Supporting children impacted by family violence to go to school
Since the beginning of 2022 Wayss’ Family Violence Children’s Program has supported 78 children who have experienced family violence to return to school or start at new schools after the summer holidays and to stay at school.
Children’s Case Worker Veronika works closely with families and schools to facilitate the process of enrolling, settling in and purchasing the items they need to succeed at school like uniforms, schoolbooks, IT equipment and stationary. Many of these items are purchased via a $5000 Street Smart Grant .
“Some of the children the program has been supporting have been staying in cramped, difficult conditions in emergency accommodation like hotels and motels and might otherwise struggle to go back to school and access the essentials they need to succeed at school,” says Veronika.
Children who have experienced violence can be anxious, withdrawn, depressed or angry, or a combination of all of those symptoms. Many children struggle to build friendships, have behavioral difficulties and fall behind at school. Veronika works with schools to link students into school wellbeing programs to support kids who might be overwhelmed by going to school or refusing to go to school, struggling with their education or their homework or experiencing bullying.
“We connected one boy in grade six with a wellbeing officer as a safe person he could talk to and arranged a safe place for him to go when he is feeling overwhelmed,” says Veronika. “As a result, he felt that he was understood and supported by the school which resulted in better social and academic outcomes for this boy.”
Veronika has also worked with schools to adjust school work according to students’ capabilities and reducing the focus on homework if necessary.
“This really helped one girl in year seven I was supporting. After adjustments were made she was able to keep up with her work which led to improvement in confidence and academic outcomes for her.”
The program also supports children living with disabilities who have been impacted by family violence. Veronika links them with disability inclusion officers at schools for support and advocacy and arranges care meetings to provide opportunities for students to voice their concerns and needs. This helps empower the children by providing them with tools to manage their social environment and schoolwork.
Family Violence Rapid Response: immediate support and assessment for women and children in crisis
On call 24 hours, seven days a week, Wayss’ Rapid Response team responds to calls from the police, Safe Steps (Victoria’s 24/7 family violence support centre), The Orange Door (Victoria’s free service for adults, children and young people who are experiencing or have experienced family violence and families who need extra support with the care of children) or other family violence support services at any time of the day or night.
If it is the middle of the night and a woman has fled her home with her children to the local police station with just a couple of bags between them, the police will call Safe Steps who will complete a risk and safety assessment and often place them in crisis accommodation such as motel. Safe Steps will call the Rapid Response 24/7 phone line and refer the family for crisis support: this could include a meal delivery, food for breakfast, clothing, baby nappies and formula, mobile phone or toys for the children.
The team can also provide face to face emotional support and can assist the victim survivor access other crisis services such as Doctor on Call or access local services such as Chemists and Centrelink.
The Rapid Response team also supports women and children while they are waiting to be allocated to a Practitioner in the Case Management Team. During this interim support period our team might support a woman who is still at the family home but waiting for the right moment to escape. In this case our team would regularly review the woman’s Safety Plan to ensure she can escape or look at other strategies to reduce her and her children’s immediate risk. The Safety Plan would include when, how and where the victim survivor will escape to and what she will need to take with her.
If the woman and her children have fled the violent perpetrator and have found alternative housing or an Intervention Order has excluded the perpetrator from her home, our Rapid Response team can support the family to stay safe by improving security where they are living with things like changing locks, security doors, security cameras, lighting or safety watches.
Sarah’s story: out of harm’s way and into a new life
Earlier this year Sarah’s partner was being held in remand accused of a range of serious crimes but Sarah continued to be worried for her safety and that of her two little girls. Her partner had a history of being violent towards them and he had an extensive network of associates outside jail, including bikies. Sarah often felt they were being watched. She had seen people in cars driving slowly past her place and even into her driveway.
The final straw came when she found a hidden camera set up in her house. Sarah immediately contacted the police who after ensuring her initial safety, referred her to The Orange Door, a free service for adults, children and young people who are experiencing or have experienced family violence and families who need extra support with the care of children. The team at The Orange Door referred Sarah and her children on to Wayss so we could support them in their next steps.
Our team organised for Sarah and her children to go into a hotel while a security sweep was conducted by security firm Protective Group <<link to https://protectivegroup.com.au/>> on her home, her car and all her digital devices. Protective Group found a tracking device inside the car, which they disabled. Wayss provided money for Sarah to buy some clothes and toys for the children, and we also paid for Uber rides so they could get around while the car was being checked for tracking devices.
Sarah and her daughters stayed in the hotel for a week before going to stay with her mother. During this time Wayss began working with Sarah to plan her next steps, including finding a new place to live. We also supported her with managing the stress of the criminal court process and in her contact with the police’s Family Violence Investigation Unit.
With the support of our team, Sara and her daughters found a new private rental that she could afford and that was far away from the address her partner knew about. We helped her organise and pay for a removalist and a new fridge and we also helped her install security screens, improved lighting and cameras at her new place.
Sarah is now safely out of the reach of the violent man who wishes her harm, and Wayss has linked her in to family violence support services in her new area. Her future is looking much brighter now, and after settling into her new place, she said to the team: ‘I feel like I have a guardian angel, the help you and this service provides is above and beyond. I am so grateful.’
Crucial support around court cases for women impacted by family violence
It can be a scary thing for a woman who has experienced family violence to go through legal proceedings in the Family Law Courts. First of all there is the legal process itself, which can be complicated and distressing. On top of that she often has to face the man who abused her during the proceedings.
This is why the multi-faceted support provided by Family Advocacy and Support Services (FASS) is so important. FASS offers both legal and non-legal support for women and men who have experienced, used or are alleged to have used family violence and are attending the Family Law Courts in relation to their case.
Wayss’ FASS worker Natalie provides non-legal support to women to help keep them and their family safe. Discussions include safety planning and referrals to The Orange Door (a free service for adults, children and young people who are experiencing or have experienced family violence and families who need extra support with the care of children) for ongoing support, as well as linking with other services for housing support, financial support, visa issues and counselling.
Women can also access legal support through a FASS duty lawyer who can provide legal advice around family law matters and legal information around Intervention Orders. Alleged male perpetrators attending court can access non-legal support through the No to Violence (NTV) organisation <<link to https://ntv.org.au/>>. Legal support for perpetrators is also available through FASS.
Following the pandemic the majority of cases at the Family Law Court continue to be conducted online.
“Many of my clients prefer doing it online as they don’t have to face the perpetrator in person,” says Natalie. “Although some still find the process quite confronting to even see their face or hear their voice, in an online hearing.”
She also provides real world, practical advice around safe ways to maintain contact with the perpetrator – when it’s absolutely necessary to do so – including around transferring children from one parent to the other.
“I often talk about the benefits of changeovers being done at McDonalds or schools and discourage doing them at her home or the home of other parties.”
“I also discuss benefits of keeping contact via texts and emails and discourage phone calls, for safety and legal reasons, if safe to do so. She will therefore then have a record of everything she and the other party have said for a Magistrates Court or a Family Court. I suggest they don’t use phone calls, where perpetrators are more likely to make threats. I can also give clients information about how to access ongoing legal support if their legal support around the court case is a one-off, whether she qualifies for legal aid funding or not.”
To access Wayss’ FASS worker Natalie or a FASS duty lawyer, call Victoria Legal Aid help line on 1300 792 387 between 8am and 5pm and ask to speak to the FASS information referral officer.
Family Advocacy and Support Services (FASS) is a National Program, operating from all Family Law Court Registries in Australia and is funded through the Federal Government. FASS is managed through Victoria Legal Aid in Victoria.
Shanvika has two daughters with her husband Nirved – Ayaan who is two years old and Naaya who is four. For the four years they were married, Nirved emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually and psychologically abused Shanvika.
“He controlled everything we did,” says Shanvika. “He didn’t let me have friends or go out of the house, and he even controlled what we ate and what we wore each day. During the COVID restrictions he got even stricter, we were kept in the house for over six months at one stage.”
Nirved’s mother also lived with the family but sadly, she was no help to Shanvika.
“She supported her son in his controlling, abusive behaviour,” says Shanvika. “I felt like I had nowhere to turn. I have a really supportive family in India but I had no one here in Australia.”
Nirved did allow Shanvika to leave the house to go to work because even though it meant she was out of his control for a short time, he tolerated it because it helped increase the household income. He did however keep a close eye on what she did and who she spoke to while she was out, even checking her phone when she arrived home to see if she made or received any calls while away from the house.
“I knew what was happening at home was not right but I had no idea how to get all of us out safely. One day at work I grabbed a moment to call 1800RESPECT. After explaining my situation they put me onto Safe Steps.”
Safe Steps is Victoria’s 24/7 family violence support centre. Safe Steps referred Shanvika to The Orange Door, Victoria’s free service for adults, children and young people who are experiencing or have experienced family violence and families who need extra support with the care of children. The team at The Orange Door referred Shanvika to Wayss for support.
The Wayss team attempted to contact Shanvika for several days with no luck – and wary of alerting Nirved, they didn’t leave any messages. After about a week of trying, Shanvika finally answered the call.
“It was amazing to know there was someone out there trying to help, I suddenly felt less alone,” says Shanvika. “I only had a few seconds but I took the chance to tell them I could only talk between 1 and 1.30pm on Tuesdays then quickly hung up.”
Over a period of several weeks, our team spoke to Shanvika every Tuesday for 20 minutes or so to help her build an escape plan that involved Shanvika and her daughters secretly packing their bags and getting ready to leave the house when Nirved went out. Wayss organised emergency motel accommodation for the family and helped her arrange transport to get there.
“I was extremely scared on the day and when I called the Wayss worker from the motel I was crying with relief and gratitude!” says Shanvika.
Wayss arranged for an interpreter to meet Shanvika and her daughters at a police station where she applied for and was granted an Intervention Order. We also supported her to purchase some food and clothing for herself and the children, referred her to local support agencies, linked her in with supportive cultural connections in her local community and supported her to access funds to pay rent and bond in advance to move into a private rental property.
Wayss also connected Shanvika and her daughters with Wayss’ Children’s Worker Veronika, who provided tailored support for the young girls to recover from the trauma of the violence, build resilience for the next stage of their journey and enrol into childcare.
Shanvika and her two daughters are now living safely free from violence and control in their own rental both happy and secure.
“I can work whenever I want to, and my children are now in childcare. I feel like my life has changed forever for the better.”