When Steph’s parents separated while she was in primary school she was forced to spend alternative weeks with her abusive father, eventually ending up sleeping rough and in hospital for substance abuse.
Steph and her mother tried to get the custody arrangement changed but to no avail. When Steph snapped and hit her father one night, the police arrested her instead.
Jake also suffered at the hands of an abusive father, hiding his younger sisters in their room and guarding the door when his father was in a bad mood.
Stories like this are not isolated in the Territory as the ACT Human Rights Commission uncovers the views of 70 young Canberrans, including 35 who shared their personal stories of family violence in a new report Now you have heard us, What will you do?
“This report paints a distressing picture of unmet need,” ACT Children and Young People Commissioner Jodie Griffiths-Cook said.
“We heard from young people who’ve had their lives endangered by a family member and received no support other than the initial police response; young people who regularly intervene to try and stop their fathers beating up their mothers; young people who protect their siblings; and so many other stories of survival and grief.
“Overwhelmingly these young people can’t tell anyone and, if they try, they find that adults don’t understand what they are going through and the services they need just aren’t there.”
One of the biggest limitations for children accessing what they need in situations like this is a lack of consultation, the report found.
“Young people recognise that violence is the issue. Young people are not asking ‘why didn’t she just leave?’,” the report states.
“They are looking for complex behaviour change, accountability, and increased knowledge and action across the whole community. Adults need to work harder to stop family violence from happening.”
Having social workers accompany police when responding to domestic and family violence incidents as well as crisis accommodation or a temporary safe house for young people to go to when it’s not safe at home are two ways to provide more support, Ms Griffiths-Cook says.
Training for police, teachers and government workers on the specific needs of children and young people in family violence situations can also help make the system easier to navigate for young people, she said.
“Young people had plenty of ideas and solutions that could be implemented right now.
“The most important thing is that solutions need to start with young people – by really listening to and understanding what they need, we can create systems that make a much-needed difference in their young lives.”
The report and more information about children and young people, including help services that are available, can be found on the HRC’s website at hrc.act.gov.au/childrenyoungpeople.
If you need help, you can contact the Domestic Violence Crisis Service on 02 6280 0900 or at dvcs.org.au.
1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) also provides support through phone or web chat for those experiencing sexual, domestic and family violence. Their website is 1800respect.org.au.
In an emergency, call Triple Zero (000).