The role of agency: Understanding children’s safety in the context of family violence

Anita MorrisAnita Morris from the University of Melbourne, presented the findings of her PhD thesis.

What do we currently know about children experiencing family violence?

Undoubtedly it has a negative impact on children’s physical, emotional and psychological well-being but some children appear to have a certain level of resilience compared to others.

Anita’s research fills the gap in family violence research by bringing the voice of the children forward.

The study was based on the question ‘How is safety realised in the context of family violence?’

Anita scaled her participants on a scale from “Vulnerable and Unsafe” to “Safe”

Towards the vulnerable and unsafe end participants reported; forced or intrusive contact with the perpetrator, poverty, substance abuse, poor maternal physical earth, child sexual abuse, chronic mental health/trauma effects, limited informal supports and the role of formal interventions.

Some participants had positive experiences with interventions (relief etc) but for others it had caused unease or worry.

Key Finding: Mothers and children lacked agency for the above reasons.

What does agency mean?

Anita explored different aspects of agency through the interviews with participants and analytical theories.

She defined agency as, children being able to:

  • Act for themselves,
  • Seek and receive answers,
  • Be aware of their roles in the family,
  • Be able to make decisions about who they trust and have that respected,
  • And, that they acknowledge they play a role in family resiliency.

Mothers & children suffering family violence often lack agency

Anita finished the presentation showing a variety of quotes selected from her interviews with mothers and children exposed to family violence, who provided a variety of complex insights into a very complex issue.

Read more about family violence and a book on the subject in a previous post.

Written by bloggers from SYN Media.

Children’s voices & the power of an image: exploring ways in which children let us know of difficult life experiences

Children's Voices and the Power of an ImageTwo staff from the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne’s Gatehouse Centre For The Assessment & Treatment Of Child Abuse and Trauma, Mary Raftopolos (Psychologist) and Olivia Dwyer (Art Therapist & Child Psychotherapist)  focused on how children communicate their inner-world through art therapy.

Art therapy is generally divided into two concepts:

  • art as therapy, as a cathartic process ( for the purification and/or purging of emotions); and,
  • art in therapy, as art made in the context of psychotherapy.

Regardless, emphasis is placed on the process, not so much the final product.

Images and artwork produced by children who have suffered family abuse and breakdown were displayed to the audience, and we were challenged to consider how we experience and interpret these images.

These images included paintings, drawings and Sandplay Therapy that children, who typically are unable to verbally express, use to convey their inner world.

Sandplay Therapy involves the child making a picture in a tray of sand, and without any further direction, allowing the therapist to observe the process in which the child forms the art piece. Miniatures are chosen as they create an image/world in the sand.

Many of the themes conveyed in the featured pieces of art included:

  • Self regulation (fences, police, natural boundaries),
  • Poor relationships,
  • Fear,
  • Chaos,
  • Growth,
  • Containment,
  • Journey,
  • New beginnings,
  • Hiding treasure/finding treasure,
  • Gathering of energy,
  • Or, celebrations/rituals.

Mary and Olivia concluded the workshop with some of the positive results from art therapy over time, including the process being used as a tool of catharsis, in addition to allowing children to convey thoughts and feelings they would otherwise not be able to verbally.

Art Therapy & Sandplay have indeed proved wonderful, non-intrusive ways of working with children who have experienced trauma and/or neglect.

Blog by: SYN Media blogger

Children Living with Domestic and Family Violence – Professor Cathy Humphreys

Prof. Cathy HumphreysIs our approach to family violence effective? Does it manage the intake of children affected by domestic violence well? Does it provide appropriate intervention where necessary? Are long term aims for the protection of children achieved? Does the system promote respect and justice for children and others affected by domestic violence?

Cathy Humphreys’ exploration of our sectors approach to family violence centred around these questions.

After her study, she deduced that “child protection is not necessarily well set up to respond to family violence”.

With only 6.5% of reports about the risk of harm from domestic violence made in NSW in 2007-2008 substantiated/ followed up, her questioning of our approach to family violence seems valid.

But reforming the process is not simple. Cathy stressed that if the scope of the child protection system is widened to cover more cases, there is a risk that the level of service available to victims of family violence will decrease.

And, the system is already overwhelmed.

But it’s not merely the level of reporting that was questioned. Cathy placed importance on involving children in the intervention process where appropriate.

“The children are saying ‘we want to be told what’s going on, no one speaks to us and tells us what’s happening'” she said.

Above all, Cathy stressed the importance of having an effective and efficient process for managing family violence.

“There are a group of children who really need the child protection system… without it they may die” she said.

Social Work and Domestic Violence: developing critical and reflective practice, by Lesley Laing and Cathy Humphreys

Social work and domestic violence‘, a new book by Cathy Humphreys and Lesley Laing will be launched at the Good Childhood conference later this afternoon.

Read more about Cathy’s views on the book in a previous post.

Written by bloggers from SYN Media.

A good childhood for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

Julian Pocock, Director Public Policy & Practice Development
Julian Pocock, Director Public Policy & Practice Development

In 2007, Ampe Akelyernemane Meke Mekarle – or the Little Children Are Sacred Report – exposed the complexity and shame of sexual abuse of Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory.

Constant media focus on child abuse in the NT followed. Daily reports in The Australian newspaper and nightly stories on ABC’s Lateline.

They covered, paedophile rings, chronic neglect, kids sniffing petrol, kids roaming the streets day and night and the sexual abuse of kids, including kids abusing other kids. All fueled by a daily diet of pornography and alcohol.

Shocking, awful stuff. Hard to digest, hard to think about and harder to know where to start. But, in time, easy to ignore.

With the 2007 Federal Election looming, the NT intervention was announced in response to this ‘national emergency’.

Just after another election, it’s a good time to ask – has childhood improved for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children?

I’m not sure.

Media stories of neglect and abuse continue. Negative images of Aboriginal kids and families dominate.

Take a look at this photo of a two year old Aboriginal girl from NT in a News.com.au article.

What’s your first thought when you look at it?

At first glance it’s hard not to think she’s been punched.

I had to ask myself, why was that my first thought?

Are we getting any better at providing kids like this with a good childhood?

Social work and domestic violence

Social Work and Domestic Violence: developing critical and reflective practice, by Lesley Laing and Cathy Humphreys
Social Work and Domestic Violence: developing critical and reflective practice, by Lesley Laing and Cathy Humphreys

Lesley and I are doubly excited to be part of the Good Childhood Conference and that Robyn Miller (Principal Child Protection Practitioner, Victoria) will be launching our new book Social Work and Domestic Violence: developing critical and reflective practice.

The Good Childhood Conference reminds us of all that it important to create the context in which children can thrive.

Too often issues of domestic and family violence slip to the background when we talk about children and young people’s vulnerability.

It speaks to the breadth and depth of the conference that the complexity of children’s lives, including the issues of violence and abuse will be explored and discussed.

Our own understandings of domestic and family violence strive to recognise that children live in the context of their family relationships.

Strengthening the mother-child relationship and recognising the importance of accountability and responsibility are two central themes.

For Lesley and I, the book is the culmination of 30 years of working as practitioners, advocates and researchers in the domestic and family violence area. Our book is written for practitioners and for students.

It has chapters relevant to working with children, women and men where there is domestic violence and highlights the importance of working in a multi-agency context.

Issues of diversity are raised at the beginning of every chapter and then worked through as a theme to frame the context for working with children, women and men where issues of violence and abuse provide the backdrop to family life.

With thanks to guest blogger Cathy Humphreys, for this contribution.

Welcome to The Good Childhood Conference blog!

CEO, Berry Street
Sandie de Wolf AM – CEO, Berry Street

This is a first for me as I join the blogging community!

At Berry Street, we believe that all children should have a good childhood, growing up feeling safe, nurtured and with hope for the future.  Sadly, evidence and our experience over 136 years tells us that this is not a reality for far too many children.

I think there is a lot for us to learn and share about what sustains a good childhood and how we best support those who have not had this experience. One of the key ways forward is bringing together parents’ experience, the knowledge of practitioners and different disciplines.

There are a wide range of terrific speakers lined up for our inaugural The Good Childhood Conference, designed to appeal to different audiences.  Some will be controversial. That’s part of the intention, because we really want to start a broad conversation about childhood.

We hope to have a large contingent of young people at the Conference – as both presenters and participants.

Like the work of Berry Street, our Conference will appeal to people from many different disciplines.  50 workshops will cover areas such as child protection, education, early years, wellbeing, place-based initiatives, family violence, the impact of technology and Out of Home Care.

We couldn’t be doing this without our Sponsors and Supporting Partners. We are especially grateful to the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, who describe their role as helping to build a strong and fair society for all Australians and developing social policies to:

  • Increase opportunities for all Australians to participate in our society and work
  • Promote cohesive and connected society
  • Support basic living standards
  • Support individuals, families and communities to build their capacity

So, please spread the word and I look forward to meeting you at the conference.

Sandie de Wolf, CEO, Berry Street