IMPACT Newsletter Autumn 2019
Changing their Story: Helping Children to Heal from Family Violence
There has been so much change in the way we respond to family violence over the last two years. The Government held a Royal Commission to uncover issues with the system, prompted by the tragic death of Luke Batty. There are now stronger police responses, more services for women, and changes in law which help professionals access important information about perpetrators of violence. Most of all, family violence as a societal issue is emerging from the shadows so that it can be talked about more openly, with less stigma and shame.
Still, there are areas of need that are slower to change. Our understanding about the impact of family violence on children is still hampered by beliefs that if children do not see it or hear it, then they are OK. In reality children are traumatised by the experience – it terrifies them. They experience it deep in their mind and body. Their bodies react to it as a threat to their survival. Most of all, it exposes their hearts to pain.
Family violence corrupts what children know about themselves. It amplifies any vulnerabilities. Children are forced to see the violence that is directed towards their mothers. They see the aftermath of it and feel the vulnerability in their mother, making every worry that much stronger.
We know the immediate priority is for these children to be protected and to feel safe. But we must then support to help them make sense of the violence and to change the story they carry in the aftermath. This is the story of ‘how stupid they are’, or how they are ‘unloveable’ and worthless. It’s the story that shapes their sense of self for years to come.
Helping children to change their story is the role of our specialist trauma counsellors, who patiently listen to each piece information as children tell it. They help to find ways of expressing feelings that are part of their story. It takes time, but slowly counsellors can help children to share their pain and gradually let go of hurt. At this point, children can begin writing their own story, just like 8-year-old Steven in our feature article.
It is the one need that remains largely unmet in the changes to the system we have seen. Children need access to more specialist trauma counselling. They shouldn’t have to wait, and where they live should not determine whether they can access the services.
This is our goal – to make sure that all children affected by family violence can have counselling to change their story whenever they need it and for as long as they need to.
Joe Tucci, CEO
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