In Australia, more children than ever are in need of a safe place as a result of family violence and neglect. Thankfully, organisations such as the Australian Childhood Foundation are working to provide that safety.
Tonight, across Australia, 48,000 kids will be sleeping away from home out of concerns for their safety. On top of that, there’s one report of family violence and neglect against children every two minutes.
The Australian Childhood Foundation (ACF), a Polished Man beneficiary in 2018, has worked tirelessly over the last 30 years to support these children and put an end to neglect and violence against children. Their aim is simple: to bring love and safety back to the lives of children who have been affected by the trauma of child abuse and family violence.
The Foundation provides specialised therapeutic services to children, and educates and empowers communities to prevent abuse happening in the first place. A huge 94 per cent of children show a significant reduction in symptoms during their first 12 months with the Foundation.
We talk with Felicity O’Meara, corporate partnership manager at the ACF, to find out more about the problems Australian kids are facing, and what average Australians can do to help.
Bank Australia: What are the most common misconceptions about violence against children and child neglect?
Felicity O’Meara: Possibly one of the most common misconceptions is that people think it won’t or doesn’t happen in their community, or among their friends and family. Child abuse, neglect and family violence occurs in all types of families – it has no boundaries and its impact is far reaching. A lot of people think that family violence is a personal, family matter. It’s not. It’s everyone’s issue.
What are some of the main causes of violence and neglect? Are there any trends that are specific to Australia?
Family violence can stem from a plethora of causes – some include intergenerational experiences, substance abuse (alcohol, illicit and prescribed drugs), mental health issues, poverty and homelessness. Generally speaking, there are several causes that contribute to family violence, and rarely one cause alone.
What are the impacts of violence on children who have experienced it?
The long-term impacts are devastating. For a start, the children are more likely to experience significant trauma and, as a result, depression, anxiety and other mental health problems. For some, their behaviour can lead them into the juvenile justice system, and they’re at higher risk of self-harm and suicide.
A huge 68 per cent of the children referred to us as the Foundation are at least two years behind academically, 48 per cent have experienced bullying, 52 per cent suffer from the most extreme form of anxiety, and 32 per cent have physically hurt themselves.
These children and young people need protection, access to therapeutic support and to be surrounded by caring relationships which help them make sense of what has happened to them and help them learn how to trust again.
How does the work you do in trauma prevention and trauma recovery help change this?
We believe all children need to feel safe, respected, loved and that they belong. In our therapeutic care program, we work to make this happen. Through our therapeutic residential and foster care program, we provide the training and support for foster families and residential care staff to help children in their care recover from their experiences of abuse.
A survey we conducted showed that 88 per cent of the foster carers we work with reported feeling less stressed and more confident in knowing how to support and look after the children in their care. As a result, a very high percentage, around 86 per cent, do not experience any placement breakdowns after their involvement with the Foundation.
Do you think the problems of violence against children are more prevalent than your average Australian might think?
People are often shocked when we tell them that tonight, across Australia, approximately 48,000 children won’t be sleeping in their own beds because of fears for their safety. Last year there were 379,459 reports of abuse across Australia; this equates to one report every two minutes.
Those figures are from a 2017 report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Child Protection Australia and they reflect that, sadly, more children than ever before are forced to live away from their own home in order to keep them protected.
Aside from donating to causes such as Polished Man or directly to the ACF, how can the average Australian, if they suspect someone to be the victim or perpetrator of abuse, help?
Our recommendation to anyone wanting to help children is to believe a child when they communicate an experience of abuse and work to connect them with services in their area that can help ensure their safety, and offer intervention wherever required. These services are different in every state and territory, and there’s a list of primary reporting services online. You can report anonymously, too.
How does the Polished Man campaign help support the work that the ACF do?
The Polished Man campaign really speaks to a young and motivated audience. It educates them on this very devastating and real issue, and provides a platform for them to make a difference.
Do you have any examples of how funds raised through Polished Man have directly helped your cause in the past?
This year was our third year involved with the Polished Man campaign. Throwing it back to the first year we were involved, the 2016 funding presented to the Australian Childhood Foundation was distributed through to our direct outreach and specialist trauma teams in Victoria.
The foundation works with approximately 1500 children each year nationally in specialist trauma recovery, helping these children to heal from often very extreme trauma. Our specialist therapeutic counselling team uses creative art therapies, music therapy, animal-assisted therapy and other therapeutic approaches to give children back the sense of joy, laughter and play that is so naturally a part of any childhood.
While the official campaign month is over, you can still bank a final donation for Polished Man until November 15.