Spreading wings and learning confidence in a Safe Nest

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Spreading wings and learning confidence in a Safe Nest

October 30, 2020

Six excited children and their mums met each other for the first time in early November at Emerge’s offices as part of the Safe Nest research program.

They were joined by Emerge senior art therapists who, with researchers from Swinburne University of Technology and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, are taking part in an important trial to evaluate a mother-infant group program  that addresses the impact family violence on the mother and child relationship.

The families have been especially prioritised because they are homeless – they are either in refuge or living in transitional homes.

The Safe Nest program is an adaption of the Peek-A-Boo Club™, and focuses on the needs of children and their mothers who have experienced family violence.

It was all systems go for the project until COVID-19 bought it to an abrupt standstill earlier this year.

Emma, leading the research project for Emerge, said she was thrilled that the project had finally started.

“We have made individual packs for each of the families so that we follow covid-safe practices. Each pack includes a baby mat which acts like a ‘picnic’ island and a quilt, paper, crayons, bubbles, and a mirror,” she said.

Other resources used during the two-hour sessions include plastic balls and baby dolls, all of which are easy to sanitise.

The Safe Nest Group program will focus on intervening early with women and their children who have been exposed to family violence and who are from diverse cultural backgrounds and are living in refuge or in the community.

Each session runs for two hours over six weeks, and a different theme will be explored each week that relates to attachment, child development, and family violence.

“The aim of the program is to support children and their mums strengthen their bond, for children to grow in confidence through play and making friends, and for mums, it is about building confidence as a mother, understand what their child is communicating, and being able to respond to their child’s needs.”

Over one million Australian children are exposed to family violence each year, affecting mental and physical health, social relationships and learning.

While many clinicians and researchers have focused on better understanding the separate short and long term effects of family violence on women and children, relatively fewer studies have examined its specific impact on the mother-child relationship.

“This is essentially why we run our children’s and infants’ programs so that we can assist mothers in supporting their children to be the best they can be,” Emma said.

“We know many mothers using our services struggle in their role as a mum. The experience of being in a violent relationship can significantly impact their ability to parent, and negatively impacts on children.”

Emma said that the research would evaluate the Safe Nest Group’s impact on maternal wellbeing and trauma symptoms, including improvements, or not, in mother-infant relationships.

“This funding gives us the chance to further extend the research in the area of infant mental health and FV by focusing specifically on the psychological needs of women and children in refuge or other stable transitional housing,” she said.

The research is being led by Dr Catherine Wood, Senior Lecturer/Clinical Psychologist, Swinburne University of Technology. The research team is made up of Emma Hodges, Project Lead at Emerge, and Dr Rebecca Giallo, Senior Research Fellow, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.

Emerge anticipates that the results from this pilot study
will have national significance and that, if proven to be effective, the program could be expanded to a range of other community based organisations accessed by women and children affected by family violence.

The research has been made possible thanks to the legacy of the Luke Batty Foundation which has named Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) as one of its benefactors. ANROWS selected the project.


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