Reversing a lifetime of chaos and pain
24 May 2016
It was a phone call that changed the course of her life.
A victim of domestic violence, Becky* was sobbing when she dialled The Salvation Army’s number in Singleton. She told them that an abusive husband had just thrown her and her three children out of home. She was only 23.
Captain Leanne Bennett, a Salvation Army officer in Singleton, took the call, and set in motion a process of assistance that has given Becky and her children a new life. Becky now calls Leanne and her husband, Captain Peter Bennett, “Mum and “Dad”, and her children call them “Nan” and “Pop”.
Originally taking Becky and her children into their own home, The Salvation Army couple has set up Becky and her children in a home of their own. They also organised for Becky to attend various parenting courses to learn skills she was never taught. Captain Leanne Bennett has become the mother figure Becky felt she never had.
By the time she was five, Becky says she had experienced so much pain in her young life that she was self-harming and running away from home. Her parents separated after she was born and she felt she became a pawn in their ongoing battles. There was no stability in her life, at one stage moving every few weeks.
Becky went to live with her father at the age of five. At the age of 11, a close relative allegedly molested Becky, and by the age of 15 she had run away to live with her boyfriend.
While she began establishing a career in hospitality management, the next few years were a volatile mix of broken relationships, often filled with violence. The first time Becky fell pregnant she lost the baby. She went on to have another three children and got married.
The family moved to Singleton and at times called on The Salvation Army for assistance with food vouchers. Becky also started taking her children to the kids club at The Salvation Army. She says: "I’d never actually told them about the domestic violence that was happening, but I think they suspected, especially because my son (in kindy) used to beat me pretty badly, copying his dad.”
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Captain Leanne sensed there were problems at home and took Becky out for coffee. “She goes the extra mile,” smiles Becky, who says she finally confessed everything to Captain Leanne.
The Salvation Army officer took charge of the situation and drove Becky and the children to a refuge in a nearby town. Becky, however, was unable to cope alone and began suffering from anxiety. She soon ended up back with her husband in Singleton but the situation deteriorated and ended up with Becky being thrown out. Sitting on the kerb outside her home, she made the desperate call to Captain Leanne.
Despite their policy never to have clients live in their home, Captains Peter and Leanne took Becky in. Her children were placed in foster care.
Captain Leanne says: “We sorted out the financial problems. Salvation Army Moneycare in Newcastle got a lot of the debts wiped because of Becky’s situation. There was a massive debt with the Department of Housing because her husband ultimately abandoned the house, but first destroyed it and it was in her name. It was absolutely incredible, just what she had to deal with, on top with the three kids going into foster care.”
The Bennetts began to officially case-manage Becky, and that included trying to find her a rental unit nearby. Captain Leanne explains: “I literally had to beg every real estate agent in town until I found one that would at least entertain the idea of letting her rent a unit, because she’d never privately rented, she had no rental references, and she had massive debts.
The Salvos helped Becky furnish the unit and put food in the cupboards. They also helped organise counselling and parenting courses.
Captain Leanne says: “She’s managed to get the kids back and now she’s doing brilliantly. The kids are the most stable and the best behaved I’ve ever seen them. She calls Peter and I Dad and Mum now and her kids are now calling us Nan and Pop – so that’s lovely that they feel that way.”
Becky says that Captain Leanne also taught her the basics of running a household that her parents had never taught her. She says as well as organising financial counselling, “they showed me you could have happy, respectful relationships.”
“I was also terrible at cleaning and cooking,” Becky admits. “I didn’t know anything, and my house was atrocious. So they taught me the basic necessities of living and cooking, and I’ve done a lot of workshops with the kids to help deal with their emotions and my parenting. It all helped us so much. My daughter is still a handful but that’s also her personality, and my older son is a little sweetheart now, he wouldn’t hurt me at all. He’s full of cuddles and kisses – they’re all doing so well and they feel safe and understood and that’s the key.”
Becky is now in a happy relationship and is planning to undertake some youth work certificates, “to better equip myself with counselling youth. And,” she says, “I go to church every Sunday and help out with junior soldiers, kids club and youth group.”
She says Captain Leanne also challenges her to improve herself. “Leanne really pushes me to bring out my creativeness. She finds the jobs for me that she knows that she could handle within two seconds and it might take me like an hour or so, but she pushes me to be involved and challenge myself and she’s also really opened my eyes to my relationship with God!”
Becky dreads to imagine where she and her children may be if Captains Peter and Leanne didn’t “go that extra mile” in their already busy lives. (The Bennetts are also the Red Shield Defence Services representatives at the nearby Lone Pine Barracks).
“I wouldn’t have my kids, I know that, and I can’t imagine what life would be like for them,” she says. “Life was just dark and oppressive and lonely, but now I really look forward to waking up every morning to a new day.”