A new alliance between two Hunter-based organisations will offer additional support to mothers and children escaping domestic and family violence.
The partnership, which sees Jenny’s Place and the University of Newcastle’s (UoN) School of Psychology joining forces, is set to enable residents of the crisis accommodation centre to access weekly services within the shelter – where and when it is needed – at the newly-created Sunshine Hut clinic.
Sunshine Hut is staffed by provisional psychologists and postgraduate students from the UoN, under the guidance of experienced clinical supervisor Saskia Behan.
“The service has been embraced by mothers in the shelter since it began operating in March,” she said.
“In their first appointment we work with mothers to explore their history and understand their needs.
“They are then supported with individual therapy, parent-child support, and referrals.
“To offer the best support we take a de-stigmatising, trauma-informed approach that really focusses on supporting a positive future for the women and children who need our help.”
Ms Behan said the benefits of the program were twofold.
It offers much-needed support to women and children who have experienced trauma, and a unique learning opportunity for psychology students.
“It gives pupils a very hands-on experience,” she said.
“We’ve established the clinic from the ground up, so they are in the driver’s seat learning new skills.”
The clinical supervisor role is funded by an anonymous donor, who is also backing preliminary research to further develop this innovative support program for children in crisis shelters.
Rebecca Fellowes, who is studying a Master’s in Clinical Psychology, is one of the four UoN students involved in the work integrated learning opportunity.
“The opportunity to build rapport with families has helped the program succeed,” she said.
“It’s nice when new mothers come in because they have spoken to other mums.
“They feel very safe and comfortable to share their stories.”
Executive manager Marcia Chapman said supporting the kids in the shelter had been a priority for Jenny’s Place since it was established in 1977.
“The impact of domestic and family violence on children is immense and can often affect them for the rest of their lives,” she explained.
“Children and young people don’t have to see the violence to be affected by it.
“Those in our care have left behind their homes, their toys, their clothes, their friends, their pets, their school and their fathers.
“Regardless of their age, they need support as they respond to the trauma they have experienced.
“We’re keen to reinstate children’s support programs at the crisis shelter as soon as possible.”
Under the guidance of UoN Associate Professor Linda Campbell, Jenny’s Place and the university have developed a four-year plan to scale the initiative and support more children in crisis accommodation.
The first stage, funded by a philanthropic grant, is underway.
It will deliver the 32-week student placement that has enabled the Sunshine Hut clinic, as well as early research, including a literature review and ethics application.
The second stage, which will be informed by the results of the first student placement and the preliminary research, aims to create a novel, longer-term program to assist children in emergency accommodation.
Proposed to be part of Ms Behan’s doctoral study, stage two includes the development of a staff training program, as well as manual and educational materials.