Early intervention, particularly before the damage is too difficult to repair, was a very strong message at a recent NAPCAN breakfast attended by Relationships Australia staff.
A message that poignantly addresses the issue of family violence and child abuse in Australia and one that is particularly relevant to one of Relationships Australia’s own programs on the Tiwi Islands.
Speaking at an event in early September, key note speaker Sue Rayment-McHugh, clinical manager of Griffith Youth Forensic Service (GYFS) at Griffith University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice in Brisbane, spoke about her extensive experience in the sexual abuse and youth justice fields, including the assessment and treatment of adolescents who have committed sexual offences as well as having worked clinically with victims of child sexual abuse, adult perpetrators of sexual abuse and with children presenting with sexual behaviour problems.
‘’It is time for us to really think about the importance of preventing childhood sexual abuse, to think about the significant worldwide impact of violence on the development of children.
“We all have a responsibility in preventing future harm and its time we started to get serious about prevention, by creating safer homes and communities for children and in order to do this, we need a comprehensive prevention plan,” Ms Rayment-McHugh said.
Using an example from the GYFS ‘’Neighbourhoods’’ project where sexual abuse towards minors occurs in a remote Queensland community, Ms Rayment-McHugh explained how the GYFS team identified contributing factors as reduced parental capacity (as a result of endemic family violence, alcohol and substance abuse) and found that abuse occurred most commonly in a home environment.
The GYFS team also identified an urban centre in Queensland where sexual abuse towards minors occurs. The contributing factors at that site were completely different however as the abuse was occurring peer-to-peer, mostly in public spaces. The approach, Ms Rayment-McHugh explained, varied for each location.
In the case of the remote location, emphasis was placed on Parental Education (in conjunction with the local childcare centre) and Community Mobility (an open, whole-of-community discussion which clearly articulates the rules and standards and details exactly which behaviours are acceptable)
In the case of the urban location, an emphasis was placed on safety in schools (through the Teachers Project, which trains teachers to take on the role of an employed guardian) and public spaces (through a dedicated police patrol with a sole focus of guardianship of children in public spaces). Crime prevention though environmental design also played a role in improving the safety of both schools and public spaces.
‘’Developmental prevention involves the organised provision of resources in some fashion to individuals, families, schools or communities to forestall the later development of crime or other problems.
Doing something about this type of crime early, preferably before the damage is too hard to repair or crime becomes entrenched, strikes most people as a logical approach to crime prevention. The twin challenges of course are to identify exactly what it is in individuals, families, schools or communities that increase the odds of involvement in crime, and then to do something useful about the identified conditions as early as possible,” she said.
Relationships Australia NT recently received funding from Prime Minister and Cabinet for the Healing Our Children project on the Tiwi Islands. The project was conceived by RANT’s remote Aboriginal Children and Family Workers to build the capacity of strong women in the community to work with young pregnant women and mothers to keep their children safe from violence.
The Healing Our Children project is similar in identifying that in many communities in the NT, much of the abuse occurs in the home and is related to parenting, alcohol and substance abuse.
The program aims to stop the cycle of trauma affecting children as a result of early exposure to domestic and family violence and offers support for women with children who have witnessed or are at risk of exposure to domestic and family violence.
Adopting a similar theory of early intervention, support is offered at the earliest possible time, ideally when women are planning a pregnancy, pregnant or already have babies and toddlers. The project is lead by strong women in the communities who use aboriginal imagery to explain the effects of trauma on children’s brains, behaviour and learning capacity, and addresses the concerns for the need to keep children safe from domestic and family violence so that they can grow up into strong and healthy adults.