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Talking about a revolution

June 15, 2018

Emerge wants to see a revolution in funding infant and young children’s programs run in refuges, according to EO Paula Westhead.

“The number of infants and young children we are seeing is increasing all the time, and with it comes to the crucial need to help them recover from the violence they have either seen or experienced. However, no government funding is offered to run therapy programs for these youngsters” she said.

The call comes just after the release of national figures that show that 13% of requests for homelessness support involved children aged under 10.

Paula Westhead and Emma Hodges, Emerge’s children’s program therapist, spelled out their concerns in a recent Parity article which highlighted that by addressing emotional needs with children as soon as they enter a refuge, children can begin healing.

“Increasing rates of emotional and behavioural issues in children are linked to adversity experienced through family violence, homelessness and abuse,” Emma said.

Typically, children are seen as extensions of their mothers who are often traumatised and frightened and not always in a position to address the emotional needs of their children.

“Infants who come to refuge are in crisis – developmental, emotional, relational crisis – and are ready to engage in healing relationships given the opportunity. Infants have enormous capacity to engage in and be active in change therapy, while they motivate change and offer hope to their mothers,” Emma said.

Emerge is the only refuge in the South-East to offer infant-led and mother-child bonding therapeutic interventions.

“We can see from our work, the immediate impact of therapy. The refuge as a caregiving environment remains an under-explored intervention, with enormous potential to help children from trauma and model emotional availability in a caregiving relationship.”

Despite recognition of the positive long-term benefits of these interventions funding for infant mental health services within refuges is not seen as a priority. Emerge has received small grants to run an adapted version of the Peek-a-Boo ClubTM (PABC) developed by Dr Wendy Bunston in conjunction with the Royal Children’s Hospital.

The Emerge team – Children’s Case Worker, Arts Therapist, Case Manager and Family Therapist – work collaboratively in supporting families addressing the different needs arising from crisis.

This caregiving strategy, which is in place 24 hours, seven days a week, is designed to address the trauma experienced by children and their mothers, and to enable each child’s development and increased sense of safety.

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