Changing the world little by little

Merrow Little Fox hopes to change someone’s world, albeit briefly, every Tuesday morning. In the children’s room at the McAuley Community Services for Women safe house, Merrow looks after the children who have come with their mother seeking safety from family violence. Merrow asks nothing of them, but offers them security, care and a playful environment where they can spend time.

“These children have come from stressful, often violent environments where there is little opportunity for them to have carefree play. I try to create a nurturing and safe environment where they can play at whatever they like and not have to worry about anything while they are in the room,” Merrow said. “For some of them it is a rare time of peace and calm.”

The children’s room is set up with a range of play equipment, games, books, music and craft materials to suit children aged from toddlers to early teenagers. Merrow, a volunteer with McAuley Community Services for Women, looks after different children every week as the families who come to the safe house are usually relocated after a few days (the average stay is four to seven days), often to one of the refuges run by McAuley Community Services for Women. Sadly, some families do return to the safe house. Sometimes Merrow cares for just one child, but she has had up to six children in the room at once.

In the past year McAuley Care, Victoria’s only 24/7 safe house supported 380 women and children and of the 128 children, 65% were five years or younger, 30% were primary school aged and only 5% were secondary school aged.

The children who come to the safe house may have, just hours before, witnessed violence in their home. Some cannot speak English, some have learning difficulties, many are withdrawn and sad.

“I follow their play carefully and offer gentle, positive feedback. It is incredible to realise that some of these kids, who might be seven or eight, have only ever experienced turmoil and conflict. I try to change that moment in their world,” Merrow said.

After she leaves the safe house, Merrow returns to her other work as a mother of two children and part-time student. She is studying a Bachelor of Criminology externally at Griffith University in Queensland. She first approached McAuley Community Services for Women because she wanted some work experience that resonated with her study, and gave it some relevance.

“Working at the safe house has shaped how I view the world, and in a positive way. I see how incredibly resilient these children are and how strong the mothers are to have been able to protect their children and preserve their childhood. For me, I get to give these children a positive experience in the midst of long histories of violence and chaos for some of them. It doesn’t make me despondent at all. In fact it makes me realise that no matter how messed up things can get, there can be hope,” Merrow said.