Calls for help by women and children fleeing domestic violence have surged in the past year, shire-based Crossroads Community Care reports.
And some are forced to return to scene of domestic violence or face homelessness following the withdrawal of federal government funding for women’s refuges.
The situation was outlined at the Crossroads Community Care Centre’s annual general meeting last week which marked the organisation’s 50th year of operation.
Crossroads domestic violence counsellor Michele Taylor said the work of supporting families fleeing domestic violence in Sutherland Shire has become quite challenging in terms of the reforms and changes.
“Most of the families have left domestic and family violence situations and the number one crisis for them is homelessness,” Ms Taylor said.
“Before the majority of Women’s refuges in NSW closed down, referrals to Crossroads were to support these families with counselling, parenting programs and workshops.
“Now as a worker, I am finding it increasingly difficult to focus on a client-centred approach as a number of these families are at risk of homelessness or have no choice but to stay with the perpetrator.”
Ms Taylor outlined two cases in the past year where women had to return to the scene of domestic violence.
“A client who was using the services of Crossroads for domestic violence counselling and parent counselling and her three children were staying with her mother,” she said.
“Unfortunately, my client and her mum had a falling out and she was told to leave.
“The client had nowhere to go, so she took the children back to the perpetrator and arrived at Crossroads with a suitcase begging for help in finding her accommodation.
“I called every service possible to secure her a safe shelter but there was no accommodation available.
“My client ended up sleeping in her car for two nights until a friend let her stay with her. In the meantime, the perpetrator managed to get an emergency interim order and stopped her from having the children.”
In the second case, Centrelink referred a mother to Crossroads to see if they could support her with a safe exit plan from the family home and develop a safety plan for when she did leave.
“Unfortunately, again I could not secure any safe accommodation for her,” Ms Taylor said.
“Since that time, her teeth have been smashed and she is abused daily. She has no family in Australia and has nowhere to go. Other services have encountered the same difficulties in finding a safe shelter for her.
“She is currently still living with the perpetrator.”
During 2016-17, Crossroads provided counselling and support for 41 families, held 268 counselling sessions and individual parenting support for 25 mothers, as well as providing court support and holding a month post separation abuse support group.
Since opening its refuge in 1997 for women and children affected by domestic violence, Crossroads has provided safety and support for hundreds of women and children.
Most families arrive with little but what they have. They arrive exhausted, sick and unsure of their future. Both mothers and children usually have sleeping problems and nightmares.
From July 2016 to June 2017 ten mothers and 13 children were given safe, supportive homes thanks to Crossroads staff and volunteers.
Addressing the annual general meeting, Crossroads president, Robert Kennett said the demands for some community services including domestic violence counselling and advocacy for access to housing have increased.
“I would have liked to report the number of referrals, counselling appointments and community assistance both financial and for social issues had decreased in this period.It has not,” he said.
“With government funding reduced or suspended in some areas, providing community assistance presents a continuing major challenge to our Crossroads staff today and into the future.
“This is not helped by the following statistics:
“Over 12 months, on average, one woman a week is killed by her husband or partner.
“Domestic and family violence is the main cause of homelessness for women and their children.
“In Australia, one in three women experiences physical, emotional, financial or sexual violence in their lifetime.
“Merle’s Project, our medium and long term unfunded women’s refuge continues to provide safety and support for women and children recovering from domestic violence.
“Crossroads remains committed to this project, particularly in light of the withdrawal of financial support and closure of many refuges over the last few years.”
Crossroads coordinator, Christine Bird said ten mothers and 13 children have benefited from used the refuge in 2016-17.
“Not many who are trying to get out of domestic violence relationships can do so with only information or police involvement.
“So we need funded staff hours to provide the face-to-face counselling and support and individualised plans and case management they do need.”
Christine Bird provided complex trauma casework for 24 clients and also facilitates the Circle of Security parent-child attachment course and parenting support for those whose trauma can negatively impact on the children.
This can involve parents with complex multiple needs which are often not well understood by mainstream services.
She does formal reports for use in court of clinical assessments.
“Providing them can make a remarkable difference in the outcomes for families or individuals with complex needs, many of whom may self-harm, suicide or remain unemployable if they cannot move forward in their lives.
“Along with other local, community run multi-services organisations, Crossroads has weathered the many demands created by rapid social changes and the increasing load of administrative and technological work for various government agencies.
“It is a relief to know we have our government funding for another three years. AIT means that staff time is spent doing community work, not constant fundraising.”