Monthly Archives: September 2016

Thoughts on making your children’s needs a priority – September 2016

A concern that often raises its head above others is when parents, step-parents and de facto partners don’t make the needs of their own children, and the children in the new relationship, a priority. The resulting emotional and physical neglect impacts severely on the child’s ability to build a true sense of identity.

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With the high incidence of separation and engagement in new relationships, the new partners often make each other and their new relationship a priority rather than prioritising the needs of the children. Often the complexity of the changing relationships and roles results in emotional confusion for the children involved and these internal conflicts often manifest as behavioural issues.

blog about kids needs

In our work we often observe the following:

  • A new partner competing with the children for attention.
  • Conflict in the new relationship because of the focus by one parent on the needs of the children
  • Financial conflict because of the financial obligations to children of previous relationships
  • Conflict with former partners because of engagement in a new relationship.
  • Children being used by both the separated parties and the new partner as a way to manipulate each other.
  • An ongoing conflict between the separated parents where the children are used as an excuse to punish each other.
  • One parent using any excuse to make the other party’s parenting style appear wrong whilst looking to gain a custodial advantage over that parent.

Some of the needs to focus on to support children to build a healthy sense of who they are:-

  •  Safety: Both a physical and emotional.
  • Learning support: To build the ability to engage in learning.
  • Trusting relationships: Love and connection that is emotionally safe.
  • Predictability: Patterns and routines that are stable and predictable where transitions         are well  managed.

Each child is a unique and valuable developing human being. You teach them their worth in the mirror of your relationship with them. They deserve the best.

Are you doing that?

Family Relationship Centre marks 10 years in the NT

cake cutting

A mediation service designed to assist families going through separation has marked ten years in the Northern Territory. Set up as one of the first fifteen Family Relationship Centres in Australia, the Darwin-based service has been run by Relationships Australia NT since it was established by the Australian Government following changes in the Family Law Act in 2006.

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These changes meant that from July 2007 onwards, family dispute resolution was compulsory in all suitable cases prior to applying to the courts for orders. The development of engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients has been extremely important and Northern Territory staff have lead the way with research and modelling for best practice in mediation with Aboriginal families. Relationships Australia marked the tenth anniversary of the Darwin Family Relationship centre with a special lunch on Monday 29th August, featuring guest presenter acclaimed clinical child psychologist, family therapist and research consultant Professor Jennifer McIntosh.

Jenn Speaking good one

Professor McIntosh outlined the latest research on divorce and its impact on children in her presentation ‘Children’s Outcomes in conflicted Family Separation and Pathways of Prevention: the Current Evidence’ This presentation outlined current research on the complex relationships between divorce and conflict exposures in childhood, and life-course outcomes, and emphasised the place for timely intervention in supporting parental focus and responsive co-parenting through child inclusive practice.

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Professor McIntosh also held a one day Young Children in Divorce & Separation workshop with child-inclusive teams from Relationships Australia NT and Anglicare Resolve. This program, developed by Professor McIntosh and Children Beyond Dispute, provides information about early development and targets the important developmental considerations for separated parents. It also provides insights into the complexities for children of living in family conflict and separation, the range of challenges these children carry with them into the learning environment and opportunities for parents in accompanying the child through the separation journey.

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Andrew Harkin’s Body Centred Trauma Work – September 2016

Andrew Harkin is a clear thinking practitioner with decades of experience as a GP and psychotherapist in Ireland, Europe and America. He now works at a clinic in Western Australia. He is devoted to body centred practice, a bottom up collection of practices that can be used to complement existing top down therapies to support integration for clients who experience hyper or hypo arousal. Andrew is committed to helping clients learn more about their symptoms and use body work to help shift trauma. He works to help them expand their window of tolerance and increase the quality of their daily lived experience.

Andrew Harkin pictured here with RANT CEO, Marie Morrison

Andrew and Marie

He presented a 3 day training Darwin in early March 2016 Working with Trauma – An Advanced Therapeutic Workshop for Counsellors. On the first day Andrew covered the theoretical frameworks, understandings on which we could then base some more practice centred ideas. He is a unique practitioner in that he has the education, experience, and knowledge to scientifically prove why and how previously thought ‘alternative’ therapies including tapping, meditation and mindfulness tangibly help clients. He skilfully lead us through exercises we could practice first for ourselves, then with our clients.

As a body centred trauma practitioner, his focus is on symptoms and evidence. His favourite question is How do you know that? He then investigates further…What in your body tells you? Where exactly do you feel it? How does it feel? What would you describe it as? Pain, emptiness, pressure? Heavy or light? dark or bright? Round or square? Smooth or rough? In this way, he helps the client very specifically describe the sensation in the body where the trauma is being held. This awareness helps the body begin to know how to heal itself. The body work can help the client to start to integrate the traumatic experience without having to talk about the trauma itself.

Andrew is a charismatic and dynamic presenter with a humour all his own, from fire fighting stories to bird metaphors. Clinical staff attending said the training was “inspirational” and exceeded their expectations. Participants said they enjoyed the opportunity to look at trauma through a body centred lens. Useful learning included the biology of trauma, symptom tracking, mindfulness, experiential exercises and the window of tolerance as a tool for work with clients. One participant noted

“I will pay more attention to what is happening in my body as well as the body in front of me in the counselling room.”

In addition to relevant theory, the training was full of practical tips and suggestions for ways to work with clients living with the effects of trauma. Clinical staff spoke of deep insights and a fresh understanding of the value of body work. Many expressed their enthusiasm for Andrew to come back to present phase 2 work for us. Bringing Andrew to Darwin to share his knowledge with us was a valuable exercise and we would recommend Andrew Harkin to any other Relationships Australia.

Darwin staff cultural tour August 2016

The Aboriginal and Islander Cultural Advisors (AICA’s) from RA NT lead the Darwin staff on a cultural tour of Darwin which included places of importance to the Larkaia People, the traditional owners of Darwin.

’The aim of this tour was to educate non Aboriginal staff about the intergenerational trauma experienced by Aboriginal clients by taking them to see places like the old Kahlin compound & site of the Retta Dixon home. We wanted the staff to feel and see these places and to remember these stories – to give staff an understanding of how angry, sad and frustrated the residents would have felt – and to help staff engage with Aboriginal clients on a deeper level‘’ – Valarie Tambling, AICA.

The first stop was Police Paddock. It is now the site of Stuart Park Primary School. The AICAs told the staff about how in the years before the Second World War, this site was used to home many of the Immigrants who had built the railway in the early days of Darwin. Police Paddock was also used to home married Aboriginal families and the conditions were harsh. There was no electricity or sewage and the huts were built from bush timber and sheets of iron. No legal right or title to the land was given to Aboriginal people living in Police Paddock

The second stop was Silas Roberts Hostel for Aboriginal people on Packard Street is named after a man who was highly respected by both cultures. Silas was a missionary-educated man from Ngukurr who was the first Aboriginal person to be made Justice of the Peace, and Special Magistrate. In 1974, He was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in recognition of his services to the welfare of Aboriginal people as well as being elected as the first Chairman of the Northern Land Council – which is the building we are currently working in, 43 Cavenagh Street! Silas was known for always putting up people in his house and giving support, guidance and cultural advice to them.

Silas Roberts

(The Yirrkala Bark Petitions being viewed at Parliament House by Silas Roberts (on the left) then Chairman of the Northern Land Council and Galarrwuy Yunupingu (on the right) then Manager of the Northern Land Council in1976)

The next stop was the Darwin Oval. The Oval is now the open space along the water’s edge on the esplanade, but right up to the 1950’s it was one of the most important recreational areas for Aboriginal people in Darwin. At that time in the NT, AFL was the only sport at the time where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people could play against each other. AFL was a source of pride for Aboriginal men, who were very talented on the pitch and could showcase their skills in front of their families and friends. In those days, footy was a way for Aboriginal men to release their frustrations towards the white men who they felt were their tormentors off the pitch

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We then visited the site of the Retta Dixon Home. In the 1930’s a missionary couple founded the Retta Dixon Home. It was home to part-Aboriginal children, single mothers, and some adult women. Many of the children there had been forcefully taken from their Aboriginal mothers. The government at the time had a policy of assimilation meaning that ‘’half-caste’’ children would learn to be white. There has been a Royal Commission into the sexual and physical abuse which was carried out by the staff towards the residents of Retta Dixon.

Pictured below in the 1930’sRetta Dixon in the 1930s

The Site of the Retta Dixon home today:Retta Dixon today

Laying flowers

The next stop was the Gurrambai trail in Rapid Creek. Gurrambai is the Larkaia word for elbow, which is the shape of the creek’s mouth. It’s an important place for the Larakia people with two sacred Baynan trees as well as Old Man Rock who sits out at sea – just north of Rapid Creek. Larakia people believe that if Old Man Rock is disturbed it will cause a natural disaster.

Eddie McKenzie (AICA) explained that Gurrambai has been a source of water for thousands of years and known as a good hunting and fishing area for Aboriginal people. In the late 1800’s the early missions used the creek for irrigation and since the arrival of Europeans in the 1930’s, it has been a popular spot for picnics and swimming.


After lunch, the AICA’s had prepared a number of group activities for the staff to complete. We designed these activities to see what information had been retained by the staff and how they could use it to better communicate and engage with Aboriginal clients. The staff were split up into groups and given a question to think about so for example ‘’What are some of the important things to be aware of when speaking with an Aboriginal client’’ The groups were asked to present their answers to the whole group at the end. That was the end of our tour.

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‘’I had a wonderful day, I now know so much more about Darwin’s history and most importantly – how many of these changes have affected our Aboriginal people – both in the past and in the present. I can’t thank the AICA’s enough for a great and meaningful excursion! Thank you!’ – Janet Langley, Children’s Counsellor when asked for feedback on the cultural tour.