What is Domestic and Family Violence?
Domestic and Family Violence can be described in many ways. Typically, it refers to behaviour that is intended to exert power and control through fear. This can look like physical violence, emotional abuse or attempts to control another person’s behaviour.
Providing safety and support for women and children
Many women living in violent relationships are confronted with an impossible choice, a choice made more difficult where children are involved; stay and try to survive within a violent relationship or leave. The latter usually results in removing children from school and social networks, effectively rendering them homeless.
That’s why Save the Children has been operating Domestic and Family Violence Refuges for women and children in Queensland for over 30 years. Our refuges provide safe accommodation, specialised support services and housing assistance to women and children fleeing domestic and family violence.
We provide safe accommodation in seven refuges throughout Queensland, all set in confidential locations. These refuges have been intentionally designed to offer warm and welcoming unit-style accommodation for women and children who need immediate and safe housing. We recognise that pets can also be at risk of harm when there is domestic violence, that’s why we also accommodate pets in all of our refuges.
Women and children of all backgrounds are welcomed into refuge while they consider the next steps in their journey. Families are supported by family and child specialists to create individual support plans for each member of the family. Our DV Family specialists provide emotional and practical support to families, including help with safety and wellbeing, housing, parenting and child development, education and employment, legal assistance and advocacy with other services.
Families feel respected and understood
Refuge staff work within a framework of empowerment, dignity, and self-determination. This means that every member of the family will be treated individually, and that their story, experiences and choices will be respected.
Refuge staff recognise that women and children are experts in their own lives and know what they need to feel safe, secure, and supported. Our staff will consult with families about decisions that impact them, and our practice and policies are guided by the needs and feedback from our families, particularly children.
A childhood free from violence
Every person has the right to live in a safe environment, free from violence. However, it is reported that one in three Australian children (and their mothers) experience domestic and family violence before the age of 10.
Children have the right to a stable home environment, access to education and attachment to a responsible and loving caregiver. But these rights are profoundly disrupted not only within a violent home environment but in the instability that comes with living in crisis. Families accessing refuge are provided with an opportunity to safe accommodation making it possible to re-engage in education and to form safe and trusting relationships.
Save the Children refuges employ child support specialists to work with children in their own individual right to ensure their voices and experiences of violence are heard, acknowledged, and supported. Our staff work closely with women and children to strengthen and support family relationships and assist in their journey of healing.
Saving your children starts with saving yourself
A survivor of an abusive relationship, Kristie* knows well the struggle of finding your feet again when you make the decision to leave. And, with four children under 10, how complex and difficult that decision to leave can be.
“When I left it was very dramatic … I had to leave my kids behind to start with for a couple of days because he wasn’t going to let me take them,” says Kristie. “When I did get them back, we just ran. We ran here. And it was the biggest decision I’d ever made.”
“Here” is Gareema Refuge. A Save the Children safe haven in inner-city Brisbane for women and children escaping family violence. Kristie stayed in Gareema with her children for two months. Slowly, she started to rebuild her life.
“My first day in the refuge was very nerve-wracking because obviously we had a lot going on in our lives and we didn’t know what the future held,” recalls Kristie. “But everyone was so great here. We were able to just rest a minute – to find out what was going to happen next. We didn’t have to have all the answers.”
“[The staff] opened a whole lot of doors I didn’t know existed that helped me on my journey to getting my life back together,” says Kristie. “The transition out of the refuge was bittersweet because you feel you are going to be on your own now. But the support didn’t stop when I left here. I know, even now, months down the track, if I’ve got an issue, I can call and they are there for me.”
With Kristie’s new life comes new opportunities, which have helped both her and her children grow.
How we know we’re making a difference
Domestic and family violence is the single largest driver of homelessness among women, a common factor in many child protection notifications. It results in a police call-out an average of once every two minutes in Australia.
Children are often the hidden victims of domestic and family violence. A 2018 ANROWS report states that ‘Historically, Child Protection and the Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) sector agencies have treated DFV as a problem between adults only. This has meant that vulnerable families have been left unsupported in trying to address the effects on children.’ As a result, children’s unique experiences about violence have often gone unheard. In our DFV refuges, we ensure that Child Participation is at the forefront of everything we do, advocating for children to be heard in all decisions affecting their wellbeing, safety, and protection. In 2020, this meant that the voices of all 687 children supported in our DFV refuges were heard and raised through our trauma-informed and trauma-responsive approach.
*Name has been changed to protect identity.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017
 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2012