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Keep pushing forwards

Every day people become ill, lose their jobs, marriages break up and families suffer.

In Australia, 700,000 people each year experience serious disadvantage; difficulties in accessing enough food, adequate housing, health care and education. Red Cross works with thousands of families across the country to break the cycles of disadvantage.

In their rented home in suburban north Brisbane, Toni* and her husband Justin are struggling to keep a roof over the heads of their two children.

Toni looks up at Justin as he feeds 18-month old Maisey. They share a moment before chatting about how they are going to pay the next bills. Their 13-year-old daughter Jess finishes her homework before offering to help look after Maisey.

Their current struggles are only a hint of the tough times they have been through together, says Toni.

Two years ago, following a miscarriage, Toni became pregnant. This time, it looked like the pregnancy was going well. Then, at nearly five months pregnant, Toni nearly lost both her life and the baby.

Fighting back tears, Toni recalls that night in hospital. "The feeling that went through me when they told me that I'd lost the baby was devastation."

"My world was falling apart," adds Justin. "I was going to lose her and my daughter."

Toni starts to smile. "Justin and I dealt with the fact that we had lost our baby but then they decided to do a scan and the baby was okay."

Maisey was born at 24 weeks, weighing less than one kilogram, Toni says. "She just made it to the point where she could survive in a humidicrib. She was the tiniest little thing I have ever seen in my life."

The weeks that followed were a rollercoaster. Maisey was 10 days old before Toni could hold her. Four days later, they received a call from intensive care saying Maisey might not last through the night. Within hours she had emergency surgery for a twisted bowel, which saved her life. A week later Maisey needed more emergency surgery.

Justin says it was a great feeling when Maisey could finally come home from the hospital. "We didn't sleep for days when she came home. It was relaxing and terrifying at the same time."

Reaching over to put some banana on Maisey's plate, Toni says, "She's a bundle of joy, she hardly ever cries, she's always happy and it's scary how smart she is."

Justin adds Maisey is now "doing really, really well. She's developing, I think, a little bit faster than most kids."

Just when they thought everything was looking up, Justin experienced crippling pain in his stomach and back. Doctors discovered serious disc damage and a double hernia; a work-related injury. More critically, he needed emergency surgery on a nine-centimetre malignant cancer in his leg.

The operations on the cancer and hernias went well, Justin says, but his injured back means he still cannot work.

Shortly before Christmas last year, Justin was sacked because his work involved lifting and driving a forklift. Life became tougher.

"It's really hard, not just financially but emotionally and pride-wise as well, to even ask for help," Toni confides.

Around this time, Red Cross started providing support for Toni and her family. They linked her up with services to make sure the couple could pay the rent and other bills. "Without Red Cross, we would not have had a Christmas last year. We wouldn't have had food in the house, the car, a place to live," Toni recalls.

Case workers support people like Toni and Justin, providing them with information and skills to gain access to long-term sustainable housing. Sometimes this means accompanying them to appointments such as at Centrelink. Toni says regular visits and phone calls by Red Cross, to better manage their budget, have made all the difference.

Every day across Australia, hundreds of parents like Toni along with their children, are being supported by Red Cross through periods of hardship. Up to 2.8 million Australians are living in households with less than half of the average household income.

"You've just got to keep it in your head that there's always someone else out there that's worse off than you and just keep pushing forwards."

"Red Cross has been fantastic, it has saved us in more ways than one," she says.

Justin nods. "I don't know that we would have made it through. We would probably be another statistic of either a broken family or on the edge of homelessness."

Toni and Justin say that while things are getting back on track, it will be a long road. It is a road of hardship thousands of families travel each year, with support from Red Cross.


*Surnames have not been used to protect the identity and wellbeing of the family.