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The way forward?

21 June 2018

Nell Kuilenburg discusses how we can best respond to Family and Domestic Violence (FDV).

Nell Kuilenburg

I have been inspired by trips to the Netherlands, where in Amsterdam I have visited the ‘Orange House’ women’s shelter. It is the restructured women’s refuge system in the Netherlands. I’ve been there twice. 

I presented on ‘Safe From The Start’ at an international conference in the Netherlands, and in the process went to look at their Orange House refuge model, which is totally different to women’s refuges in Australia. It’s a three-story building, with about 30 individual units on two floors, with office space, and all kinds of activity, children’s playrooms, staff space etc., underneath.

OranjehuisThe Orange House approach focuses on openness and safety, working with both victims and perpetrators to end the violence. All the women live there independently, in units; when a woman comes in, telephone contact is made with the partner who is also offered counselling and support. He then knows his wife or partner is in the refuge; that she is safe, as are the children. If the partner agrees to become part of the support he also becomes a client of the Orange House program.

They view FDV in a family context, so they work with both partners. They do a safety assessment, and, if everything is safe, he is allowed to come and visit her and the children there, in the refuge.

While it is a women’s refuge, it is not a secret address; it is painted orange, it is very visible. They get a lot of support from the community, it is government-funded.

In July we are going back to the Netherlands and I will meet with the people who run that men’s group to find out how they do it. We need to work with the men to stop abuse happening again, and promote better relationships with children; that’s where the Start Today Again program comes in.

When you help men understand that it’s not just a matter of their relationships with their partners – that their actions and words impact their relationships with their children – that’s when you change behaviours.

It’s not about labelling, we don’t use the word perpetrator: it’s a case of men who use violence; let’s see how we can engage them to stop further relationships being damaged by violence.

Most men who are abusive have also experienced inter-generational trauma themselves. It’s not just men who use violence who are engaged in Start Today Again; we are also looking to link with sporting groups, community groups and ethnic communities. It has the potential to make a large and positive impact.

We have had some discussions with communities; the potential is there for the material to be translated into different languages. We are talking to the migrant resource centres, to look at adapting this material into their programs. There are flexible training modules including one-day sessions and two-day ‘train the trainer’ programs, that can be incorporated into other existing programs; for example, programs could include a module addressing   fathers about the impact of their behaviour on their children in a prison program, men’s change behaviour programs, or family counselling sessions. 

We have already booked Start Today Again training sessions in Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales. Our aim is to engage fathers about FDV and to work with men in a positive and respectful way. 

The resource toolkit includes several children’s books which address feelings of being scared, fighting and terrible things happening; we have found that when fathers read the books to children it makes an impact on them. We have found that men have been shocked when they realise that special books have been written for children about their behaviour; it really moves them emotionally. There are a number of books that focus on ‘kindness’ and to encourage fathers to be kind to their children.

This project is a new opportunity to engage with fathers with the aim to stop further FDV and prevent further damage to children as well as teach children about respectful relationships.

It is incompatible and illogical to expect a child to fear you and love you at the same time.

It’s easier to build up a child than it is to repair an adult. 

It is well worth noting, also, that in the Orange House format, they are also providing support groups for men who are victims of FDV, which hasn’t happened in Australia yet. That’s innovative.