Meet the children’s occupational therapist working in the DV sector

This week we meet Alison, an occupational therapist working on the frontlines of domestic violence in Newcastle, Australia. In partnership with DVNSW.

CW: Discussion of domestic violence and child abuse.

“It’s sixteen hundred hours on the frontlines of domestic violence and today we are with Alison in the heart of Newcastle as she finishes another workday on the frontlines of domestic violence.  

Alison is a children’s occupational therapist, which means she has a constant supply of toys and sensory aids at the ready for any child she happens to meet. She works for Jenny’s Place, a Newcastle not-for-profit that has been running since 1977. They operate the Women and Children’s Crisis Refuge, Single Women’s Crisis Refuge, Supported Transitional Accommodation, Outreach Homelessness Support Program, and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre. It’s another incredible frontline service and Alison is part of their Specialist children and young people team (also known as “SCYP”). 

You might be surprised to find an occupational therapist like Alison working in the domestic violence sector, but the sad reality is that 39.6% of Australians surveyed by the Australian Child Maltreatment Survey experienced exposure to domestic and family violence as a child. This rate is even higher among 16- to 24-year-old Australians – with 43.8% exposed to domestic and family violence.  

Despite these statistics, Alison is a firm believer that “If we can support children to heal after experiencing trauma then maybe we can support the families to recover and heal from intergenerational trauma and also cycles of violence.”  

One of the reasons this is so important is the long-term impacts on those children – particularly women. The data reveals a higher risk for girls to experience multiple types of mistreatment (including emotional abuse at 35.6%, sexual abuse at 37.3% and exposure to DV at 40.8%). These early experiences can lead to cycles of violence or intergenerational trauma that Alison is working hard every day to stop. We’ve seen these long-term impacts with research from Barnardos showing a 36% greater risk of depression, a 49% greater risk of experiencing anxiety, and an almost 60% greater risk of self-harm behaviours among children and young people who experience mistreatment. 

The concern for children is growing, with Alison observing “Last financial year we had 354 children and young people referred into the service with their guardian, whereas this financial year already we’ve had 395 children and young people referred in.” It’s for this reason that DVNSW has been advocating so hard for increased funding for specialist children’s workers in refuges which was announced in the recent NSW Government emergency package to address domestic and family violence. These workers focus on what children need, supporting them to get to school and arranging any other support services that will help them heal. 

Alison is the 16th frontline worker Domestic Violence NSW have featured this May as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This 24 hours on the frontlines campaign run by Domestic Violence NSW uses a series of videos to showcase the pervasiveness of domestic violence in the community and the strength of the sector working tirelessly to stop it. If you want to join the fight against domestic violence, check out their pledge

Follow the rest of the campaign on Domestic Violence NSW’s Instagram, Facebook or Tiktok.”