12 July 2023

Hard Truths: Bruised and angry - how domestic violence is impacting our kids at school

| James Coleman
Join the conversation
children crossing sign with hard truths logo

The ACT’s public schools host assistance and one-on-one tutoring programs for dealing with kids from tricky family situations, as well as regular welfare checks. Photo: File.

Children are going to school with bruises, or lashing out at teachers or other students with scissors and other weapons, as the number of domestic violence incidents in Canberra homes reaches an all-time high.

Incident numbers spiked by 24 per cent in the first half of this year compared with the same period last year, making it the worst six months for family violence since police first began reporting this data nine years ago.

In March alone, police recorded 389 cases, the highest ever recorded over a one-month period.

An ACT public school teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous, has seen the effects of this on the next generation first-hand, and said the results are dire.

“Kids will pick up tables or chairs and throw them across the room, or they’ll threaten other students with scissors or something they know can be a weapon,” the teacher said.

“Sometimes it can be seemingly over nothing, as well, and other times because someone used their pencil or sat on their seat, and they’ll just stand up and throw a classroom half apart, smash a window, or something.”

For others, the response is very different.

“There are other students where you wouldn’t know anything’s going on at home – they just keep bumbling through life,” the teacher said.

“I’ve had students who have pulled a shirt up and you see bruises all over their back, and they tell you they were playing karate with their parents in the middle of the night.”

READ ALSO Hard Truths about Canberra’s domestic and family violence crisis

But the result is the same.

“You can’t really facilitate education to a child’s who’s refusing, because they just don’t trust anyone,” the teacher said.

“They can’t even go home and be at peace, so you can’t expect the rest of the day to be peaceful if they’re in fight-or-flight mode constantly.”

The ACT’s public school system hosts assistance and one-on-one tutoring programs for dealing with kids from tricky family situations, as well as regular welfare checks.

“We’ll check on those children to see they’re going, how they’re feeling, and if they want to talk about anything,” the teacher said.

“But you kind of have to let it passively happen or build trust with the student enough so they feel comfortable to tell you … so they don’t feel isolated or targeted.”

But having one challenging child in the classroom affects the learning experience for the whole classroom too.

“There may be other kids who are not as behaviourally explicit as others, but if one child is behaving really challenged and has an outburst, that can have an impact on the other students’ mental wellbeing.”

READ ALSO Hard Truths: can the cycle of domestic and family violence be stopped?

Menslink has been supporting young men in domestic violence situations across Canberra for over 20 years through early intervention and prevention services, as well as through Menslink in Schools.

This includes the ‘Silence is Deadly’ and ‘Pride’ programs, aimed at addressing risk-taking, violence, anti-social behaviour, unhealthy online usage, relationships and misogynistic attitudes toward women among school-age boys.

Programs manager Todd Nelson says this year’s cohort numbers 11,000 kids across public and private schools, or about one in four students. He expects this to rise to one in two by the end of the year.

“We’ve got stories of young fellas who have either seen something or had something happen to them, and they’ve withdrawn, not attended school, not participated in sports activities, withdrawn from social connections and relationships,” he says.

“It’s got massive long-term effects.”

Like many of the Menslink counsellors, Todd experienced domestic violence himself as a child in the Hunter Valley and decided to join the organisation because “it was the service I needed back then”. He says demand for Menslink in Schools is largely driven by the results.

“The schools see our impact, they see the outcomes for the kids, they see the fact the program is designed to be personalised and makes a difference.”

Above all, he says it’s about providing a positive male role model the kids can trust.

“Get that connection and trust so they actually rely on us to help them work through their challenges.”

If you are experiencing domestic or family violence, DVCS has a 24-hour crisis response line, which can be reached on 6280 0900.

If you are in danger or if it is an emergency, call Triple Zero on 000.

For confidential support for parents and carers, contact Parentline ACT on 6287 3833.

For support from Menslink, call 6287 2226.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.