Child abuse and neglect can damage children to the very core of their being. As much as children grow and thrive in healthy relationships, they wither and disconnect in destructive ones. Children who are the victims of abuse, neglect and family violence have their innocence stolen. They see themselves as unlovable. They find it hard to trust. They don’t know what it is like to feel safe. Their feelings of pain, anger, hurt and betrayal become unbearable. And they blame themselves for the abuse they are forced to endure, often suffering alone in shame and silence.
Most of the children supported by the Australian Childhood Foundation have experienced substantial and repeated trauma, with 64% of children having suffered more than one type of abuse.
"I feel like I don't have to worry as much now as I feel like I have people who will look after me." Jason, 8 years old
Unnoticed and unprotected, these children are isolated and distant from others who might help them, support them, or be their friends. This is not what childhood is meant to be.
With this belief and understanding, the one-on-one specialised counselling we do with children in our centres within Australia has become central to helping traumatised children reclaim their childhoods, one child at a time, one family and one community at a time.
With nearly 40,000 children sleeping away from their homes each night, we don't currently have the resources to help all abused, neglected and traumatised children in Australia. Yet we have begun to make a significant difference in the lives of children throughout Australia.
By helping children to stop blaming themselves, to reclaim a sense of their own identity and experience feelings of trust, safety and love for the very first time, we have begun to help these children take back what has been stolen from them.
Over the past decade we have helped heal the hurt of abuse and family violence for more than 7,000 Australian children.
What difference does specialist counselling make?
Through counselling, children begin to form a strong and supportive connection – often the first positive relationship in their lives.
In the safety of this relationship with their counsellor, they are helped to shed the exhausting burden of carrying their abuse on their own for so long. The weight is lifted from them as they are supported to make sense of their experiences of abuse. They learn it was not their fault. They are helped to understand that there was nothing that they could have done differently to have prevented the abuse.
They grieve for what they have lost and are supported to reconnect with those difficult feelings that in the past have overwhelmed them; emotions such as anger, fear, confusion, sadness and loneliness. They come to understand the reason for these feelings and how to manage them when they become too strong.
"I feel like I know who I am more now and I like myself." Chad, 9 years old
As recovery continues, children become able to feel more positive emotions, too; to have a sense of value, of self worth and to come to know themselves better. They find the words to begin to talk about feeling happy, brave, smart, enthusiastic and respectful.
Our counsellors often say that watching a child begin to believe in themselves is a rewarding and beautiful experience. It is a privilege to see these children learn to see themselves as being likeable, kind, and a good friend – qualities that help to define them as connected to the world, as they move toward reclaiming their lives.
Friends and Family
The path towards recovery leads children to begin to look to their friends and their families for support. As they rediscover a sense of who they are, they slowly learn to trust people who care for them. Naturally they want to feel like they belong, like other children: to feel the appreciation and encouragement of those who are important to them.
To see a child begin to feel like they are active and in their own life is truly an incredible transformation from the once lifeless, frozen, hurt children that come into our centres," says Angela Weller, Manager of our Child and Family Counselling program in Victoria. “Children actually begin to dream about the future and realise that it is ok for them to hope to feel normal.”
Children may never leave their experiences of abuse behind them completely. But even though memories of pain and fear will probably always linger, they will no longer control every aspect of life. These children at last begin to feel freer to enjoy their childhoods, and grow up to lead happy, healthy lives undefined by their experiences of abuse and neglect.
Our work in action