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Providing Refuge

women packing suitcasee-connect speaks to Karen Hagen, manager of The Salvation Army’s Crossroads Family Violence Services (Family Violence, Support and Accommodation) in the Melbourne Central Division (one of 10 programs and services throughout the Australia Southern Territory).

The Crossroads Family Violence Service, formerly known as Mary Anderson Family Violence Service is sadly part of a growing sector. Five years ago the service provided 10 refuge units (residences). Today it provides 20.

That additional service has been hard won; there are no additional state or federal funds in the mix.

The move to providing women and children with self-contained oases, at times of the gravest crises and upheaval, is part of The Salvation Army’s desire to respect the privacy of the affected family member and their dependents; to offer some degree of dignity in a turbulent and traumatic time of life.

Karen Hagen explains that the service’s safe at home program provides a safe place when intervention orders from the courts are breached – acts of criminality – and people’s lives are subjected to the cruelties of family and domestic violence, in various forms and failings.

‘The intervention orders are a civil matter,’ Karen explains, ‘but the breach of that order becomes a criminal matter.

‘The general community can be a really challenging environment when you are trying to protect yourself and your dependents,’ she adds. ‘Family members can be unsafe and it is often not a safe course of action to try to remain part of a family network.

‘Sometimes this is a huge challenge, as social isolation and control of people’s lives separates people from sources of support. Actions such as shunning and pressure can be imposed by the family or the head of the family.’

Karen explains that the person who perpetrates the criminal act of breaching an intervention order can manipulate a family to the point where the affected family member can live under a great burden of shame. This kind of victim blaming is nothing new, sadly.

‘Some people in families and kinship ties are also afraid of trespassing emotionally,’ Karen adds. ‘For thousands of years, family violence has been a secret crime, occurring behind closed doors. We need to be brave enough to ask questions, to ask people if they and their dependents are okay.

‘We are experiencing such as huge demand on the sector,’ Karen says. ‘It is difficult for people to ask for and to receive support.

‘It is hard to look people in the eye and receive face to face help, to get sustainable outcomes. To survive and recover from family domestic violence can take several years or several decades.’

Karen knows that early intervention in people’s lives and circumstances ‘means the process becomes less complex…there is a need for a comprehensive response.

‘Our workers care for 8-10 affected family members, which can initially require 4-5 hours per day per person, which may devolve to 2-3 hours per week.

‘While prevention and early intervention are vitally important, we still need to be able to resource those who find themselves suddenly in the worst crisis of their lives. That’s the value of mission support funds, where we can provide intensive support beyond failing budgets.

‘We get moments of encouragement, and phone calls from former clients. You do see people recover from their experiences, and you do walk with them through those journeys. That is an honour.’

Karen gratefully acknowledges a four-year partnership with a leading mental health provider, Area North West Mental Health, who provides invaluable support to their clients.

From 31 December, 2014 to 30 June, 2015, the Crossroads Family Domestic Violence Service:

  • worked with 393 women  
  • worked with 78 male and 68 female children (37% of children we supported were under 10 years of age)
  • provided 20 family violence refuge accommodations, both crisis and emergency
  • worked with women to remain in their family homes, with case management support and support from our safe at home program.

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