Children bereaved by domestic violence need our support

“I was angry at everything. Angry that my mother was dead, I was sad as well. I was angry that my dad was in prison, I wanted to see him but that wasn’t allowed. That made me angry.”

This is a quote by a young Dutch girl whose father killed her mother. More than a third of female homicides worldwide are perpetrated by an intimate partner. Many of these women are parents. Since I’m back in Australia, I’ve tried to look into the local figures: in total, probably over 1,000 Australian children have been bereaved by fatal domestic violence in the past 20 years.

It is an understatement to say that losing a parent at the hands of the other parent has a major and lasting impact. It turns children’s worlds entirely upside down: at once they lose both parents – one to murder and one to prison or suicide – as well as their home and school environment.

Professionals have to make fundamental decisions for children after a domestic homicide. Where should the children live? Can it be with the family of the victim, or with the family of the perpetrator, or should it be a ‘neutral’ family? Should they have contact with the perpetrating parent? What kind of mental health support do the children and their caregivers need? Continue reading

What children who live with domestic violence say about their dads

“My ‘relationship’ with my Dad? I don’t have one….I feel like I am a pebble at the bottom of a stream and my Dad is this angry stream bashing me against all the other pebbles.”

This is one of the quotes that Stephanie Holt from Trinity College Dublin showed us this week. She presented an overview of her research with children in Ireland.

Domestic violence is a key marker for child abuse and neglect. Stephanie talked about the combination of fathers’ emotional absence on the one hand, and physically abusive presence on the other. She particularly focused on the context of ‘coercive control’, which limits someone’s freedom of movement and expression.

Being different, feeling powerless, and being scared were core themes for the children:

“I felt that I had a neon sign that told everyone what was going on in my family… I felt I wasn’t on the same wavelength as people…I thought that they were all happy families or whatever and I was kind of like the outcast”

“He shouts and curses and calls my Mum really, really mean names. I would say ‘stop Dad’, but he doesn’t listen.”

Stephanie showed that even very young children were able to convey experiences with domestic violence.

The children also talked about the pervasiveness of domestic violence. It was with them Continue reading

Back in the world’s most liveable city

I’m back in Melbourne! After two wonderful years in Switzerland and Europe, I have returned to Melbourne for part 2 of my NHMRC fellowship. It has been surprisingly easy to settle back in: it’s lovely to catch up with everyone here and the world’s most liveable city is still a buzzing creature.*

The fellowship is all about how parents and professionals support children after trauma, and in the past two years we’ve made quite a bit of progress. So, while I have been thinking about the blog but not writing on it, here is a quick overview of where we are at and what is next.

Where we are at

1. In the Ear for Recovery project we look at how parents support their children after a serious injury: we audio-sample families’ daily life for two days after discharge from the hospital (with the ingenious EAR device). With enormous thanks to the whole team, we now have fully transcribed and coded data for 71 families: close to 20,000 audio snippets. Continue reading

Children in the ambulance: how do paramedics go about psychosocial care?

“The beer they gave Casper in the ambulance, calmed him down” she says.

The presenter is recounting the story of a boy who broke his leg in a swimming pool accident.

What? Is alcohol the latest innovation in professional care for children?

It keeps the audience in suspense for a while. Until it turns out presenter meant to say (teddy) ‘bear’, not ‘beer’. That presenter was me by the way 🙂 we had a good laugh about it.

Ambulance staff are often the first at the scene when a child is seriously injured. What do they know about children’s stress reactions? Have they had any training in psychological first aid? And how confident are they about providing it? Continue reading

Curbing Social Climate Change with a cup of tea

curbing-social-climate-change-with-a-cup-of-teaEntie metzawzje?’ The dreaded question – Are you married?

‘Yes,’ I lie, ‘but I don’t have children.’

Naima frowns: ‘Leesh?’ Why?

 

That’s always hard to explain. I want to create something positive, and I love children. I simply never felt the desire to have my own.

I’m sitting on a family porch in Amman, Jordan. I’ve just had dinner but Naima and her family bring out bowls of olives, nuts, and dates. They ask about my life and work. Unfortunately my Arabic is not good enough to answer in depth. I promise to be better prepared next time.

It was a special encounter with this family. I saw care and curiosity. I felt welcome, even though our background and life choices are so different.

Social climate change

Brexit, the US elections, and the daily news all point to more division in our society. We see an enormous human toll in Syria. At the same time, we talk about refugees as ‘illegal border crossers’ and terrorists who need be kept out. There are real dangers that make it impossible to dismiss the latter point entirely, but I struggle with our intolerance towards people who are different from us.

We develop our own truths, depending on our environments, friends, and whether we read the New York Times or the conservative National Review. We seem to live in different universes, while actually, there are still so many things that we share. Continue reading