Breaking the cycle of violence and rebuilding precious childhoods
Children exposed to domestic and family violence have had their basic right to a safe and loving home shattered. Research informs us of the devastating effects that violence and abuse have on a child well into their future.
The trauma affects the brain and a child’s social and physical development. When not addressed, it affects future relationships and prevents the adult from reaching their full potential.
BaptistCare acknowledges that providing a home for the child and their mother, where they are safe from physical and emotional harm, is only part of the equation. That’s where Break Free comes in.
Break Free is an effective early intervention program for primary school aged children who have experienced domestic and family violence. It was created to run hand in hand with BaptistCare’s Domestic Violence Accommodation Support work with homeless women and children over the last 20 years.
“One of the immediate challenges facing the children is that they often feel punished by the loss of home, friends, school, support and pets. It really effects them,” says Lesley Robson, BaptistCare DV Accommodation Support Manager.
“Over time, they build relationships with the workers who become their role models, and they start to feel safe to talk,” says Lesley.
“It takes months before some children talk openly and honestly about feelings, and disclose what they experienced.”
With an emphasis on primary prevention of domestic violence, the classes are facilitated by an early education worker, BaptistCare chaplain and university students studying social work and psychology.
Break Free teaches the children about family violence, how to deal with feelings – particularly anger, and the importance of healthy relationships. It engages other specialists including an Art Therapist who works with children who have experienced violence.
The sessions deliver what every child needs – fun. Activities include art and creative projects, games, and kicking a ball around with a positive male role model.
It’s an approach that sees results of a change in the anxiety, depression and dissociation common for victims of domestic violence.
“Recently, we had a young girl – eight years old – in our crisis housing, who is a twin and one of five children,” says Lesley.
A devastating reality of the cycle of violence, the mother had experienced abuse as a child, and therefore went on to have serious violent relationships, which have scarred her physically and emotionally.
“This girl was verbally abused by her dad and subsequent partners of the mother, and was experiencing severe emotional damage.”
“When attending Break Free for the first time, a male worker was present; he’s a great role model for the boys. But she was too scared to enter the room. A female worker sat with her outside the door of the playroom, and undertook the same activities with her as the other children inside.”
“A week later, she entered the room and sat with the female worker between herself and the male worker. She was quiet and reluctant to join in activities.”
“Now, two school terms later, she bounces into the room and can’t wait to have fun and chat to everyone.”
According to Rob Ellis, BaptistCare General Manager, with adequate funding, there is scope to extend the reach of this program to grow hand in hand with housing initiatives.
“BaptistCare would like to build Break Free in as a key wrap-around service, with an emphasis on primary prevention in domestic and family violence, through our work with children who are survivors,” says Rob.
In dissecting the cause and effect of domestic violence, both the Victorian Royal Commission and the COAG Advisory Council point to the need for tailored programs working with children who have experienced it.
“Break Free is a primary prevention approach to domestic and family violence. Whilst the program currently runs at one site, there is so much more that could be done,” says Rob.
For more information about BaptistCare’s Family & Domestic Violence services, or to support the work of BaptistCare, visit our website www.baptistcare.org.au
To read more about our DV programs visit https://baptistcare.org.au/our-services/community-services/domestic-and-family-violence/