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Research into Safe Nest Group impact to start

August 6, 2018

Emerge family therapists will work alongside researchers from Swinburne University of Technology and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute to test the impact of a mother and child program being introduced later this year.

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

The research is 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.

Paula Westhead, Emerge Executive Officer, 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.

“We know the impact of Peek-A-Boo Club™ in a hospital setting; this funding gives us the chance to adapt the program and evaluate it at the same time as working with women and children in refuge or other stable transitional housing,” Paula said.

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

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.

The program will run for 2 years, and a different topic will be presented each week that relates to attachment, child development, and family violence.

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

“Despite the negative developmental effects of family violence on children, they are largely invisible in the human services sector,” Paula said.

“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.”

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.

“We know many mothers using our services struggle in their role as a parent. The experience of being in a violent relationship can impact their parenting, and impact negatively on children,” Paula said.

Emerge anticipates that the results from this pilot studywill 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.

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