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Leaving a violent home is just the beginning of the journey


Published on June 5, 2024

Adam hated it when his dad got angry. His outbursts came out of the blue at first, but then they started to happen all the time. Adam noticed his mum started acting differently a while ago too. She stopped seeing her friends and was on edge all the time. She seemed fearful when she left the house, but somehow even more afraid when she returned. Things escalated when the violence started. It was mostly directed at his mum but sometimes, Adam’s dad would hurt him too.  

When Adam got home from primary school, he and his mum would nervously wait for his dad to get back from work. When his dad got physical, he tried to stop his little brother, Zayne from seeing it but Adam couldn’t look away. He wished there was something he could have done to make it stop.   

One afternoon, things seemed worse than usual.

He had a knot in his tummy that told him something was going to happen, but he was still surprised when his mum came into his room crying.   

When she told him to pack a bag of his favourite things, he didn’t know what to choose. He didn’t want to leave behind any of his toys, but he wouldn’t be able to fit them all in his backpack. 

In the end, he settled on packing a fluffy yellow rabbit and some colouring books that he got for his fifth birthday, just a few days before.  

His mum seemed upset, so once he closed up his bag he helped Zayne pack his too.  

With their mum holding their hands, they zipped up their winter jackets and left their home in the early hours of the morning.  

Things didn’t get easier when they arrived at the refuge, at least not right away. It was tough having to pack up so suddenly and the boys couldn’t understand why they had to leave all their belongings and their friends behind. 

Their mum could no longer hold in tears as she began to process what they had been through. She was crying all the time and had no idea how to explain to the boys what was going on and why they couldn’t see their dad anymore. Adam and Zayne, scared and overwhelmed, didn’t have the words to talk about what had happened. Soon, they stopped speaking altogether. 

The WAGEC team got to work straight away finding all the essentials for the family to settle in – food, clothes, toiletries, warm blankets and toys – but moving into the refuge was a big transition for them all.  

As soon as they arrived, the boys started to act out. If anyone came close enough to say hello, they would kick or spit or punch to get people to go away. They had seen their dad act this way and it helped to keep everyone at a distance. If people didn’t get close to them, they wouldn’t get hurt like before.  

This seemed to make their mum even more upset. She had tried everything. When she tried to discipline the boys, it made things worse. Sometimes, holding them close and hugging them would help calm them down, but other times it resulted in them hitting her too.  

As the weeks unfolded, the WAGEC team learned about the horrendous domestic violence the whole family had experienced.

Adam and Zayne had both seen their mum endure physical and sexual abuse, extreme isolation and coercive control. The boys’ behaviour made sense, given the awful things they heard and saw at home. 

The Helping Children Heal team slowly got to know Zayne and Adam. When the boys refused to speak, their caseworkers asked them to draw pictures of how they were feeling.  

The drawings they made that first week were dark and scribbly. They drew rain clouds and sad faces and tears. But as the team started to build trust with the boys, the pictures changed. Slowly, they started to reach for brighter colours. They started to identify words that explained how they were feeling – angry, frustrated, and afraid – and could work through those emotions with the support of their mum and caseworkers. As they learned new ways to channel those feelings, gradually the kicking and spitting stopped. The boy's curiosity returned. It brought joy to the WAGEC Team to see the boys peer around the corner, say hello and quickly run away giggling. Before long, they were back to their old chattering selves.  

They continued to draw how they felt each week, documenting their resilience in crayon. Rain clouds were replaced with sunshine, tears with smiles and the dark hues slowly changed to bright ones.  

Meanwhile, their mum was working to build back her confidence as a parent and recover from what she had gone through. As the weeks went by, the WAGEC team helped connect her with the support she needed. As she was linked in with counselling, healthcare, legal advice, religious support, the days seemed less dreary, and the future less uncertain.  

As Mum’s recovery progressed, she found she had more space to connect with her boys again. Adam noticed she laughed a lot more, and spent time playing with him and Zayne like she had before things got bad.

When she started to joke and laugh with them again, Adam and Zayne felt like they had gotten their mum back.  

It was summer when it came time to say goodbye. The family had reconnected and healed together. Finally, they were ready to move out of refuge and into a transitional home in the community.  

After months of working with them, Adam and Zayne were sad to leave the Helping Children Heal team behind, but they were excited to have a new place to call their own.  

The boys left cheerful and chattering, with hugs, high fives and a restored sense of trust in their mum. As they left, their mum carried a stack of the drawings the boys had made in the refuge – both the sad ones and the happy ones – to remind them all how strong and brave they had been and how far they had come in just a few short months.  

The WAGEC team shed a few tears as they departed but were so happy to see the family starting a new chapter.  

Adam still felt nervous after school for a while, but he soon realised that his new home was a safe one. He didn’t have to be scared anymore. He could finally just be a kid. 

Escaping a violent home is just the beginning of their journey. Donate today to keep children safe.