NELSON Mandela once said “we owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
In Ballarat, the demand for support by the dedicated WRISC Family Violence Support workers has increased so much in recent years that extra staff have been hired.
In the past financial year, the number of cases attended to by WRISC staff was 161, compared with 86 the previous year.
In 2011-12, WRISC was funded by the Department of Human Services for 50 cases (actual cases was 86).
In 2012-/2013, the funded cases were 78 (actual 161).
For most of the 2012-2013 period (July-March) WRISC had only one children’s counsellor.
With funding provided through the Vic Action Plan to address Violence Against Women, a second counsellor was appointed in March to help with the increased demand.
During this same period (2012/2013 financial year), six children’s therapy groups and one parenting group were also run.
The additional worker provides WRISC with a greater capacity to respond to the need in the Ballarat community.
WRISC has already seen significantly more children’s counselling program clients than previously – 55 cases in the quarter from April 1 to June 30 this year, compared with between 25 and 29 cases for the same quarter over the past five years.
WRISC has two children’s counsellors who can provide parents with advice and referrals, as well as group, family or individual counselling for children.
Once a child has had an opportunity to talk about their situation they often feel a great sense of relief.
Some of the worries and misunderstandings they have been carrying are shared and addressed.
With the support and guidance of a counsellor, a family can work together to support each other.
Talking about what has happened and is still happening and developing strategies to address ongoing problems can restore a sense of hope and connection; and knowledge that their life can and will get better.
In some cases, one or two sessions with a counsellor will be sufficient.
In other circumstances, longer term work may be needed or desired.
Particularly for longer term work, WRISC uses creative therapies such as play, art and drumming.
These promote a sense of fun, safety and connection as well as provide an experience of positive relationships and a way of expressing oneself.
These methods are effective even if the child does not have the words to describe their feelings or to talk about things that have happened in their lives.
It is through play, art and music that children and their carers can find their voice, make sense of what has happened, and develop new ways of being in the world.
Many children are present during episodes of family violence and some children are abused directly.
Witnessing violence can be terrifying, even more so if you are a child and it is directed at you or a family member.
Nightmares, anxieties, fears and phobias of many sorts are a normal response.
In a family where one or more members uses physical or verbal violence and threats of violence in an ongoing way there is often a constant underlying sense of fear and tension and a need to be ‘on guard’ all the time.
It is difficult to relax, remain calm and provide children with positive attention in such an environment.
Research clearly shows that this has a significant effect on children’s relationships, development, wellbeing and ability to learn.
The immediate effect can be observed in the way a child behaves at school and at home.
Some will act out aggressively; some will withdraw into their own world, some will focus all their effort and attention on school work in order to block out what is going on at home.
It is important to break down the isolation and secrecy of family violence and build up a supportive community around the child and family.