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Men, women, kids—making a difference

Safe from the start program
It’s better to nurture a child rather than repair an adult – it’s an axiom that Nell Kuilenburg lives by. Here, she reflects on the journey and the growth of Safe From The Start as she has worked to protect women and children.

When I started with The Salvation Army back in 2003, my main employment was as a writer of tenders for a number of different programs in Tasmania: I was the tender writer; that’s what I did.  My title in the position was network director, which changed to development manager and then to research and development manager.

Fairly early on I was introduced to the late Dr Erica Bell, at the University of Tasmania. She had a massive impact on my life. Erica had a passion for researching domestic and family violence, and it was my introduction to her that led me into research component of my job.

Safe From the Start (commenced in 2006) was a partnership between The Salvation Army and the University of Tasmania, evaluating the programs and writing joint proposals about domestic violence and getting projects up, in terms of working with children, and examining ways of working in women’s refugees.

The two basic messages that came back to us early on were, a) we don’t feel we are qualified to work with children,  and, b) even if we were, we don’t know what resources we would use. On the basis of that information, we proposed to put together a resource kit and a training program for women’s refuge workers. That became Safe From The Start.

We thought it would be a Tasmanian resource; that it would be small. We filled a gap in the sector. It became national and it is an ongoing national project that has also includes people in other nations.*

We have distributed more than 1,000 SFTS kits nationally, and we have trained thousands of people in many locations (30 people in each location, per training session). It was always about sharing the model, sharing the resources and knowledge, and getting people in their own local communities to develop the program. It was not the intention to do this forever and ever but to empower people on the ground. In some places, that has happened, which is nice to see. We share information and resources

I haven’t shed a tear about leaving, at all, except when I was going through some personal files and I found my speech, for Dr Bell’s funeral. I got the tissues out and I had a good cry. She was an amazing person, and she was my inspiration, and encouraged me to go for it…

Safe From The Start was part of the tender writing process. Other tenders I have written were in sectors such as aged care, housing, and family and children’s work, and Family and Domestic Violence (FDV).

I set up the Step 1-2-3 literacy and numeracy program, which has been going for six or seven years, and we have published several books for children.

I also acknowledge Dr Angela Spinney from Swinburne University in Melbourne. Angela took over after Eric finished, and did the action research component of Safe From the Start. We still have a close relationship and I give a lot of credit to Angela for putting the program together.

And Dr Wilma Gallet has been a champion of the program; as a trainer she has delivered it with passion, and she has modified the training. She has been fantastic. I organise it and am a co-facilitator, but Wilma deserves the credit for running the training program, which she has done for about five years.

I also acknowledge the work of the current University of Tasmania team; we have been meeting with the ongoing men’s project, Start Today Again:  fathers healing relationships after family violence, with the aim for fathers to change their behaviour and re-engage with their children. 
Read more about The Salvation Army’s Safe From The Start program to work with young children who have been exposed to Family and Domestic Violence

See more information about Nell Kuilenburg