The wider impact of mental illness

AMPARO Advocacy has been assisting Andrea, a woman who came to Australia under the Humanitarian Program, and who is a sole parent with 2 young children. She has been suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other serious mental health issues which have led to the family becoming socially isolated and to a string of events involving Centrelink, housing, and health services, and to Andrea being hospitalised and ultimately to Child Safety placing the children in care.

A combination of mental illness and a limited English proficiency meant that important written correspondence in English from Centrelink requesting a review of her income was not responded to, and as a result Andrea’s Centrelink benefit was ceased. This led to the automatic debit usually made to the Department of Housing for rent was unpaid. Housing then sent Andrea a letter to remedy this breach, but again due to illness and limited English the importance of this letter was not recognised. Stress levels were exacerbated from living in a home whose garden and exterior were being regularly vandalised and impacted by high traffic noise and pollution. Applications for a housing transfer were being regularly cancelled due to a lack of response to letters requesting further information.

Sadly as Andrea did not see herself as being unwell she did not understand the need to attend medical appointments regularly and did not take the medications prescribed for her. Andrea became so unwell that that she was unable to leave the home and the children were staying home from school. AMPARO advocated for the local mental health team to become more involved and they organised for her to be hospitalised and to receive the necessary mental health treatment. Unfortunately, as there were no family or friends who could care for her children, Child Safety was notified that she would be going to hospital and her children were taken into care. The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal granted a short term order for a Legal Guardian and an Administrator to be appointed for 3 months.

AMPARO Advocacy’s initial role was to inform Centrelink and the Department of Housing that Andrea’s was very unwell and to provide them with the appropriate information so that Andrea’s benefits were reinstated and backdated and her rent was paid to prevent the family’s eviction.

Advocacy was needed to involve appropriate services so that as soon as Andrea was able to come out of hospital she would have additional support so that her children could be returned to her. To ensure that the Department of Child Safety returned her children to her care as soon as possible the advocate attended court hearings and meetings with Child Safety.

Once out of hospital, and the children returned, AMPARO’s role has been to provide ongoing advocacy during the recovery process to ensure that Andrea remains well and that ongoing appropriate mental health support has been available. A move to a quieter home in a different suburb is seen as important to this recovery process.

To summarise AMPARO’s advocacy efforts to support Andrea included:

  • Ensuring that appropriate interpreters who respect confidentiality were in attendance at all meetings and interpreted all correspondence.
  • Advocating with Centrelink for Andrea’s income benefit to be reinstated as a matter of urgency.
  • Working with the Department of Housing to remedy the breach notice and to pay the rent arrears, preventing Andrea and her family from being evicted and becoming homeless.
  • Advocating for the necessary supports to be put in place to allow Andrea to return home, and for the swift return of her children.
  • Addressing the communication breakdown between Andrea’s general practitioner and mental health team to ensure each were aware of the medications being prescribed by the other.
  • Supporting Andrea to discuss and address her concerns with the mental health team and to attend regular appointments.
  • Supporting Andrea at court regarding Child Safety orders and in meetings with the Department of Child Safety.
  • Supporting Andrea at QCAT re the dismissal of the Guardian and Administrator and to ensure that outstanding funds were returned to her in a timely manner.
  • Supporting the appointment of an appropriate service to provide complex case management support for an initial 6 month period.
  • Advocating for the appointment of a service to provide ongoing support in the longer term through the Personal Helpers and Mentors Program (PHaMs), and for the service’s use of interpreters. Services were reluctant to become involved as they were unaware that they could access fee-free professional interpreting services through the Translating and Information Service (TIS).
  • Supporting Andrea to raise her concerns at the Mental Health Tribunal hearing regarding the involuntary treatment order.
  • Advocating for the family’s housing transfer application to be backdated to the first application date, and to be prioritised due to health and safety concerns.
  • Assisting Andrea to provide Child Safety with the contact details of friends who could care for her children should she become unwell again.

Andrea is now well on the way to recovery, with both the involuntary treatment order to cease shortly. Andrea’s caring well for her family and her English is improving rapidly through regular attendance at TAFE. An application has been made for Australian citizenship and the family are at the top of the housing transfer listing. AMPARO Advocacy continues to advocate for this housing transfer and for a service to support Andrea in the longer term.

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