Thousands of kids are going back to school traumatised—and not just because of the bushfires
Published 30 January, 2020
Children all over the country are packing their bags to go back to school—and this year, thousands of them are returning traumatised.
Those who have been affected by bushfires may be dealing with homelessness, dislocation, moving to a new school, and separation from their family members and friends.
In these circumstances, the stressful challenges of a new school year might feel simply impossible.
But for the women and their children across Australia who are being subjected to abuse at home, these problems might seem all too familiar.
Advice on coping with the stress of back to school is in abundance at this time of year. Tips include preparing school lunches, charging up the laptop, and preparing books and school uniforms at night, to ensure an easy start for the following school day.
But how do you even provide books and uniforms when your husband is controlling your finances, and barely releases enough for groceries each week?
How do you stay focussed on your homework when your dad is belittling and emotionally abusing your mum?
How do you pay attention in class when you’re exhausted from a wakeful night of fear, or worried about what it’s going to be like when you get home?
And what’s the best way to make friends or connect with teachers when you’re not allowed to tell them where you live or why you’ve enrolled in your new school?
These are the real challenges that thousands of families are facing—and it’s happening to people you know: another child in your kid’s class, a mum who volunteers in the school canteen.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Personal Safety Survey in 2016 found that one in eight girls and one in ten boys in Australia had seen or heard violence towards their mother by her partner before their fifteenth birthday. In 2018, more than 40,000 children sought help from specialist homelessness services because they were left without anywhere to go following domestic and family violence.
For many of them, school is one of the environments that can provide stability and safety.
We need to talk about how we can best help children who have experienced trauma, putting in place practical, evidence-based support systems in schools.
This means ensuring that every child has access to a counsellor with specialist skills, and all teachers and staff are trained on the impacts of domestic violence on children and how they can appropriately support them.
It means building trauma-informed programs that—like Safe Schools—recognise individual students’ needs and how their mental health and emotional wellbeing are core to their growth and educational success.
It means making schools a place where entrenched cultures of gender inequality and disrespect towards women are challenged, and girls feel respected among their peers.
What a difference we could make to these thousands of vulnerable children if we brought whole schools and whole communities together to recognise and support their needs.
It will require a powerful, optimistic vision and dedicated resourcing to make this work. It’s worth it: the time is now to step up to the plate.
Whether they’re affected by the acute trauma of bushfires or by Australia’s chronic national domestic violence crisis, these children matter. We need to do better by all of them.