This month’s edition of Parity magazine takes a special look at South Australia’s response to homelessness.
Why are women and children in regional South Australia hurting behind closed doors? How are young mothers being caught in cycles of violence? Why is the clock ticking for young people living in transitional housing? These are some of the issues explored by Centacare in the November edition of Parity magazine. The national publication of the Council to Homeless Persons, Parity is this month dedicated to South Australia’s response to homelessness. We chose to focus on domestic violence, and how this continues to drive homelessness for women and children across the country. Director, Dale West, also contributed an opinion editorial calling on the community to challenge men’s violent behaviour by asking questions of the perpetrator rather than the victims.
HOW many children suffer the same cruel fate as the two Australian women killed by acts of domestic violence every week?
Of all the kids lying in hospital beds with multiple fractures and other wounds, how many were put there by the person who should love and protect them the most?
Perpetrating domestic violence is a parenting choice!
Domestic violence is as much about the children in intensive care units as it is about women in shelters.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) statistics show, in 2013-2014 there were 198,966 children suspected of being harmed or at risk of harm from abuse and/or neglect.
The harm types most commonly substantiated across Australia were emotional abuse and child neglect. Children who witness domestic violence are typically categorised as having experienced emotional abuse.
During the same period, children aged less than one year were most likely to be the subject of a substantiation, followed by children aged one to four years.
Yet children are being lost in the background of abhorrent acts shattering families.
While the impact of domestic violence on children in the womb and beyond is now acknowledged, greater awareness is needed that children, too, are victims. The younger a child, the more likely they are to be assaulted.
We encourage people to view family violence from the perspective of a child who is always the most vulnerable in volatile homes, at least until they are at an age they can defend themselves.
Children do not cause domestic violence. They are the second-tier victims of a perpetrator’s rage.
A child cannot be responsible for their own safety. For a baby, infant or toddler, escaping violence is impossible. They do not have the control, verbal skills or strength to stand up to those perpetrating violence; they’re trapped.
When you are someone that has a choice and your target has none, it is absolutely obvious who is in the wrong. Inflicting domestic violence is a choice, not an involuntary reaction or response to irritation or anger.
As the nation’s leaders and community service agencies act quickly to address the prevalence of violence against women, children must be pushed to the forefront of our frontline response.
It is no longer enough to picture a woman cowering from a punch. Think about the children with fractured skulls and broken bones, and those we no longer see at all.
It is a sad indictment on society that our most vulnerable are also the most at risk.
Dale West is Director of Centacare Catholic Family Services. Follow him on Twitter @DPWestCentacare
CENTACARE has launched National Child Protection Week with a focus on positive parenting and keeping children safe from domestic violence.
Speaking at a morning tea held at Centacare’s Adelaide headquarters, Assistant Director Pauline Connelly said perpetrating domestic violence must be seen as a parenting choice.
“Our theme is about placing our society’s children at the centre of our world and our decision-making,” Pauline said.
“I do believe we need to relearn how to do that and to discover what it looks like in terms of our own personal decisions, our choices and behaviours, the community’s response to events, our organisational values and our government policy.”
Pauline used the event to highlight the role of social workers and community service organisations who work to protect women and children from family violence, abuse and neglect.
“I want to recognise the work that you do and the challenge that it is just to go out every day and face the situations you do without always having the answers,” she said.
“I also want to acknowledge the managers in the way they try and support their staff. The managers try their best with regard to structures and policies we have in the organisation, but nothing can replace the support they give in terms of debriefing, the protection from vicarious trauma and the deep encouragement that is needed.”
David Mandel, an international expert on the prevention of violence against women, spoke via video at the launch.
David visited Adelaide in April to train Centacare staff on his perpetrator pattern-based approach to domestic violence cases involving children.
His approach looks at the perpetrator’s behaviour, not the relationship or the survivor’s behaviour, as the foundation of moving toward a domestic violence-informed child welfare system.
“We need to be thinking through the lens that domestic violence perpetration is a parenting choice,” he said. “We need to hold domestic violence perpetrators accountable.
“We need to make visible what is often invisible because we hold men to such low expectations as parents and we hold women to such high expectations.
“By talking about domestic violence perpetration as a parenting choice and when we say that to a domestic violence survivor, it is an immediate intervention in some cases to really start alleviating the guilt and shame she feels.
“Good practice really involves us talking about the story of what the perpetrator did and how it harmed the child and family function. That, in some ways, is really the heart and soul of this idea that perpetration is a parenting choice.”
National Child Protection Week is coordinated by NAPCAN (National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect) and runs from September 6-12.