Safety for Mothers and their children

03 Jan, 2017

Family violence continues to be one of our nation’s most pervasive social problems and can have long term implications for everyone involved, especially children.

Fortunately community awareness of domestic violence and its significant consequences is receiving more prominence. Our Family Abuse Integrated Response Program (FAIR) is an evidence-based family safety and domestic violence program funded by Western Australia’s Department for Child Protection.

A focus of the program is on children and allowing them to express their hurts, worries and fears and acknowledging their skills, particularly in their efforts to keep themselves and others safe. Contact with children and adolescents is initiated through their mother becoming involved in the program. Children then have the opportunity to meet in sessions with their mother, individually with siblings or join a six-week after school children’s program.

FAIR’s theoretical position and practice in working with children has changed in significant ways in recent years due to current and emerging research. They have embraced the response based practice of Allan Wade that acknowledges children, like their mothers, are not passive recipients to abuse and that the common emotions of fear, anger, sadness, worry, self-blame and behaviours of aggression, self-harm, sleep disruption and difficulties at school are contextual responses to abuse and an expression of the harm perpetrated.

More recently the mother-child inclusive model of Cathy Humphreys has been incorporated in the FAIR children’s program. Her research asserts that “it is vital for the social growth of abused mothers and their children that they find ways of working through the experience of living with domestic violence together.” FAIR’s practitioners find that mothers are incredibly mindful of trying to avoid further traumatising their children in speaking with them about their father’s violence, and are sometimes unsure how to have that conversation, or are caught in the legal processes that dictate that she is “not allowed” to speak to her child about court matters.

The children’s program focuses on conversations with children and mothers together about the direct and indirect abuse experienced. This can include the dilemmas and disruptions that children endure, including violence interfering in the children’s schooling, friendships, and family relationships and dealing with multiple moves in home, community and school to be safe. More specifically, the loss of community and family is exponential for Aboriginal mothers and children as this represents not only a violation of the individual but of their cultural identity.

The use of creative art, play and sand tray work has been employed, which gives counsellors the opportunities to notice children’s insights, efforts and knowledge. Joint activities are conducted to enhance the communication and bonding of mother and children through ‘speaking about the unspoken’ and providing guidance to the mother in having these conversations with her children. These sessions are based on ‘Talking to my Mum: A picture workbook for workers, mothers and children affected by domestic abuse’ and ‘Talking about Domestic Abuse’: a photo activity book to develop communication between mothers and young people.

The FAIR program has been successful in promoting both mothers' and children’s safety, wellbeing and emotional security, as well as interrupting the intergenerational impacts of family violence. Children are able to express their hurts, worries and fears, and have their skills, interests and hope valued. They have the opportunity to explore the ways they have kept themselves, and others, safe, as well as identify helpful people in their family and community - all in the company of other children, providing a positive social experience. FAIR is a free service with a wide range of referrals, including the Child Protection Family Services, Family Courts, GPs, schools, police and self-referrals.

Thiara, R., Mullender, A., Humphreys, C., & Skamballis, A. (2006). Talking to my mum: A picture workbook for workers, mothers and children affected by domestic abuse. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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