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Christmas is a frightening time for too many WA kids...

For most children, Christmas is a fun-filled time with family, food, presents and Santa. But for children who live in households in which domestic violence occurs, Christmas is a time of increased fear, unpredictability and anxiety.

Unfortunately domestic violence rates always rise over the Christmas period, with an increase in alcohol abuse, financial burden and close proximity of family members causing additional stress on relationships that too easily explode into anger and violence.

When other kids will be opening their presents excitedly on Christmas morning, spare a thought for the kids who will be waking with the fear that dad might start drinking early and they’ll have to watch mum being assaulted at some point in the day. Yes, I am making this gender specific because it mostly is – Australian women are at least three times more likely than men to experience violence from their partner, and on average one Australian woman a week is killed by a partner or former partner.

Children living with domestic violence suffer both emotional and psychological trauma from living in a state of constant tension and fear. Up to 90% of Australian children living in violent homes have witnessed the violence perpetrated by a parent, and as a result they often display behavioural or emotional problems similar to those of physically abused children. Children will experience feelings of self-blame, helplessness, shame, grief, terror and dread and these will often manifest as nightmares, depression, anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, eating disorders, low academic achievement, and many, many other issues.

It’s appalling that kids should have to go through this in our supposedly lucky country. Although our government is focusing more on the issue, not enough is being done to fund programs that will break the cycle of violence, and the danger is that this terrible social issue will once again fall off the policy agenda and nothing will change. Over 1,100 children go into care in WA alone every year, many as a result of domestic violence and family breakup. This number will only grow if we don’t manage to create generational change and young men don’t stop role modelling the behaviours of violent fathers.

In our own small way, we’re trying to do something about this. Our TRG program in secondary schools works with teenagers to expose the roots of domestic violence – the controlling behaviours that are the warning signs for worse to come. If our kids can recognise what unhealthy relationships look like early on, then they are more likely to avoid or reject them before they get caught in them. On the other end of the spectrum, our Comfort Pack program is providing many hundreds of WA kids each year with backpacks full of necessities for a hurried move to a refuge because of trouble at home – toiletries, underwear, clothes, books, games and toys that can help create a small sense of normality and comfort in a suddenly upside down world.

So when you sit down with your family to a hopefully happy and relaxed Christmas dinner this year, pause a moment and give thanks that you and the kids aren’t going to have a Christmas to remember for all the wrong reasons….

By David Gribble, Chief Executive Officer, Constable Care Child Safety Foundation

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