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Thursday, 27 November 1997
Page: 11532

Mr EOIN CAMERON(5.33 p.m.) —Shortly I will seek leave to table a paper prepared for me by Elizabeth Lang, from Grinnell College, Iowa, in the United States. Elizabeth is in Australia as part of the Australian national internships program, and I have been fortunate indeed to have Elizabeth prepare for me a paper titled, It's like being in a war: Children's programs in women's refuges in Australia .

In her outstanding paper Elizabeth states that, traditionally, the family home has been a safe haven, a place where people love and respect one another. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In Australia, as many as one in three households suffers from domestic violence. Women are not the only victims of domestic violence; children are often the silent victims. Although they may not be physically abused, children must bear the emotional scars of seeing one parent attack another. Even when the violence does not occur in their presence, children are usually aware of any violence which occurs in the home.

Children suffer because of the emotional atmosphere in an abusive household. One 10-year-old boy likened his home situation to living in a war. Many children become so upset that they are unable to attend school after a domestic violence dispute. As many as 11,000 students in New South Wales and 8,000 in Western Australia miss school every day because of domestic violence.

Children who witness violence learn to become inured and believe that this is acceptable. They grow up believing that men should be dominating and women should be submissive—that women do not deserve men's respect. Children from violent homes tend to have more significant behavioural and social problems than other children. They may also experience depression, withdrawal, anxiety, eating disorders, nervous disorders, self-abuse and nightmares. School work no longer becomes important to children so grades tend to fall dramatically. Adolescent boys and girls from abusive homes are themselves more likely to become involved in abusive relationships because that is all they know.

Children are the majority of the residents in women's refuges. These children have their own needs separate from the needs of their mothers. Unfortunately, these needs are often ignored because the main focus is on the mother. Children in refuges have been torn away from all that is familiar, leaving behind their homes, their toys, their clothes, their friends, their schools and their fathers. Children in refuges need someone they can trust, who is interested in their fears and feelings and who can help them work through them. A child worker can fulfil these needs by helping children build self-esteem, teaching them that they are special and worth while and teaching them how to take care of themselves.

The child worker in many refuges becomes the child's helper, working one on one with the children, learning about them and helping them to recover from their traumatic experiences. A child worker also reassures children that the violence is not their fault. The worker teaches the child that violence is not acceptable and that men do not have the right to hit a woman and a woman does not have to accept the violence. If children do not learn that violence is inappropriate, then the cycle of violence will continue in future generations.

Children also need interaction with other children who have experienced domestic violence. Group programs assist children to understand their situation, work through their fears, raise their self-esteem and learn appropriate behaviour. These programs focus on a different issue each week, using techniques appropriate to the child's age.

Refuges also need a counsellor who can work directly with the children. By having counsellors on staff, children can develop a stronger relationship with them and heal that much faster. Children who have lived in a violent home suffer from psychological, emotional and behavioural problems. They need a child worker, a counsellor and group programs in the refuge to help them overcome the experience and move on with their lives. Without these programs to help children overcome this trauma, they will not only suffer as children but also as adults as they themselves continue the cycle of violence.

I would like to thank Elizabeth Lang particularly for her thoroughly researched report, It's like being in a war: Children's programs in women's refuges in Australia and again commend the Australian national internships program to the House. This is the fourth intern I have had in my office and I would recommend the program to other members of this place. It is a thoroughly worthwhile program. I now seek leave to table the report.

Leave granted.