MidCoast Council area ranks 'extremely high with domestic violence'

Helga Smit director of CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning says the new program will work with families and particularly children, "to try to break that cycle and to assist them with the potential damage if they have been exposed to domestic violence." Photo: Ainslee Dennis.
Helga Smit director of CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning says the new program will work with families and particularly children, "to try to break that cycle and to assist them with the potential damage if they have been exposed to domestic violence." Photo: Ainslee Dennis.

It is a rank of violence. It exposes trauma in relationships and homes in the Manning, Great Lakes and Gloucester areas and the numbers place the new MidCoast Council area in the top third of reported domestic violence incidents in NSW.

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) reveals 475 reported domestic violence incidents in the former Greater Taree, Great Lakes and Gloucester local government areas between October 2015 and September 2016. Greater Taree 262, Great Lakes 199 and Gloucester 14. The numbers ranked Greater Taree and Great Lakes in the top third of the 154 local government areas in NSW.

The statistics do not surprise Helga Smit director of CatholicCare Social Services Hunter-Manning who says “we are definitely ranked extremely high with domestic violence.”

She says the use of methamphetamines “has actually overtaken alcohol as a contributing factor to domestic violence” and cites high unemployment, alcohol and drug use as contributing factors to the numbers of incidents in the region.

“It doesn’t cause it but it is a contributing factor to the escalation of domestic violence.

“It is also intergenerational … what you and I might view as normal parenting is not something that a lot of other women have grown up to know or have the natural instinct of safeguarding kids.”

For the first time CatholicCare is funding a program in the MidCoast Council area to focus on children because “children are not just bystanders in domestic violence – their mental and physical health is at stake.” The program will target Aboriginal groups, families with children and families with children with disabilities and also involve education sessions in local schools.

“The aim is to keep those kids safe. We are looking at impact and that is where the early intervention aspect is really helpful – we want to break that cycle,” Helga said.

“We will really work with those kids in a family, to try to break that cycle and to assist them with the potential damage if they have been exposed to domestic violence.

“Kids are the focus of this and in that aspect it is different from other programs where it is all about informational referral for mostly women who are victims of domestic violence.”

Catholic Care’s manager of counselling, family and clinical services, Tanya Russell says “witnessing domestic violence is a form of child abuse.”

“It is often believed that children are resilient and able to bounce back quickly from adverse life events.

“This may be true in some contexts, but in the case of witnessing domestic violence, children are being traumatised. And these traumatised children grow up to wear the scars of this trauma, impacting on their ability to function in life.

“We know now that even witnessing domestic violence is a form of child abuse so it is not surprising that the issues these children face as they are growing up are the same as children who were victims of other forms of child abuse.

“These children learn that they are not safe, some experience regressive behaviours, some become aggressive in their own behaviours, they can develop serious mental health issues and difficulty in forming secure attachments with caregivers due to their own parental relationships.

“Children are not just bystanders in domestic violence – their mental and physical health is at stake.”