Court Play Lady Appointed

A pioneering program to support children attending court with their mothers as a result of family violence, will begin this month at Sunshine Court. McAuley Community Services for Women is about to appoint Victoria’s first Court Play Lady at Sunshine Court who will support children in a playful, but therapeutic environment.

The program is part of McAuley’s holistic approach to working with women and children who are seeking protection from family violence.

After years of watching mothers trying to discuss detailed and sensitive information with court officials, and at the same time look after their children, it was clear to everyone involved that there had to be another way of supporting women.

McAuley will soon announce who Victoria’s first Court Play Lady is, thanks to funding from the Barr Foundation. Once again, McAuley will demonstrate innovation in action for women and their children escaping family violence.

Jocelyn Bignold said: “Sunshine Magistrate's Court hears family violence cases Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesdays. That is an average of between 35-50 cases per day and of these cases 20% of the women have accompanying children with them.”

“The mothers discuss graphic details with court officials. It is harrowing enough for them let alone their children who do not need the trauma they have experienced exacerbated by reliving the trauma through the re-telling,” she said.

The Court Play Lady will be on hand at the Sunshine Magistrate’s Court to play with the children while their mothers, who will be close by, go about their court business. She will also work collaboratively with Court staff, social workers and other service providers to ensure the best possible experience for women and their children when attending court.

Despite widespread support for the idea, it has not been tried before. But it makes sense that children, who have sometimes witnessed violence and experienced great fear, need to be supported while their mothers work through the court system.

The Court Play Lady is a natural extension of McAuley’s children’s program run at both the safe house and refuges.

“At our safe house, children have the chance to play with our wonderful volunteers and staff. Seeing the value of this has made us realise that a component of this care needs to go beyond our door. We have to journey with children through the court experience which can be very traumatic,” Ms Bignold said.

With one in four Australian children witnessing family violence, the impact on them in school years and throughout life can be immense.

“We owe it to these kids to do everything we can to support them. Our new Court Play Lady will be an experienced child care worker with a raft of skills. This program is only possible because of funding from the Barr Foundation."

McAuley runs Victoria’s only 24 hour, 7 day a week crisis accommodation as well as 5 refuges in Melbourne. In June alone, the organisation looked after 30 women and 21 children at both its crisis centre and refuges.