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How helping ‘forgotten’ children can break cycle of abuse

Forgotten children need more help than ever to overcome trauma and break the cycle of domestic and family violence, experts say.

Sunshine Coast-based charity Sunny Kids general manager Kathleen Hope said children were the most vulnerable parties in domestic abuse.

She said they had no choice in which family they were born into, and they had no way of escaping on their own.

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Ms Hope and Sunny Kids case worker Sarah Crain sat down with the Daily as part of the HerStory campaign, to shine a light on the realities of domestic and family violence in the hope of making a lasting change.

Some of the cases the charity looks after included a woman whose husband poured boiling water over their baby and forced her to tell police she was responsible.

Another case involved a little girl who was molested by her own father when he kidnapped her from her mother and told her she was dead.

Ms Crain said no child should have to endure or witness what some of the charity's young cases had lived through.

"Everyone always talks about breaking the cycle (of abuse), and yes we need to break the cycle," Ms Crain said.

"But we need to actually put the effort in … to focus more on the children.

"They don't have any choice in what happens with their life."

Children’s toys inside a secret refuge for women escaping domestic violence. Picture: Ashley Carter
Children’s toys inside a secret refuge for women escaping domestic violence. Picture: Ashley Carter

According to the Queensland Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women, domestic violence can have adverse effects on children including regression to an earlier stage of development, displaying aggressive or destructive behaviour, becoming a victim or perpetrator of bullying and, in young adults, misusing drugs and alcohol.

Sunshine Coast Police Prosecutions officer-in-charge Dave Bradley said children as young as infants could be affected by witnessing domestic violence and needed "trauma-informed counselling" as early as possible to prevent the cycle from continuing.

"We always thought that the infants were too young to understand. We were wrong," Senior Sergeant Bradley said.

"You scream at an infant (and) it knows what to do. When children that young are exposed to trauma those initial building blocks in their brain as to how they go on and build relationships are damaged.

"If we don't get those kids into trauma-informed counselling to rewire those parts of the brain much earlier … that's where our problems are coming from."

Sunny Kids general manager Kathleen Hope. Photo: Patrick Woods
Sunny Kids general manager Kathleen Hope. Photo: Patrick Woods

Ms Hope said more education was needed for young children to recognise dangerous behaviours in relationships in order to prevent them repeating what they might see at home.

"We can't wait until they're in high school. They've already brought all of the toxic role modelling that they've experienced," she said.

Ms Hope said children, who arguably needed the most help, were often "forgotten" in conversations about domestic violence.

"We need to stop assuming that every parent knows how to parent their children," she said.

"If every parent knew how to parent their children, we wouldn't need child safety, we wouldn't need domestic violence refuges.

"Parents don't always know best, but we can support them to make better choices."