We talk to Barry Howe about his experience of caring for his four children full time, with the support of Family Start Manukau
“I’ve been looking after my older three, Angel, nine, Genesis, seven and Kyridyn, six, pretty much since day one. Their mum has never been very hands-on. My own mum used to help me out when they were babies, but I never really paid attention to what milestones they hit or whether they were doing what they should be. We just muddled through.
Last year CYFS contacted me. I’d had a brief relationship months before and without my knowing, my ex had a baby – my baby. It was a shock, but CYFS were more concerned to know if I wanted her as her mum couldn’t take care of her. She was just a few months old, a baby girl called Rowena and although I was worried about taking on a fourth baby I said yes straight away. I wanted to see her grow up.
It wasn’t as easy as CYFS just handing her over. A social worker came round to assess my house. I turned the spare room next to mine into a beautiful nursery with Winnie the Pooh wall-stickers. I think they were impressed. They wanted me to work with Family Start Manukau (FSM) who I’d heard of but hadn’t been involved with before, it was a condition of me taking on Rowena.
Family Start Manukau supported me to do the Incredible Years parenting course and the Discovering Fatherhood course. I’ve also started a course called Born to Learn. Incredible Years taught me how to cope, giving me the tools and strategies I need especially when it gets stressful. Discovering Fatherhood was more about milestones and the development of children while Born to Learn is about goal setting – understand what I want Rowena to achieve. Lee from Family Start Manukau comes to visit me regularly and we talk through what my family needs and where the children are at. If I need extra support I just need to ask him, which is great.
Rowena recently turned one and has come a long way. I was a stranger to her when she moved in but she settled quickly and it feels so normal now to have her here. She has a great bond with the other three. When they’re at school I do things with Rowena to help her that I didn’t know about before, like floor time and games to encourage her to walk. If I’d had the same support with the older kids I would have done those things with them too.
The support from Family Start Manukau has helped me to become a better person. I'm not a grumpy dad and I’m good at structure and routines. I use the skills I’ve learned this last year with all four of the kids. Without organisations like Family Start Manukau people would be in a lot of strife. A lot of people don’t ask for help but I’ve learned it’s okay to ask when you need it.