Our work with children 

In Australia, one child in four witnesses family violence and is impacted by the fear, anxiety and trauma of the person being abused and also by the aggression of the perpetrator. Children living in a violent home are at a greater risk of suffering violence directly and can be used to manipulate one partner against the other, both in the family home 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 as well as with mothers and their children in a bid to build positive relationships. Perpetrators of family violence often destroy 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 return to school and establish new routines at school or childcare.

The program is underpinned by the ethos of giving children and young people the opportunity to play and communicate in an environment that is free from abuse, that is has clear boundaries, and that is respectful, taking into account the child’s/young person’s individual wishes and feelings. We know how important it is for children to feel secure and to have a sense of normality when everything else around them may feel chaotic.

Assisting children and their mothers affected by family violence

Crisis accommodation workers are often the first point of contact for mothers and their children seeking refuge from family violence. While shelters provide physical safety, workers within them have an opportunity to provide much-needed emotional support for these children and their mothers, beginning with acknowledging that children are affected by family violence. It is important to note that a high percentage of children who arrive at the safe home and refuges are infants (zero to two years old).

Our Children's Worker

A qualified Art Therapist, our Specialist Children’s Worker, focusses directly on the children to address their emotional well-being through a mix of play and therapeutic counselling. She also works hand in hand with the case managers to address the schooling, health and medical needs of children.

Strong emphasis is placed on creative play sessions which are informal and child-led. Emphasis is also placed on protective behaviour strategies which assists children get in touch with their feelings, recognise safe and unsafe feelings and develop protective behaviours and develop safety networks.

In addition, through the Department of Health funded Access to Allied Psychological Services program, mothers and children can access individual counselling in the safe house and refuges. The focus is on rebuilding the mother-child relationship that can be damaged in the aftermath of family violence. One of the direct impacts of violence on women and children is a disconnection in the bond between mother and child. The 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 enjoy playing with their children, understand their children’s worries and feelings, developing open communication, and increasing their listening skills.

Our playroom

Our crisis playroom is an important part of meeting children’s needs at our safe house. Run by the specialist Children’s Worker together with crisis workers and 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 case worker, make phone calls, or simply have a shower.

Court Support 4 Kids

Our Court Support 4 Kids program has been funded by the William Buckland Foundation. The aim of the program is to reduce the stress and impact of the court process on children and their mothers, and protect them from further traumatisation.

The program currently operates in three Magistrates’ Courts, with the goal of extending it to all Victorian Family Violence Courts. McAuley delivers the service in Sunshine Magistrates’ Court and partners with Bethany Community Support and the Eastern Domestic Violence Outreach Service to provide this service in Geelong Magistrates’ Court and Ringwood Magistrates’ Court respectively.

Read more about our Court Support 4 Kids work.

Additional resources

International researcher Dr Wendy Bunston worked with McAuley Community Services for Women and other refuges in Australia and overseas to learn more about the experiences of infants in refuges. She is the author of “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.