Our Work With Children 

One in four children in Australia witness family violence, and are affected in different ways. Children can pick up on the fear, anxiety and trauma of the person being abused and also on the aggression from the perpetrator. Children living in a home with family violence are at a greater risk of suffering abuse directly and can be used to manipulate one partner against the other, both while still living together and once the victim of abuse has left.

McAuley Community Services for Women runs a comprehensive children’s program at its safe house and through its refuge program. The program is funded wholly by the community and through philanthropic grants.

The program works with children in their own right as well as with mothers and their children in a bid to build positive relationship. Perpetrators of family violence often target the mother/child relationship by undermining women’ s ability to parent effectively. The program focusses on supporting children as they move into a different situation, helping them to establish new routines at school or childcare. We know how important it is for children to experience security and have a sense of normality when everything else around them may feel chaotic.

The program is under-pinned with the ethos of giving children and young people the opportunity to play and communicate in an environment that is free from abuse, that is safe due to clear boundaries, that is respectful, taking into account the child’s /young person’s individual wishes and feelings.

Our Children's Worker

Our refuge children’s worker works directly with children to address their emotional well-being through a mix of play and therapeutic counselling. She also assists with school enrolments, health and medical issues and provides mothers with parenting support and information.

High emphasis is placed on creative play sessions such as painting, sand, water and story telling. These sessions are informal and child-led.  A further emphasis is also placed on protective behaviour training which assists children to get in touch with their feelings, recognise safe and unsafe feelings, develop protective behaviours, develop a safety plan and develop safety networks.

Our Play Therapist

We are currently seeking funding for a refuge play therapist to provide counselling for children aged two to 13 years old through child centred play therapy. Her focus will be on rebuilding the relationship between the mother and child that can be damaged in the aftermath of family violence. Known as filial therapy, the aim is to help parents and children to form closer and happier relationships.

One of the direct impacts of violence on women and children is a disconnection with the bonding relationship between mother and child. The associated trauma of this violence has a major effect on the parent child relationship. Opportunities to connect a mother and her child in these early stages are crucial.

The therapist assists children to express their feelings and fears and become more confident and skilled in solving problems as well as asking for help when they need it. Her work with mothers is focused on helping them to enjoy playing with their children, understand their child’s worries and feelings, develop open communication and increase their listening skills.

Our Playroom

Our crisis playroom is an important part of meeting children’s needs at our safe house. Run by a group of volunteers, the playroom provides a safe haven where the children can be themselves. It is always supervised so mothers can leave their children to play while they speak with their support worker, make phone calls, or simply have a shower.

Court Play Lady

The Court Play Lady is a pilot program funded by the Barr Family Trust. She attends the Sunshine Magistrates’ Court on the days that family violence hearings are being held as well as application days. Her role is to look after the children who accompany the applicant so they are not privy to the sensitive information that their mother is discussing with the registrar or at the hearing.

The aim of the program is to reduce the stress and impact of the court process on the children, and their mothers, and protect them as much as possible from being traumatised further.  We anticipate more women being able to follow through with their orders because their accompanying children are not so distressed.

Assisting infants and their mothers affected by family violence

Crisis accommodation workers are often the first point of contact for mothers and their infants seeking refuge from family violence. While shelters provide the physical safety, workers within them have an opportunity to provide much-needed emotional safety for these infants and their mothers, beginning with acknowledging that infants are affected by family violence.

A free resource, Refuge for babies in crisis . How crisis accommodation services can assist infants and their mothers affected by family violence, which was released in January 2012, promotes working with infants who have been traumatised by their experience of family violence, while strengthening attachment relationships between the mothers and babies who seek refuge accommodation. It consists of a comprehensive workbook and DVD, and aims to change the way workers "see" babies and infants within their services, and have a lasting impact on the incredibly important work that they do.

For more information on available resources.

As well, International researcher Wendy Bunston worked with McAuley Community Services for Women and other refuges in Australia and elsewhere to learn more about the experiences of infants in refuge. For more information.