*Trigger warning: this article talks about violence against children.
A Polished Man recipient for 2019, the Australian Childhood Foundation rebuilds the lives of abused and neglected kids across Australia. This is the story of Rachel, one of the children in their care.
In any normal household, a nine-year-old girl refusing to eat her broccoli isn’t cause for celebration.
But when Rachel told her carer Trish she didn’t want to eat her greens, Trish knew that it was a good sign.
Sometimes it’s the very ordinary, everyday elements of childhood – such as feeling safe enough to say “I don’t want that,” without fear – that abuse takes away.
The Australian Childhood Foundation (ACF), a Polished Man beneficiary for 2019, shares its understanding of trauma with carers like Trish. This helps them better recognise and celebrate even the tiniest signs of healing.
Rachel had been subjected to family violence from birth. When she came to Trish, she could not make even the smallest decision for herself.
When Trish would ask her “What do you want for breakfast?” or “What would you like to play with?", Rachel would ask Trish what she wanted her to eat or play with.
Molly, a therapeutic foster care specialist at the ACF, helped Trish to understand Rachel’s trauma: when a child has been forced to crush their sense of self for so long, how do they even know whether they prefer playing with cars or dolls, or whether they prefer sporty games to painting and play dough?
In a healthy family, it’s the strong and connected relationship that babies have with their parents or carers that helps them to feel safe enough to explore the world and learn about themselves. But because Rachel hadn’t had this kind of connection, Molly encouraged Trish to disregard Rachel’s chronological age and play closely with her as if she were an infant or toddler, rather than expecting her to play independently as a nine-year-old.
This new way of playing helped to build a sense of safety and, through play, Rachel came to know a little more about herself – what her interests are, what she likes and what makes her happy.
Molly helped Trish prepare for when Rachel did finally start to push boundaries and assert herself, so she could respond in a way that would support Rachel’s continued healing. Trish learned how to reassure Rachel that she was being heard and that it was safe for her to make choices.
And so it was that Trish knew the incredible significance of Rachel telling her she didn’t want her broccoli. “Rachel finally said ‘No!’’ she joyfully told Molly over the phone.
Rachel is now going through the 'terrible twos' – at the age of nine. And the ACF and Trish couldn’t be more delighted.
On any given night in Australia, around 48,000 children, like Rachel, will be sleeping away from home out of concerns for their safety. In addition, there’s one report of family violence and neglect against children every two minutes.
The ACF 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 ACF 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 ACF.
“We believe all children need to feel safe, respected, loved and that they belong,” says Felicity O’Meara, Corporate Partnership Manager at the ACF. 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.”
Tackling child abuse and neglect, says O’Meara, is all of our responsibility. “If we feel something isn’t right with a child we know, no matter how close to the family we might be, we have a duty to act.”
“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,” she says. “These services are different in every state and territory, and there’s a list of primary reporting services online. You can report anonymously, too.”
When joining the Bank Australia fundraising team this October we’ll chip in $10 once you raise your first funds, and an extra $10 when you raise $100.
If you are worried about unhealthy, abusive or violent behaviour in any of your relationships, or or someone you know, contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au for online chat counselling, information and referrals. This service is free, confidential and available 24 hours, 365 days.