Australia is amid a national crisis. There is no denying that family and domestic violence is a major health and social issue in this country. It occurs across all socioeconomic, cultural groups and age groups and it continues to increase at an alarming rate1.
We keep hearing the stories. We know the numbers. One in four women have experienced intimate partner violence since the age of 152. More than one woman a week is murdered by their current or former partner3. According to Destroy the Joint’s Counting Dead Women, 47 women have been killed by violence this year.
In August we saw the release of the first action plan from the Australian Government dedicated to eliminating gendered based violence. Earlier this month they also announced extra funding to support services for young men to tackle the root causes of domestic violence.
These are positive steps in the right direction. But what about the children?
The recent Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare told us that almost 2.1 million adults reported witnessing violence towards their mother by a partner, before the age of 15.
The Australian Child Maltreatment Study that was released in April this year revealed that 2 in 5 (40%) of the 8,500 Australians surveyed had experienced exposure to domestic violence.
It is estimated that in the last 20 years, more than 1,000 Australian children have lost a parent due to domestic homicide, however we don’t know the exact figure. The fact that the actual number is unknown is telling. These children are overlooked.
Even if we had the exact numbers, statistics only tell part of the story.
At the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, our specialist social workers, counsellors, consultants and youth workers work with these vulnerable children and their families, in their homes, schools, kinders and early learning centres, and in Children’s Courts. Our experiences with these children tell us they suffer. They suffer greatly, and often they suffer in silence.
Some children experience multiple losses – for example, one parent is deceased, the other is incarcerated, on the run or has died by suicide, and in many cases, the home has become a crime scene. These children are left traumatised.
What happens when these children are left without support? Too many experience significant behavioural difficulties, diminished educational attainment, reduced social participation, physical and psychological disorders, homelessness, future victimisation and suicide ideation.
Lee Cameron, Director of Trauma Informed Programs at the Alannah & Madeline Foundation knows all too well the impact family and domestic violence can have on children.
“After working in the sector for more than 30 years as a social worker, in a wide range of roles including child protection, the out of home care system, policy and research roles and, on a personal note, as a foster carer, what we know is that there are not enough support services for children and their families that can respond in a tailored, flexible and timely way. Waiting lists are long and children and families suffer whilst they wait.”
Given the current criminal justice system focus on adult victims, it can struggle to understand and respond to the complex needs of children. Traditionally, legislation has not fully recognised children who witnessed or were otherwise exposed to crime (including instances of family and domestic violence) as victims in their own right – which means these children miss out on important support services to help them recover and heal from the trauma.
Jenny* is one of many vulnerable children that was in desperate need of support. Her early life was marked by the pervasive violence and abuse inflicted by her father on her mother and often her father’s rage was also directed at her. Thankfully, Jenny's kindergarten teacher recognised signs of abuse and reported it, leading to child protection intervention.
Jenny’s mother made the courageous decision to leave her abusive relationship, however despite being safe from the regular violence at home, Jenny struggled with trauma-related behaviours. The Foundation’s TraCS (Trauma Consultancy Service) consultant worked hand in hand with Jenny’s early years educator, providing support to help them identify and address the impacts of the trauma Jenny was dealing with. Small moments of connection with her educator - side by side in the sandpit building castles - enabled Jenny to begin feeling safe.
Jenny's journey continued via the Children Ahead program, where the Foundation’s case worker would visit Jenny at primary school to deliver individualised, intensive, long-term therapeutic support to help her learn and practice new patterns, build positive social skills and self-confidence. The Foundation's case worker also helped her, and her mum to make connections within the community, finding a soccer club and accessing financial counselling – helping them both to develop trust and find a sense of belonging.
Exposure to family violence alone does not mean a child will necessarily experience negative outcomes. We know that with the right support, children exposed to family and domestic violence may have increased resilience later in life4. But the support MUST be there.
Jenny is testament to this. Through the Alannah & Madeline Foundation’s Care programs her confidence grew, she continued to process her experiences, built important connections with her family, and began to thrive. The Foundation played a pivotal role in Jenny's healing, giving her the chance to reclaim her childhood.
The critical need for Alannah & Madeline Foundation’s work in these settings continues to expand and grow as demand sadly continues to rise.
“If we want to get serious about the recovery of children and prevent the generational cycle of abuse and disadvantage, then we need to work across ecological systems to ensure that children are recognised, well supported and safe at home, at school and in their community,” added Lee Cameron.
This is why the Alannah & Madeline Foundation is dedicated to keeping children and young people free from violence and trauma wherever they live, learn and play.
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*This is a true account, but names have been changed to protect Jenny's safety and privacy.
1. Crime Statistics | Western Australia Police Force
2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2021-22). Personal Safety, Australia. ABS.
3. Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS). 2018.
4. Alaggia & Donohue 2018; Campo 2015; Jaffe et al. 2012
The Alannah & Madeline Foundation was founded 26 years ago by Walter Mikac AM, and a small group of volunteers in memory of Walter’s young daughters Alannah and Madeline Mikac, aged just six and three, who tragically lost their lives along with their mother and 32 others at Port Arthur in Tasmania on 28 April 1996. The Foundation was established with the belief that “all children and young people should be able to live a happy and safe life, free from violence and trauma.” Our mission continues today through our Care, Prevention and Advocacy programs – we fight for their right to be safe, so their future is strong. www.alannahandmadeline.org.au
For further information and interview requests, please contact:
Simone Redman-Jones - Media Manager, Alannah & Madeline Foundation
0499 202 001 or email@example.com