel, and Tilly, was tragically killed in a car accident.

Amber’s husband Josh remembers,

“Trying to explain to the kids what had happened was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Tilly was too young to understand, but having to tell Luce and Dan that mummy wasn’t coming home absolutely destroyed me. Amber was their whole world. Mine too…”

It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to help your children heal from the loss of a parent. Sadly, many families deal with complex and traumatic situations, and it is both adults and children who are profoundly impacted.

Access to the right kind of services and support can make all the difference in a family’s recovery.

Unfortunately, mental health services in Australian country communities remain incredibly scarce, even as demand continues to grow.

Josh recalls. “There’s nothing that can prepare you for that kind of situation. The weeks after the accident are just one big blur in my mind. It was like we’d been hit with a wrecking ball, and everything just stopped. But eventually I could’t afford to be off work any longer. Lucy loved her teacher which really helped her transition back, but it was Dan who struggled to return to any kind of normality.”

But in the months following Amber’s death, Daniel’s behaviour started to change. He became incredibly anxious and started to worry about the tiniest of things – a bug landing on him, a glass of water being tipped over, a door blowing shut…

Everything was a potential catastrophe in his little eyes.

Daniel became incredibly clingy – refusing to let Josh out of his sight, At night, Josh and Daniel rarely got to sleep before midnight, as Daniel imagined the house burning down or being broken into. Josh had to get up multiple times in the night to check on Daniel’s sisters, to reassure him they were ok.

They were both exhausted. And to make matters worse, Daniel was due to start school in the new year.

Whilst Josh was optimistic school would be a change of pace for him, Daniel’s anxiety went into overdrive, preventing him from settling into the classroom or making friends. Despite his teacher using a range of strategies to help him, Daniel rarely joined in during lessons.

It was clear Daniel needed help, and so did Josh. Visiting their local GP was a major turning point.

“I’d kept putting off seeing the doctor about Dan. Part of me thought his behaviour must be normal given what he’d been through. I felt like I was betraying him by acknowledging something was going wrong.”

The GP referred Josh to a local mental health and counselling organisation, but unfortunately, their books were full for the foreseeable future and they didn’t offer child services. With no help available within a two-hundred-kilometre radius, the GP instead referred Daniel to Royal Far West, where he was connected with the Paediatric Developmental Program team.

From the first consultation, it was clear Amber’s death was taking a huge toll on the whole family, and without the right kind of support, the family was going to find it hard to get back on track.

During their stay, the family spent time with one of our paediatricians and the Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist exploring Daniel’s sleep and behaviour difficulties, and putting strategies in place to support both Daniel and Josh’s ability to manage Daniel’s challenges.

In conjunction with medication, Daniel and Josh also engaged with an occupational therapist who worked with Josh to further understand Daniel’s behaviour and regulation needs.

Strategies were also discussed with Josh to work with Daniel to support him to stay calm in key moments, including at night time, before school, or any other time Daniel’s anxiety begins to rise..

The Social Worker also worked with Josh to identify opportunities in his week for self-care. By ensuring he makes time, space and techniques to support his own mental wellbeing, Josh will be able to connect with and support his children more easily. Josh also registered for the Tuning into Kids®, our parenting program which focuses on strategies for parents to support their children and themselves, and connect with other country parents.

The social worker saw Josh as they left for the airport at the end of the week and said Josh was overwhelmed but optimistic. He told her:

“We’ve got a long way to go – life will obviously never be the same, but I feel like this week we’ve turned a bit of a corner. It’s still going to be a challenge, and the team are working hard to get Daniel longer term support, but knowing there are things I can do to help, and that we have a team on our side just makes me feel so much more positive about our future.”

* To ensure privacy and confidentiality for our client families, our stories are representative in nature and real names or images are not used.

Will you please make a kind donation today to ensure country children and their families have the developmental and mental health services they need to thrive?


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