DAMON was just like any other Hobart 16-year-old.
With a cheeky smile, sense of humour and a passion for all things automotive, the world was his oyster.
However, Damon’s everyday life was turned upside down when he became primary carer for his infant son, Blaze.
To further compound the stresses involved with being a single parent at such a young age, Blaze was born with cerebral palsy.
What followed was a steep learning curve in things most teenagers are yet to discover – nappies, baby formula, childcare and caring for someone with higher needs.
But the extra responsibility that came with being a single father hit Damon harder than most – he was no longer able to afford his accommodation, and he and Blaze were at serious risk of falling into homelessness.
“I felt like I had lost control of my life and was just completely overwhelmed. Everything was spiralling out of control quickly,” Damon said.
“People were trying to give me advice, telling me to do this and that, but being so young and new to that world, I had no idea who to listen to or what to do.”
But then help arrived, as Damon was introduced to the Tasmanian Gateway program – a joint initiative between Mission Australia, Baptcare and the State Government.
Damon is one of more than 11,000 Tasmanians whose lives have turned around since encountering the Gateway program, which has helped an estimated 2,500 children avoid the child protection system.
The program works by providing individuals and families with appropriate information and advice, brief intervention and referrals to relevant services.
Damon said this level of holistic support really made the difference when it came to getting back on his feet.
“Gateway gave me so much more than just advice about where to turn for help, and my caseworker, Rachel, really went above and beyond to make sure Blaze and I were looked after,” he said.
“She would make sure I had the right appointments, provide transport there and back, and follow up on everything.
“Just knowing someone is fighting in your corner is a massive confidence boost. I was not alone anymore and all of a sudden I felt like I could breathe again.
“I used to wake up terrified, thinking how am I going to pay for the basics, let alone give Blaze the life I want him to have? Now, two years later, I have a new partner, a newborn daughter, a stable income and home and Blaze is growing up with the chance to succeed that every kid deserves.”
Gateway recently celebrated five years of service to vulnerable Tasmanians with the launch of a commemorative e-book.
“Together we achieve – stories celebrating five years of Gateway Services” shares some of the journeys Gateway clients, including Damon, have experienced.
Mission Australia’s state director Noel Mundy said the book reflected how instrumental the Gateway program had been in helping struggling Tasmanian families keep their heads above water.
“Mission Australia has a long history of supporting families and ensuring children are given every opportunity to grow and thrive – the Gateway program continues that proud tradition,” he said.
“Over the course of its five years, the program has helped more than 600 families facing or experiencing homelessness receive support, while more than 4,000 parents have used the service to improve their parenting skills.
“These are great results and highlight the importance of holistic support programs such as Gateway.”
On top of its work with parents and families, as well as young people at risk, Gateway also provides support for those with disabilities.
Baptcare’s family and community services general manager Marita Scott said the Disability Gateway Service had been fundamental in the work the organisations were able to do with individuals and families in Tasmania.
“We are extremely proud to be celebrating five years of the program, knowing the difference that it has made to so many lives.”
Tasmanian Minister for Human Services Jacquie Petrusma said she was honoured to officially launch the new e-book in late April.
“This collection of stories shared by some very brave Tasmanians is an inspiring and moving look at how Gateway services have helped to change lives for the better over the past five years,” she said.
“Supported by all sides of politics, Gateway services provide a truly integrated, person-centred and responsive access point for Tasmanians in need.
“The expanded role of Gateway in 2010 into disability support services has paved the way for the success of the trial of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in Tasmania.”
The Gateway program commemorative e-book can be found via www.issuu.com/missionaustralia/docs/together_we_achieve_-_celebrating_5