Story: Natasha wants better services to protect children affected by family violence

Too often children and young people are forgotten, their voice ignored, their control taken in the often chaotic and painful pursuit of a life without family violence. 

But somewhere along the road, it seems we either forgot what we were doing this for, or never truly had a goal around this in the first place.

Family violence should never have been about closed doors and fearful silence, but up until recently that was just how things were.

Children are the future of our country and yet time and again the very systems and services that were there to protect them and help them on the road to recovery have failed them.

And at a great cost.

We make the assumption that if you help the parent recover, the child will naturally begin to heal as well. But the impact on children and young people is more profound than we give it credit for.

We make the assumption that if a child does not experience the violence firsthand, they will be fine. But they hear, they see, understand.

We make the assumption that Child Protection will help these children and young people, but in a broken out-of-home care system, for too many this only causes more issues — perpetuating the cycle of violence, crime and disadvantage.

For children and young people, the impact of trauma can have devastating consequences that can, and will, reverberate throughout the entirety of their lives. But in many circumstances, trauma is just the tip of the iceberg.

Children and young people in many circumstances have only ever known violence. They’ve never had anything to compare it to and no-one to tell them that violence and neglect isn’t something they should have to experience. That they deserved better.

But the relationships between family members in those circumstances are complex and often conflicting. They love their parent or parents, but they’re afraid of them.

For those lucky few who later in their lives come to the realisation that what they experienced was wrong, now not only have to deal with the extensive and even debilitating effects of trauma, but also the crippling inner turmoil and distress from that realisation that can result in mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, in some of the milder cases.

Some children and young people, having never truly experienced love, might seek out people to make them feel loved, going to dangerous extremes to find anyone, even a complete stranger to give them some sense of belonging.

For someone who comes to the realisation of just how bad their situation was, it’s like suddenly everything you’ve ever believed, everything you’ve seen, heard, touched and even felt was nothing but a lie.

But deep down, you knew that.

You knew subconsciously that what they had to live through was wrong.

But you can’t handle that.

They can’t even see yet - the lasting impact the abuse, neglect and everything else will have on your life.

So, you don’t handle it.

You have no idea how to get help, nor even understand that what you might need is help right now.

So, you’ll resort to violence, to drugs, to alcohol, to cutting into your own skin so you can relieve the complete and utter mental anguish you’re feeling even if it’s just for a second.

Maybe you’ll attempt to end your own life.

It’s something that can leave you feeling marginalised.

It can distance you from the people trying to help you. You may lose - if you ever really had any - your sense of self-worth, your confidence and feel completely inferior to those around you, particularly your peers, because you might not be able to function as well as them.

All these internal problems can be present in the minds of children and young people and often go unseen.

All the violence they lived through. It stays with them. It never goes away.

For others, they might not be so lucky.

They may pass on the violence they experienced into their own relationships.

Whether that means becoming the perpetrator or the victim from ignorance or the inability to recover or see any issue in the behaviour associated with family violence.

By not just consulting with people with lived experience, but actively involving them in the creation of future policy, we can make a better society. We need to stop keeping silent and not just about family violence. We as a people need to be vocal, because if we do, we’ll be one step closer to having one less person suffer a preventable fate.

I believe we can create a world where all children and young people can feel safe, loved and reach their fullest potential. A world where we stand up for each other and tear down the walls of silence, where family violence is just a distant memory.

Always look to a brighter future and know where you come from doesn’t define who you are.

Find more Stories of change

Reviewed 02 August 2019

Family violence reform

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