For years, Ali struggled to make ends meet on a low income, with little support. The constant demands of caring for her children left her exhausted and isolated, with no idea how to move forward. But then she discovered Your Caring Way, and everything changed.

How were you feeling before you connected with the Your Caring Way program?

I distinctly remember locking myself in my bedroom, in tears, desperate to figure out a way forward for myself and my family. After 11 years on a pension caring for my children, I was at breaking point. The restriction of living on a low income plus the mental and emotional demands of being a full time carer to high needs children had left me completely burnt out, with zero resources and no idea where to go from here. I was incredibly lucky to have a supportive partner, but the pressure of my situation and how that impacted our blended family as a whole, was negatively impacting my ability to be a present and loving partner and parent.

What were some of the activities that you undertook with your Vocational Support Planner?

My initial meeting was a very clear and powerful turning point in my journey from full time caring, to achieving paid work. Having the support of someone who understood the specific challenges and limiting circumstances facing carers, but who also saw potential, hope and a path forward, gave me the confidence to believe that change was possible.

My VSP assisted me to identify where my skills were, narrow down what kind of roles I could perform, shift my perspective from “I have nothing to offer” to “what can the workforce offer me” and begin approaching businesses in a professional capacity, rather than as a parent seeking support.

After working with my VSP over a few sessions, I was able to see that I did actually have the knowledge and skills required to re-enter the workforce. I could also see that the hours I had available were not at all conducive to working outside the home.

With the support of my VSP, I began exploring self-employment options. I was linked in with the Workforce Australia Self Employment Assistance (SEA) program and began developing a business plan. This business plan was approved for both the 12 month coaching program and the SEA payment.

What does your future look like?

When I first made contact with Your Caring Way, I was exhausted, hopeless and had no direction. Our family was in crisis and the pressure on my partner was immense.

I am now the Co-Director of Branch Out Support. I provide Support Coordination and Education Consultancy for families from Gympie to the Gold Coast (and even a couple on Victoria). I have a full time case load which I manage from a desk in our living room. My business (and life) partner, Shaye, has moved her full time Support Work role over to our business as well.

For the first time ever, I have business goals AND the financial capacity to achieve them.

We are planning to expand our team and will even be able to lease a new vehicle in the next 6 to 12 months. According to my business coach, in the next financial year I could be paying the same amount of tax that I was once receiving as a pension, per annum.

My youngest son will start prep next year and we were able to enrol him in a small private school where he will have the best possible support. This would never have been an option prior to Your Caring Way and starting my business.

Who do you care for – relationship, diagnosis, how long you have cared for them?

I care for my 11 year old son who was diagnosed with Autism when he was 3, and my 5 year old son who is currently receiving early intervention.

My 11 year old has been home schooled full time and for the most part, I have been a single parent.

How has this experience added value to your life?

Prior to becoming a parent, I worked 7 days a week and loved every minute of it. I taught at TAFE in Community Services, ran training programs at Riding for the Disabled, was artistic director for a performance troupe for people with disabilities and taught music from home. My work was my life and the people I worked alongside were my family.

When I was pregnant, I pictured returning to part time work when my baby was 3 months old. Then my son was born and my world was turned upside down (in the best way possible).

I do not regret, for a second, the choice to make parenting my full time job. I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to stay at home with my children and experience not just every aspect of their early intervention, but every moment of their childhood.

I can also appreciate, mostly in hindsight, that the role of full time caring with high needs family members and very limited financial resources is not – in any way – sustainable. Despite it being my choice, those circumstances left me with no self-belief and no capacity for change. Quite frankly, if it were not for those early conversations with my VSP, the seeds that she planted and the resources that were provided, I would not have even attempted to return to work. It would simply have been too hard.

Your Caring Way has changed not just my life, but the lives of my children, my partner, and the people I now have capacity to support.

Ali Kuylaars