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Giving voice to children in refuge

November 20, 2023

A new report from Trinity College Dublin evaluating a child-centred and trauma informed project to support children in refuge from domestic violence at Meath Women’s Refuge and Support Services was launched today to coincide with World Children’s Day. The study represents the first time that research has been conducted in Ireland with children in refuge. The report was launched by Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon.

The research examines children’s experiences of domestic violence and transition to refuge and highlights, amongst other findings,  the importance of play as therapy and empowering children to use their own voice. The report specifically emphasises the role of the Children's Support Worker in creating a safe space for children and women in refuge and supports them to make the transition into their new environment.

The ‘Where I'm At’ project is an innovative initiative that seeks to create a nurturing and secure environment for children entering the refuge. It is rooted in the principles of providing holistic support to children and is committed to offering an avenue for personal growth and development, allowing them to transition into their new surroundings with resilience and creativity.

The experiences of children exposed to domestic violence are multifaceted and can have profound implications for their emotional well-being, behaviour, and overall development. Interventions aimed at mitigating the long-term impacts associated with experiencing DV play a crucial role in a child’s journey to recovery. Children require tailored support that acknowledges their unique experiences and empowers them to heal and thrive.

The ‘Where I'm At’ project is funded by the RTÉ Toy Show Appeal at Community Foundation Ireland and in 2022 alone the project engaged with 80 children.

Following on from the evaluation researchers have proposed a best practice model of work with children, in refuge in Ireland. The focus of the model centres around three key stages: 1. Welcome and assessment, 2. Development of a programme of support and 3. Supporting the transition out of refuge. Each stage has specific aims to support the child in their journey of recovery following their experiences of domestic abuse. Effective implementation of the model requires the presence of a Children’s Support Worker who can work with Refuge Keyworkers to support the child and woman when they enter the refuge and through their journey in the service.

The Full Report is available here.

Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children, said:

“As Ombudsman for Children I am delighted to launch this research because it is the first time that we have heard directly from the children who are living through the horror and trauma of domestic abuse. This research clearly highlights that children are also victims of that abuse and need to be considered in the design and resourcing of domestic refuges. It also spotlights the important role that a Children Support Worker has in helping children to cope with trauma of having to flee their home and seek refuge within the care of others. I believe this research marries well with the commitments made by the state to recognise and support children as victims, in their own right, within the 3rd Domestic, Sexual, and Gender Based Violence Strategy.
I commend the Meath Women’s Refuge & Support Services and the researchers from Trinity College for this excellent piece of work and I hope it will lead to better services all around the country where children are a core part of the refuges and their support is fully resourced.”

Dr Eleanor Hollywood, Associate Professor in Children’s Nursing, School  of Nursing and Midwifery, Trinity College, said:

“The ‘Where I’m At’ project is an initiative that seeks to create a nurturing and secure environment for children when they enter refuge. An evaluation of the initiative has found that the project is significantly valuable to children and women who are in refuge as a result of domestic abuse. The evaluation has also highlighted the importance of the role of the Children’s Support Worker in supporting children individually and within their family. Our study recommends that a Children’s Support Worker should be available to children in all refuges in Ireland.”

Sinead Smith, CEO, Meath Women’s Refuge & Support Services, said:

“The third National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence published last year recognises for the first time in Ireland that children are victims of domestic violence in their own right. On World Children’s Day, we are asking that their right to safety, wellbeing and to be heard by decision makers under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are recognised and fully resourced. Generous support from the RTE Toy Show Appeal at Community Foundation Ireland has facilitated us to fund a full time Children's Support Worker role for three years and this evaluation with Trinity College Dublin. The findings clearly show the huge impact of professional support for children who have experienced domestic violence and that these roles should be continued as a key component of refuge services going forward. We ask Tusla and the new Domestic, Gender and Sexual Violence unit at the Department of Justice to give serious consideration to mainstreaming these roles into local domestic violence services across the country.”

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