Knowledge gaps about family violence are exposing children to risk
Children and families living in violent situations are being placed at further risk from social distancing measures, and stressors arising from COVID-19.
The danger these measures creates, Dan Moss from Emerging Minds: National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health has said, highlights the need to bridge “critical knowledge gaps” amongst front-line community and health workers, including those working in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) space, so they can recognise and respond to domestic violence to address children’s safety and mental health.
An online training program launched by Emerging Minds aims to ensure this is possible, by focusing on how children are affected by family and domestic violence.
When violence, abuse, fear, and control are present in a household, it has a number of impacts on children, including long term impacts on their development, mental and physical health, education and community participation.
Vanita, one mother who helped to develop the program, spoke about the importance of being met with understanding and compassion when sharing stories of family violence and trauma with professionals.
“Some of the feedback or advice I was given nearly broke me. Going to someone for help when you are vulnerable and feeling worse afterwards … can make you want to disengage with all support services, putting all involved at greater risk,” she said.
She says frontline workers should strive to support parents to understand how they can look after themselves and how important they are to their kids, encouraging them to build their strength.
“Listening is key – finding out what the family already has in place and what they think they need,” she said. “My GP is fantastic, providing support and information. She never judged me and always told me she expected me to come and see her again soon. Her support for all my children has been second to none.”
Many families will approach their ECEC service provider for advice and support about their child. Likewise, ECEC settings are amongst the first to see the physical and psychological impacts of family violence on children.
As such, it is important for those working in ECEC settings to have an understanding of how to work with families experiencing this issue, referring them on for external support as required.
“If practitioners don’t ask questions, then those affected don’t have the confidence to disclose the violence and make plans to improve their children’s safety” Mr Moss said.
With one in four Australian women affected by family and domestic violence, Flinders University Professor of Social Work, Dr Sarah Wendt says the current knowledge gaps are limiting how ‘first-to-know’ workers can support those impacted by family and domestic violence.
“Every practitioner in Australia needs a specialist understanding of how to recognise the signs of family and domestic violence, so they can address the issue with a parent and find support for the entire family” she added.
Professor Wendt’s call to fill gaps in practitioners’ knowledge is backed by Mission Australia’s Out of the Shadows report, which recommended that all staff working with families receive training and information to better support women and children at risk of family and domestic violence, along with homelessness.
The Emerging Minds e-learning courses, The Impact of FDV on the Child: An Introduction and FDV and Child-Aware Practice: Principles and Practice highlight how a child’s relationships, physical and mental health, and social and emotional wellbeing are affected, and how to respond to prevent immediate and long-term consequences for children’s mental health.
The courses were developed with input and support from Professor Wendt, specialist violence services, women’s safety services, general adult and child services, child mental health experts and mothers with lived experience of family and domestic violence.
To access the courses designed by Emerging Minds, please see here.
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