Since the age of fifteen, one in three Australian women has experienced physical violence of any type and one in four has experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner. On last count up to 30 November, 51 women have been killed due to violence against women in Australia, according to Destroy the Joint, a project that keeps track of women killed by domestic and family violence. That is more than one woman a week. These are sobering statistics.
With early childhood education and care services seeing scores of families per week (a sixty-place service may support up to sixty families), it’s inevitable that educators will work with families and children that have experienced, or are experiencing, domestic and family violence.
Early Signals. First Responses. is a unique professional development program that supports educators who work with families that have experienced domestic and family violence. At the face-to-face workshop held in Sydney on 24 October 2019, the former CEO of Domestic Violence NSW, Moo Baulch, presented a sobering look at domestic violence in Australia and across the globe, and explained how it relates to early childhood education and care.
There are many myths surrounding domestic and family violence, according to ANROWS (2017):
- Although one in four Australian women has experienced violence by an intimate partner, 23 per cent of the population believes that many women exaggerate the problem of male violence.
- Most people believe there is no excuse for violence, yet one in five Australians believes what is called domestic violence is really a normal reaction to day-to-day stress and frustration.
- Leaving a partner can be difficult and often dangerous, yet 32 per cent of Australians believe that a female victim who doesn’t leave an abusive partner is partly responsible for the abuse continuing.
- Ninety per cent of women who are sexually assaulted do not report to the police, and false allegations are rare, yet 42 per cent of Australians believe it is common for sexual assault accusations to be used as a way of getting back at men.
- The majority of Australians agree that being controlling is a risk factor for abuse in relationships yet 34 per cent of Australians think it’s natural for a man to want to appear in control of his partner in front of his male friends.
How do these statistics relate to early childhood?
In reported cases of domestic and family violence, approximately 65 per cent of the women who experienced violence by a current or former partner had children in their care. The children either saw or heard the violence.
In the four years spanning July 2010 to June 2014, child protection services in New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia received more than 335 000 reports of child maltreatment. Of these, 16 per cent included a concern about domestic and family violence.
Children also become secondary victims of domestic and family violence. Of the people who sought homelessness support in 2017–18 due to domestic and family violence-related issues, 78 per cent were female and a large number were children—34 per cent or nearly 42 000 under 18 years of age.
It’s likely that as an early childhood professional you’ll come across children who have experienced domestic violence. They may exhibit behaviours stemming from trauma—such as separation anxiety or withdrawal—or show signs of physical and developmental delays. To learn more about early signals and trauma-informed practice, watch the free webinar, ‘Responsive practice in early childhood’ by Janet Williams-Smith and Richard Fletcher.
You may not be able to fix the immediate problem but you can actively work to address the child’s experience of trauma following exposure to violence.
What can you do to support a parent who may be living with violence?
- Be proactive: Ensure that your service’s strong stance against domestic and family violence is reflected in its clear policies and procedures.
- Be ready: If any parents (or children) tell you that they are experiencing violence, know what the processes and practical steps you and your centre can take in terms of safety planning and support. Know which local support services can help and be prepared to refer to them.
- Believe: Let the affected parent/carer tell you what they want, at their own pace. You may be the first or only person they have disclosed information to. You don’t have to be the expert but it’s important to build trust and let them know that you believe them.
A parent may never disclose domestic or family violence to you but if you feel that something isn’t right there are still things you can do to support children and families.
Early Signals. First Responses is a unique program that resources and supports early childhood educators to better recognise and respond to young children who have experienced family violence. Learn online with six professional learning modules and two webinars exploring cognitive development, attachment, trauma-informed practice, challenging behaviours, and respectful relationships. The professional learning program is free.
If you or someone you know needs support, there are services that can help:
Domestic Violence NSW
www.dvnsw.org.au or call 02 9698 9777
Blue Knot Foundation (for adult survivors of childhood trauma)
1300 657 380
1800RESPECT: National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service
1800 737 732
Domestic Violence Line (NSW)
Free call 1800 65 64 63