Charmaine works as a senior practitioner in the Aboriginal Family Violence Primary Prevention Innovation Project, an initiative run by the Gunditjmara Aboriginal Cooperative in Warrnambool in Victoria’s south-west. She is also Co-chair of Dhelk Dja Barwon South West family violence regional action group.
Coming from a policy background and holding a Bachelor of Science in mental health, she started in the family violence sector as a regional family violence officer with the Department of Health and Human Services.
Now, as an Elder with more than 35 years’ experience in community services, Charmaine remains passionate about creating positive change by empowering families across Gunditjmara Country.
“I get to work with families and individuals in my community and see them go through their journey of healing – of rebuilding themselves. It’s humbling. And it can be hard to watch them struggle through their challenges.
“You have to ask yourself ‘how can I best support this person?’ You get to witness the everyday bravery of people. Not heroes, not celebrities; just ordinary people looking for peace and happiness.”
Before her current research role working with Aboriginal families around family violence, she worked as a case manager for the Department of Justice and Community Services, as the Aboriginal Liaison Officer for the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria and also worked in drug and alcohol and mental health services. In her role as Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Charmaine dealt with cases across Victoria, helping lawyers support their clients in bail applications through her program and connecting them with housing and employment services. Many of the clients Charmaine helped navigate the courts and those she encountered through her counselling roles had experienced or used family violence.
“I speak to people one-on-one and run community sessions, working with women’s groups and men’s groups to talk about family violence within the community through a whole range of questions and in-depth conversations.
“This research helps us identify where service providers can fill in gaps. It’s also crucial to hear the gendered perspective. We ask the men what they think about when they hear someone discuss family violence or how they see their role when it comes to preventing family violence in the community – they may be protectors, or they may see themselves as leaders of young men who can cultivate positive values and challenge negative behaviours.”
In her conversations, Charmaine found that many men want to see more cultural programs that would help them develop this mentor relationship between Elders and younger men.
In responding to family violence in Indigenous communities she stresses the need for a holistic approach; a combination of primary prevention and effective frontline services.
“Historically, the research into family violence that informs program approaches has been viewed through a European lens rather than an Indigenous cultural lens.
“There is no one-size-fits-all program. Responses need to be informed by culturally relevant research on the experiences, needs and nuances of that cultural group in relation to family violence. You can’t walk into someone else’s cultural experiences; Indigenous people need to lead their own research and develop their own solutions.”
Reflecting on changes happening in the sector and Australia’s response to family violence, she sees Victoria as one of the most progressive states.
“A lot of innovation is happening in Victoria and it’s important to keep your skills up to date and stay in touch with new thinking and practice principles. Things are shifting in family violence research and our understanding of it, which is why MARAM training is so useful.
“The Victorian Government is prioritising family violence and strongly encouraging more diversity in the workforce and bringing different cultural lenses to practice. Their investment in the sector is providing opportunities for workers to upskill and making services more widely accessible, and so we are better able to build trust between communities and service providers.
“Our communities are becoming more proactive about working towards their own solutions. There’s a better appreciation of the value of education and upskilling. I see more younger people entering the sector and more older people going back to uni!”
Charmaine sees the coming changes to qualification requirements first recommended in 2016 by the Royal Commission into Family Violence in Victoria as necessary for achieving consistently high standards across the sector. She also sees continuous learning as key for a sustainable, long-term career in family violence.
“Qualifications don’t have to be a barrier, and they are key to professionalising the sector and making sure Aboriginal controlled organisations are just as highly skilled and have the same capacity to support the community as their sector counterparts. Qualifications also mean better jobs with real skills attached to them and more possibilities for professional development and career pathways.
“Even after more than 35 years working in this space, I haven’t stopped learning. There are many skills from other areas that you can bring to family violence work, but often the people in the communities I speak to are my greatest teachers. I’ve learned so much from them about what family violence is, where hope lies, and how real change can happen.”
How to become a primary prevention practitioner
If you are interested in working in a role like Chairmaine's, you may be expected to have completed a qualification in Social Work, Community Services, Health Promotion, Community Development, Communications or a range of other similar qualifications.
If you want to make a positive change to end family violence, you will need to have passion, empathy and be an effective communicator.
Primary prevention practitioners generally have experience in project management, policy development, advocacy, partnership development and/or community development.
Reviewed 18 February 2021