The 25th of November is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women (IDEVW), which also launches UNiTE! Activism to End Violence against Women & Girls—an initiative of 16 days of activism concluding on 10 December.
This campaign, led by the UN Secretary-General and UN Women since 2008, aims to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls around the world, calling for global action to increase awareness, promote advocacy and create opportunities for discussion on challenges and solutions (United Nations, 2022).
Family Violence remains a pervasive issue in Australia where, on average, one woman per week is murdered by her current or former partner and one in four women have experienced physical or sexual violence by a current or former intimate partner (see Quick facts by Our Watch for more details). Another report released earlier this year highlighted the significant and often hidden consequences of family violence for women, revealing that 60% of single mothers had experienced family violence by a previous partner—of whom 75% left/became single parents because of violence.
In a joint Australian, state and territory government initiative, the Department of Social Services released the National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children 2022–2032 in October to provide a policy framework for taking action towards ending violence. The National Plan outlines four focus areas across a continuum of prevention, early intervention, response, and recovery and healing:
(Department of Social Services, 2022, pp. 20–21)
The statistics are staggering, and while campaigns like the IDEVW and Australia’s National Plan seek to address the impacts of family violence across society, they also provide an opportunity to reflect on the role of early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings in responding to family violence. We know that high-quality and inclusive ECEC services have a significant impact for all children and families—they can also create opportunities for safety and support for vulnerable families.
In Early Childhood Australia’s response to the draft National Plan to End Violence against Women and Children, we highlighted some of the ways in which ECEC services can and do respond to family violence through the framework of the four focus areas that the National Plan offers—these are outlined below. This is by no means an exhaustive account, rather a summary of some of the ways in which ECEC is well-positioned to respond to family violence.
ECEC services are sites of rich professional practice, equipped to engage with children and families in meaningful ways and scaffold children’s learning over time. The time and relationships afforded in ECEC settings provide opportunities to embed preventative effort, such as incorporating concepts like supporting gender equity and developing respectful relationships.
ECEC settings can play a significant role in supporting early intervention response for families who are experiencing or are at risk of experiencing intimate partner violence.
ECEC services are uniquely positioned to be a first or early point at which family violence is disclosed or identified due to the trusting relationships that develop and the ongoing opportunities for engagement available. Knowing where to go for information and support is critical during this time (note: a list of nationally and jurisdictionally-based services is included at the end of this blog).
Leveraging access measures such as Additional Child Care Subsidy (ACCS), which covers up to 120% of the hourly rate cap, is important for vulnerable families with specific wellbeing concerns or other hardships. ACCS can be instrumental in ensuring children are provided with a secure environment that caters for their continuity of care and support needs. It also provides ECEC settings and family violence/family support services the chance to collaborate to facilitate access to early learning services for vulnerable children in the context of the holistic needs of the family (more information about ACCS is available here).
Response and recovery
Services are well equipped to develop trusting relationships with families, centring on the needs of the child. These relationships can be enhanced to provide response and recovery support by:
- embedding trauma-informed practices and taking-up programs such as Be You to improve the inclusiveness of the setting for children who have experienced trauma in the home environment
- creating better connections between ECEC services and response services to support families who may be relocating to a new area after leaving a violent relationship—this could involve helping families access response services while ECEC services support children in trauma-informed and inclusive ways
- providing respite to victim-survivors so they can focus on their recovery and are secure in the knowledge that high-quality early learning is available for their children.
Finding the right support is not always easy but becoming familiar with what is available in your state, territory or local area is one way that you can be prepared to respond if needed. There are a range of resources available on the federal and state websites which provide a starting point for supporting families experiencing or at risk of experiencing family violence (included below).