Domestic and family violence impacts all children and young people who live with it. Children and young people are victims in their own right, with their own recovery and support needs, separate to the needs of adults. Yet the views of young people are missing from the services we provide and the policies we design. In short, adults design policy and system responses fail to meet young people’s needs.
To change this, we must change our approach. As a first step the ACT Children and Young People Commissioner and the Family Safety Hub sought to hear those missing voices and learn from them. We are sharing what they told us so their voices are heard by those who can bring about the change they need.
The following content includes the real experiences of young people in the ACT community who have been impacted by family violence. Reading and talking about domestic and family violence is hard, particularly when it relates to young people. Services that may be able to help if you need support are listed at the bottom of this page.
Two core principles underpinned this project: making sure it was as safe as possible for young people who wanted to participate and making sure control remained with young people themselves.
An expert reference guided the project design and implementation. This group included experts in ethical research, domestic and family violence, child protection and young people’s participation.
Over 20 young people were consulted as ‘sounding boards’ to set the priorities for the project. They advised on the design of the methodology to help ensure it was safe and relevant for young people. The sounding boards said the consultations would need plenty of time, there must be a range of ways for young people to engage and the ability to opt out at any time. The space itself, as well as the process, must be safe, young people’s stories and information must be respected and safeguarded, and young people themselves must be respected and not judged or blamed at any time for the things they may say.
Most importantly they told us the consultations must lead to real change.
How we listened
In small group sessions, individual interviews and one large session 70 young people had a say about domestic and family violence. 35 of these young people told us about their personal experiences living with violence at home.
The sessions focussed on the experiences young people had when trying find the supports or services they need. What the young people affected by domestic and family violence told us showed there are no options available for those young people when they try to find help.
Several young people said they had not heard other young people talk about these kinds of experiences before. They had felt they were on their own. Some young people shared their story for the first time.
We distilled what we heard during the conversations with 35 young people who had experienced family violence into 13 insights. The insights are not direct quotes from young people but reflect the themes we heard during consultations.
Young people do whatever it takes to keep family violence a secret. They know most people won’t understand and mandatory reporting can do more harm. There is no pathway when young people seek help for themselves.
“There's been times where I had to go to school with a black eye from mum ... then you get all the questions from the teachers. How'd it happen? I didn't tell them. I couldn't.”
Young people are working hard all the time to keep themselves and their siblings safe. Deciding who to trust, who not to trust, what to say, what not to say, where to be, where to hide, when to intervene. It takes a lot of time, energy and skill.
“My Mum was always scared. I don't know, even though I'm there pretty much every night now she's still scared and that. I look after Mum, I feel like I have to, and I want to.”
Young people are wise and incredibly astute in choosing who they will talk with about what’s happening at home. Supports need to build from the people they trust, or they may never reach out again. Being bounced around the system and having to tell their story over and over again is a form of abuse.
“I think it's just some are more understanding and actually listen and other ones it's just like, you know? It's just… it doesn't feel like they listen or they don't believe you or something. It's like, I don't know how to put it.”
Adults make decisions without listening to, informing and involving young people. Young people’s rights are routinely disregarded. Services are designed by and for adults. Young people are not looking for help in the places that adults think they are.
“Adults stick together, they wouldn’t believe me.”
Young people are grappling with complex thoughts, feelings and emotions and need support, not judgement. Young people carry guilt, shame, defensiveness, anger, despair, love and hate, often all together. They need help with much more than the physical aspects of safety.
“There was still that element of love and longing as well. I don’t think that was being recognised enough, and because there was a lack of recognition, then therefore there was a lack of support and knowledge going to him about ‘you do have these options’ because no one wanted to recognise he did actually feel that way.”
Siblings are critical protectors, supporters and confidantes to young people experiencing family violence. Splitting them up may take away the only meaningful relationship they have and an essential part of their identity.
“[Other people] don't understand that pain. Not properly. Whereas we've got the same story, we know what's going on. Other people don't know.”
We are only just beginning to understand family violence for some groups of young people. Many trans young people are vilified in their own families. The existing gendered system does not meet their needs and perpetuates abuse.
"And there's a lot of stuff that might not be thought of as abuse to people who have never been vulnerable to that. Misgendering, purposeful misgendering, and deadnaming. It’s 100% abuse"
Family violence does not end with separation, prison or court orders and young people need support to manage the ongoing impact. Some young people are forced to have contact with people who are not safe. Others are not supported to maintain relationships they need.
“…I was really afraid that he would come back. I remember having nightmares about him coming back.”
Young people recognise that violence is the issue. Young people are not asking ‘why didn’t she just leave?’ They are looking for complex behaviour change, accountability, and increased knowledge and action across the whole community. Adults need to work harder to stop family violence from happening.
“People are too scared to talk about it and it could be the difference between someone living… you could be saving a life.”
Different kinds of violence need different responses. So much needs to be done to understand and respond to adolescent violence, towards parents, siblings or in their own intimate partner relationships. Sibling violence is a little understood or talked about form of family violence.
“I suffered domestic abuse and felt like I couldn’t tell anyone because it was my brother hurting me.”
Young people are looking for workers who genuinely understand, who care about them and will stick with them.
“You have to be passionate and committed and show that you really care and really want to do something, share about yourself and be genuine.”
The following video encapsulates what young people told us. The video also asks adults an important question – what can you do to make change for young people affected by domestic and family violence?
My world. Insights from young people on domestic and family violence.
This video explores the experiences of young people who are affected by family violence – the thoughts in their heads, the complex feelings they deal with and their hopes for change.
This video was produced by the Family Safety Hub and the ACT Children and Young People Commissioner as part of a project that listened directly to young people talk about their experiences of family violence.
The insights will now inform a co-design process led by the Family Safety Hub. The co-design will find ways to provide the supports and services young people need, not what adults think they need.
The result of co-design could be a new service, a change to an existing system, updated legislation or a completely new idea. Young people shared with us their own ideas for what would make things better, and those ideas will be where we start.
Do you want to talk or are you worried about someone you know?
These are some of the places that you can try if you want to talk about your experiences, get help with a situation you are currently in, or find help for a friend:
For young people:
It can be hard to find the right person to talk to and many young people have not been able to get the support they need and deserve.
We understand that things in your family may not change, or that it might take a long time until things are different.
We also know there are good people out there who are kind and get what you’re going through. If you want to try talking to someone, or get some advice, these organisations may be able to help:
If you are a child or a young person living in Canberra, and you have something you want to say or something you want to ask, or if you need help to get the support you need, you can call or send an email to Jodie Griffiths-Cook, the ACT Public Advocate and Children and Young People Commissioner. She and her team are there to listen to and help children and young people in Canberra.
CREATE represents the voices of children and young people who are in or who have lived in out-of-home care. They also organise great ways for children and young people in care to have fun with each other and stay connected to their siblings.
The Men’s Referral Service is a men’s family violence telephone counselling, information and referral service operating around the country and is the central point of contact for men taking responsibility for their violent behaviour.