In a recent report by the Australia Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse, it found that 1 in 4 children in Australia are exposed to domestic and family violence. The Department of Communities and Justice also found that “of those women who experience domestic and family violence, more than 50% have children in their care.” The impact of domestic and family violence, homelessness or any traumatic event on children and young people is immense and can often affect them socially, physically, developmentally and emotionally.
Last year, after experiencing a family breakdown due to domestic and family violence, 9-year-old Lily* and her mum moved into one of WAGEC’s crisis refuges. From the first week, there were concerns among staff about Lily’s behaviour and ability to socialise and communicate with other kids in the refuge. Lily’s schoolteachers also noticed a change, saying that instead of playing with the other children during lunchtime, Lily was increasingly isolating herself in the playground.
At the refuge, there were also worries about the Lily’s fractured relationship with her mum and extended family. Lily’s mum felt overwhelmed by her own experiences of violence and trauma, along with her daughter’s changing behaviour and Lily’s aunties, whose home was an option for respite and support, had expressed that Lily’s behaviour was “too difficult to care for.” Further isolated due to the impacts of violence, the family turned to WAGEC’s Children and Families Service for support.
In the first few weeks of the family being at WAGEC, Lily was supported, through WAGEC’s community partnerships, to access a Paediatrician who was able to evaluate the extent to which she had been impacted by the experience of family violence. Lily also was enrolled in WAGEC’s SEED Program where she took part in activities like supported after school club, tutoring and homework hub and holiday programs; activities that create safe spaces for children to express their experiences. Through collaboration between WAGEC staff and Lily’s schoolteachers, Lily was also supported to develop and build relationship skills with friends, teachers, and her mum.
Throughout the year, Lily’s mum also took part in SEED’s parenting program and family therapy to work through trauma and develop practical skills in responding to Lily’s behaviour. Where previously, Lily’s mum had trouble reading and responding to Lily’s needs (emotional detachment being a common copy strategy for survivors of violence), the parenting program gave Lily’s mum the skills to be more attuned to her child. A year later, there is a renewed sense of closeness, attachment and connection between Lily and her mum. This attachment and ability to respond to Lily’s behaviour has given Lily’s mum the confidence to invite her extended family, Lily’s aunties, back into the fold. They now come together in support of Lily every week to watch her netball games. Lily’s schoolteachers told WAGEC that, Lily social engagement has transformed, and she now has lots of friends.
When domestic and family violence happens, it affects everyone. A child doesn’t have to experience violence, they don’t even have to hear or see it, for it to have long lasting impacts. WAGEC’s Children and Families Service, along with their SEED Program and community partnerships been developed to directly and holistically to ensure every child, in every community, gets a fair go. And although there is still recovery work to be done, Lily and her mum now feel safe, supported and connected. They also now have a community of people supporting them every step of the way.
*name and age of child has been changed for confidentiality.