News and Events

Rebuilding the bonds with children

mum_hugs_boyBy Nadine, a children’s counsellor at Women’s Health West

I work with children who have seen or heard family violence. Sometimes they may have helped to clean up after, or helped defend their mothers or carers against violence. Their pets may have been harmed, or toys destroyed or left behind if they’ve had to flee.

Some children have been directly physically abused. They can become withdrawn, act like parents themselves, or act out. For children displaying their distress by acting out aggressively, relationships can become increasingly difficult; a mother may find her child’s behaviour reminiscent of the violence she has experienced.  A mother’s parenting is nearly always undermined by family violence, and her relationships with her children affected.

Let me share with you the abridged therapeutic adventures of a six-year-old boy I worked with during our children’s counselling sessions. We’ll call him ‘Emmett’, but it’s not his real name.

At school Emmett was aggressively targeting girls. He was having trouble making and keeping friends due to his delayed social skills. He was still wetting his pants. In the classroom, his capacity to sit still in order to listen, learn and respond, was very limited.

At home Emmett and his sister fought vicious fights, often resulting in injury. They found it difficult to tolerate sharing the attention of their mother. Emmett would often lash out at her, physically and verbally.

When I first met Emmett he was viewed by some people in his world as a ‘very naughty boy’.

BUT Emmett had experienced significant family violence his entire life. Emmett was unsure of trusting others, and had little experience of feeling safe. His trauma was relational, and this is where the repair needed to start. Emmett’s mother had fled the violence so he and his siblings were safe.

In the course of our work together Emmett tested me to see if I was trustworthy. We played and made art, the natural language of children which enables them to make sense of their experiences. I followed his lead.

The protagonists in his work were always alone and in danger, always losing the ‘war’! Emmett was devastated about leaving his toys behind when the family fled, and felt this was somehow further punishment for being a ‘bad boy’.

Choosing Positive Paths, a resource developed by Women’s Health West and Berry Street, outlines some connection focused activities I might use as a guide when working with mothers to rebuild their relationships with their children following family violence.

It focuses on mothers and carers being the most important people in moving this process forward. The simple language used in Choosing Positive Paths makes the information easy to understand, and the daunting task of repairing a relationship a little more tangible: Play with your child. Be curious about your child’s thoughts and feelings. Catch them behaving well! Talk to them in age appropriate language about the tough stuff that has happened.

Emmett’s mother came to understand that her son’s attacks on her were not personal, but rather the kind of behaviour that had been modelled in the home previously. She began to use the motto of ‘ALL feelings are okay, but not all behaviours are okay’. She practiced acknowledging her children’s emotions. Emmett’s mother was eventually able to talk with Emmett about the conflicting feelings that came up for him in relation to his father: ‘I love him, but he was scary sometimes. I miss him, BUT I don’t miss the scariness’.

Emmett had practiced these themes in the safety of the counselling room, and Emmett’s mother and I had practiced together too, using similar language to that contained in Choosing Positive Paths. A resource like this can provide mums with simple suggestions and information prior to engaging with counselling, or in between counselling sessions.

It’s child focused. It’s trauma informed.

Emmett’s protagonists began to gather armies so he was no longer alone; the wars were being won, and some of the heroes were women! Eventually the wars stopped all together (inside the therapy room and outside at school and home). Normal sibling rivalry settled in between Emmett and his sister.

And while it wasn’t all happily ever after in Emmett’s family, enough understanding and hope had been gained to shift things for the better between mother and child.

This is an edited version of a speech Nadine presented at the launch of the Choosing Positive Paths resource at Parliament House in December 2016. The resource was officially launched by the Hon Jenny Mikakos MP, Minister for Families and Children.

Choosing Positive Paths is a resource developed for mothers, carers and other protective parents to support children affected by family violence. You can order or download here.

Find out more information about WHW Children’s Counselling services: http://whwest.org.au/resource/childrens-counselling-service/

Illustration by Isis and Pluto

There is no way I could have done this alone

FV Services blog_Jan16_finalSarah* lives in Melbourne’s west, she is a victim of family violence. Read a short story about Sarah and how she got the support she needed…

Sarah’s husband abused her emotionally and psychologically throughout their ten-year marriage and threatened to kill her if she tried to leave.


When he seriously assaulted Sarah, Victoria Police applied for an intervention order on her behalf and she was granted a one-year intervention order.

A Women’s Health West case worker developed strategies to keep Sarah and her children safe, including working with police to implement the extreme risk client strategy to manage her risk and ensure their safety.


Sarah’s ex-partner’s relatives harassed Sarah at court so her case worker arranged for her to give evidence via video link and put her in touch with a community legal centre that organised a barrister for her. Sarah was granted a full three-year extension of the intervention order.


*Not her real name

If you are a victim of family violence, there are many services that can support you, you are not alone:

Check out our Who can help me page or download our Family Violence Crisis Outreach brochure

Key contacts:
Women’s Health West: 9689 9588
Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre: 1800 015 188



What’s on @Women’s Health West in 2016

Lead on jumpYoung women’s leadership, community advocacy, human rights and carers support are some of the focus areas of our projects in 2016. Here’s a handful of programs you can get involved in this year. If you need more information please call us and email us, we’d love to help you out.


Lead On Again

Who’s it for: Culturally and linguistically diverse young women aged 16-24, studying, living or working in the western region of Melbourne
What’s it about: This free, six-day leadership program allows young women to make friends while:

  • Participating in workshops on topics including public speaking, healthy relationships, mental health, media and self confidence
  • Learning about event management and planning an exciting event for the end of the program
  • Being supported to participate in community and leadership activities in the future

Details:  18-22 January (9.30am – 4.00pm) and 25 January (11.00am – 4.00pm) 2016
Who to contact: Nirvana via email or call on 8379 9041

Young African Women’s Project

Who’s it for: Young African women who live, work or study in ‪#‎Melbswest‬!
What’s it about:  Learn about sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing, and build your confidence in leadership and advocacy.

Who to contact: Call Shukria on 03 9689 9588 for more details about joining this great project running in January


Our Community Our Rights

Who’s it for: Muslim women from the Horn of Africa living in Melbourne’s west
What is it about:  The women who participate in this project will:

  • Receive human rights-based advocacy training
  • Be supported to manage their own community advocacy projects
  • Develop skills, knowledge and connections that will assist them to take up further employment, study or volunteering opportunities
  • Be reimbursed for their time and travel. Free childminding will also be provided if needed.

Where: Somewhere central for participants (tell us what works for you)
Who to contact: Call Susan on 9689 9588 or send an email


Sunrise Women’s Group

Who’s it for: Women of all ages living with a disability and/or mental illness
What is it about: It’s a fortnightly social and supportive get together to help women feel connected

We also have a new Sunrise Women Carers Group in Melton, open to women who care for someone with a disability, mental illness and/or chronic health condition.

Where: Laverton, Melton, Sunshine and Wyndham
Who to contact: call Lauren on 9689 9588 or send her an email.

It’s not something that will slowly fix itself

Mark Williams_blog

By Mark Williams, 16 Days Activist

Initially I thought I’d do the 16 Days Activist Challenge to help out a friend. She is working on the challenge and she does such good work, so I like to support her wherever I can.

Then after reading some information on the net and actually doing different parts of the challenge that have come up so far, I’ve found that it’s not just an issue perpetrated by a handful of people. It’s a much bigger issue than I imagined. It truly is something that needs more attention, and most definitely needs more men to take responsibility for the issue.

Now, I believe that I really am taking the challenge to positively improve the lives of people around me, and to help myself to be able to raise a child who will embrace the same positive values. I also believe it is important to work together to help lessen and, in a perfect world, eradicate violence against women. As most of these crimes happen behind closed doors, I imagine people believe it doesn’t happen as often as it does.

Until men are taught that violence is never an acceptable way to deal with any issue, we are not going to solve our problem. Having more people speak out and take action against men’s violence against women, this will hopefully bring increased awareness to the issue and, I hope, give people the strength and courage to stand up for themselves and others when violence happens.

As a man who works in a predominantly male organisation, I feel I have an obligation to talk to the people I work with about the issue.

For Action 5 of the 16 Days Activist Challenge, I’ve read a bit about the Bechdel test and had the guys I work with look at some movies to see how bad it is for women in the film industry. I think that was a good one to start with, as most people like watching movies and it’s a relatively easy one to get other people involved in. I have used the Bechdel test to get the conversation going a few times and then often led the chat into gender equality.

I’m mainly hoping to get people to start thinking about where our issues are coming from, and not just thinking that it is something that will slowly fix itself.


The Preventing Violence Together (PVT) partnership’s 16 Days Activist Challenge runs from 25 November to 10 December 2015.

JOIN Mark as a #16DaysActivist, it’s not to late to take the challenge!
SHARE your #16DaysActivist – send to info@whwest.org.au

Because it’s not acceptable

Final Pic

By Lucy Padula, 16 Days Activist

I am doing the 16 Days Activist Challenge because it is an absolute necessity and it is something we should be unconsciously doing 365 days a year. According to VicHealth, family violence is the leading preventable contributor to death, disability and illness in Victorian women aged 15–44, being responsible for more of the disease burden than many well-known risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking and obesity.

This is not acceptable

Although talking about violence against women is important, talk alone will not change this. There is so much in the media about family violence, but little about services available to assist women and children. It is for this reason, and the upcoming UN-declared International Day for the Elimination of Violence against women, that I have decided to run two events to raise funds for Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre, as part of my #16DaysActivist Challenge. I invite one and all to come along.


The theme of these events is “Empower Me”:

1. “Empower Me information session day” Friday 27 November
2. “Empower Me Family Fun Day” on 29 November 2015

I believe that knowledge is power. At the Empower Me Information Session Day there will be numerous speakers, including myself running 30 minute presentations about various matters including: – practical steps to take if you are separating, preparing for family dispute resolution (to discuss care arrangements for children), family violence and intervention orders, Xero for small business, dealing with anxiety and the path to financial independence. The fee for each session will be $20 with all profits going to Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre.

The Empower Me Family Fun Day is about bringing the community together in saying no to violence. It is about raising funds and awareness for Safe Steps. The more awareness that is raised, the more likely it is that a woman and child’s life could change for the better becoming aware of services available to help them. There will be lots of fun activities for the children on the day including dance class, play based learning, art classes, fairy floss among other things

As Malcolm X stated, ‘when “i” is replaced with “we” even illness becomes wellness’. Change can happen, but WE must ALL raise our voices AND act. Talking alone is not enough. Do something. Get involved. Come along to the Empower Me Information Session and learn something, and refer the day to someone who may benefit from it. Show your support at the Empower Me Family Fun Day.


There’s a few ways you can get involved:

  1. Go to the Empower Me events
  2. Check out her Empower Me Facebook page
  3. Find out more and register for events at her website


The Preventing Violence Together (PVT) partnership’s 16 Days Activist Challenge runs from 25 November to 10 December 2015. Take the challenge and be a part of the #16DaysActivist conversation

Lucy Padula is an accredited family lawyer based in Melbourne’s west.