Helping the ‘hidden’ victims of homelessness, kids

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Toora Women’s executive director Susan Clarke-Lindfield… “Many of the children in our care are victims of complex trauma from either witnessing or suffering from violence.” Photo by Danielle Nohra

ON any given day in Canberra, Toora Women sees about 80 to 100 homeless children in its care, which executive director Susan Clarke-Lindfield says is largely because of domestic violence.

This year’s theme for Homelessness Prevention Week, which runs until August 12, is “ending homelessness together”, and Susan is taking the timeliness of the week to raise awareness to the hidden and innocent victims of homelessness – children.

Innocent children’s lives are significantly disrupted for reasons beyond their control,” she says.

“They leave their normal behind, their friends, their schools.”

Being a not-for-profit organisation with services to help women in circumstances such as homelessness, escaping domestic violence and the misuse of drugs and alcohol, Toora Women also supports children under the age of 16.

Last year it provided support for 269 women and 200 children, who were homeless due to domestic and family violence.

“Whenever we seem to talk about women’s homelessness, we veer into domestic violence and that’s because the main cause of women’s homelessness is domestic violence,” Susan says.

The homelessness and domestic violence services at Toora Women overlap and Susan says women with children, who are escaping domestic violence get a priority bed.

“Due to the immediate threat to their safety, women and children in our service are often forced to leave their homes quickly without bringing their belongings,” she says.

“Finding safe and affordable housing becomes their main priority.

“[But] many of the children in our care suffer multiple forms of harm and are victims of complex trauma from either witnessing or suffering from violence themselves.”

Toora Women was recently given $100,000 funding from the ACT government, which will get them a child and family specialist.

Susan says the funding is great, but what they also really need is a children’s trauma counsellor.

“In the past, the funding model was that if you look after the mother, she looks after the child,” she says.

“Kids weren’t seen as individuals in their own right.

“But these kids have either experienced domestic violence or witnessed it, which is a form of violence in its own right.

“On top of that, they’re having to leave their schools and their friends.

“These kids need support in their own right and a lot of them need trauma counselling.”

Toora Women was formed in 1982 as a homelessness service for single women and it wasn’t until 2016 that its funding contracts changed, allowing them to extend services to women and children.

“Immediately we could see pressing needs,” she says.

“But if we want to get serious about breaking the cycle of homelessness and domestic violence we really need to address the trauma of children affected by it.

“I would like to see a funding model that recognises the needs of children as clients.

“If you address the trauma early enough, it can be addressed before it grows.”

Susan says there’s also other needs such as warm clothes, baby formula and nappies.

“A lot of them have to leave with just the clothes they’re wearing,” she says.

“There’s a need to help them get back to normal. A lot of them don’t have money to pay for their child to play sports or don’t have the money for the shoes or equipment needed.

“They don’t have the money to pay for excursions or basic school supplies.

“All these things that normal kids do.”

Susan says these children may also have difficulties at school and need a lot of support whether it is with completing their homework or counselling. “And for mothers who would like to study or work, it is impossible for them to afford early or after-school care for their children,” she says.

While Susan says the government and media have done a really good job in raising awareness of domestic violence, the resources have not grown to match the growing client need.

Toora Women is always looking for donations, which Susan says would go towards buying children small but important things such as school supplies.

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.

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