‘I didn’t realise it wasn’t normal’: The ‘chilling’ impact of family violence on children

*Kate is a domestic violence survivor. She is still dealing with the aftermath of the abuse and so are her children.

Kate* was seven months pregnant with her fifth child when her partner threw her into a wall. The violence “was escalating really badly,” so in the middle of the night she woke her children, ushered them silently into the car, and drove away.

She is still dealing with the aftermath of the abuse. So are her children, who are learning to make sense of all that happened. One son told her, “I remember grabbing the phone and hiding under the bed. I wanted to call the police but I was too scared.”

A new study of children’s experiences of family violence has shed light on the trauma they suffer and the lack of help available, with survivors saying it led to decades’ worth of emotional damage, but their attempts to get help were either ignored or made the abuse worse.

The joint project between Barnardos Australia and Sydney University asked adult victims about their memories of abuse. Most respondents were women, and the abuse – mostly verbal, physical and psychological – was perpetrated by their father or stepfather.

Almost half were younger than four when it began. For two-thirds, the abuse lasted most of their childhood. Some had no idea the violence wasn’t normal until they were older. Others were weighed down by the burden of the secret they were ordered to keep.

For years afterwards, many of those children have struggled with low self-esteem, not feeling safe and lacking trust in others. Some sought help at the time, from their mother, siblings, a friend or counsellor. But mostly their attempt didn’t work – either nothing changed or the abuse got worse.

“After I told my teacher that I would cop a beating if I got bad grades, my third-grade teacher gave me all As in my end-of-year report card,” said one. “Whilst I appreciate the gesture, there was no follow-up afterwards.”

Sometimes, the person they told did not intervene. Other times, they accused the child of making it up, the survivors told the study. Many were too afraid to tell anyone, worrying it would make things worse or feeling there wasn’t anything anyone could do.

“You cannot be in a household with domestic violence without being involved, you’re hearing it, you’re seeing it. We are still at the early stages of understanding what that means for kids.” National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds.

“I never told anyone about it because it was shameful,” said one respondent. “I didn’t want to embarrass my mum, our family, and my dad even though he was the main aggressor.” Another said, “I didn’t realise that it wasn’t normal. I had seven siblings, we looked after one another.”

University of Melbourne Professor Cathy Humphreys said the survivors’ stories left no doubt of the long shadow family violence cast into adult life, and the “chilling effects it had in childhood”.

“The response to children and young people asking for help was distressingly poor. They were not believed, they were punished further, their perceptions were questioned, they were identified as liars. The alternative of calling out abusive adults was too hard for many of the professionals the children encountered,” Humphreys said.

The problem is widespread; estimates suggest about 2.5 million Australian adults experienced abuse before the age of 15, the report said. Past research has also shown there’s a delay of six years between services becoming aware of violence in a home, and the children getting support.

National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds said children have “been invisible, historically” in the domestic and family violence field. “It’s seen as between adults, without recognition that children are there, and they’re not just witnesses,” she said.

“You cannot be in a household with domestic violence without being involved, you’re hearing it, you’re seeing it. We are still at the early stages of understanding what that means for kids.”

Barnardos’ Head of Knowledge, Outcomes and Research, Dr Robert Urquhart, who led the study, said it showed child victims of family violence needed immediate and effective trauma-informed counselling and therapy. “Adults fail to notice the signs of abuse and intervene,” he said.

The chief executive of Barnardos, Deirdre Cheers, said most family violence organisations were focused on adults. “Working with children is specialist work, the areas of developmental and educational psychology are clear that children have specific needs,” she said.

Kate’s children are recovering from the trauma of watching their stepfather terrorise their mother. “But I see that a lot of their trauma could have been dealt with earlier on, through accessing a child psychologist or a play therapist,” she said.

Families could access 10 free sessions with a doctor’s referral, but “when you’re coming out of this, you need it weekly,” she said. “Ten sessions is not even going to scratch the surface. Trauma cuts deep and has a way of bubbling back up. Children need a long-term solution with long-term outcomes.”

*Kate is a pseudonym to protect her identity.

National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line: 1800 737 732.

This article first appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald

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The Champions Ride: Spotlight on Penny Hood & Evelina Gutierrez-Hood

I’m Penny Hood, Executive Leader, Children & Families with Barnardos Australia. I’m doing the Champions Ride with my 14-year-old daughter Evelina Gutierrez-Hood (read Evelina’s story below)

At first, I just signed up for myself. However, when I mentioned this to Evelina – and that you could do it as a team – she wanted to be involved. Straight off the bat she thought of our team name – Biker Babes – and wanted to know how soon we could practice and where would we go.

I also saw firsthand how unifying this event was for the organisation last year. People were really committed, and it created a strong sense of camaraderie. I couldn’t do it last year because of my knee replacement and felt like I was missing out!

The Champions Ride unites two of my greatest passions – working with children and their families – and exercise. I want to use the Champions Ride to push my own boundaries and raise valuable funds for kids in need.

For me, any opportunity to go riding is treasured. I have loved the different practice rides we have been on to date – which has been a mix of weekend and weekday evenings. I also appreciate that this is giving me a greater appreciation for my local community.

We are hoping to ride from our place to Coogee beach which is a 36 km round trip. Doing this each weekend in October would get us to our goal of 150kms. Participating in the Champions Ride with my daughter has strengthened our relationship. We’re spending more time together, have something to bond over and I love that this provides us with an opportunity to just be with each other!

Evelina Gutierrez-Hood (Penny’s Daughter)

My name is Evelina Gutierrez-Hood and I am 14 years old. I am doing the Champions Ride to raise money to help kids in need as well as get out in the fresh air and improve my health and fitness.

I love riding in the late morning, especially when it is sunny and warm. I love the fresh morning air and the beaming sun.

Since the actual rides start in October, my mum and I have been preparing by going on smaller bike rides to prepare ourselves for the longer rides we will be doing later on. So far, we have ridden along the Bay Run as well as the Cooks River path.

I am so excited to ride the streets of Sydney with my mum and raise money for all the kids in need. I would also like to thank all the people that have helped by donating and supporting us!

You can find out more or sign up here.

Changing the lives of children through foster care

Photo of foster carer Dalal with Barnardos Australia CEO Deirdre Cheers

WARM-hearted Dalal burst into tears when she was told that more than 45,000 children in Australia were unable to safely live with their families and that Barnardos desperately needed foster carers.

Giving children a safe, stable and nurturing family environment, foster carers look after a child for a few months, years or for the rest of their lives through open adoption.

“When I heard about so many traumatised babies and children, I knew in my heart that I needed to help,” Dalal said.

“The first child I cared for was a baby, so tiny at only two-months-old.

“Her mother had such severe stress she could not take care of her baby.

“I knew it hurt her, as I could see that she loved her baby very much.

“She was so scared her baby would call me ‘mama’ and forget about her, but I reassured her she would always be the child’s mother and I could be ‘grandma’.”

In her care for two years and three months, the baby was not the only one that Dalal turned out to be helping.

“I actually brought her family together,” she said.

“The family distanced themselves because they didn’t know what to do.

“After they saw bub doing well and mum improving, they began supporting her again. It was beautiful to see.”

Dalal says Allah wants us to help others as much as we can and being a foster carer is a wonderful way to do his work.

“If you are thinking of being a foster carer, just try it,” she said. “It will change your life, like it has changed mine.”

As well as getting an allowance to cover the child’s food, milk, nappies, medication or other needs, Barnardos provides wonderful support to carers.

To find out how you could make a difference in a child’s life, call 1800 663 441 or barnardos.org.au

This article first appeared in the Auburn Review here.

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R U OK? Day

R U OK? Day encourages everyone to meaningfully connect with the people around them and start a conversation with those who may be struggling with life.

At Barnardos, we marked the day with a ‘share a plate lunch’ and at our Penrith Centre, a ‘breakfast bonanza’. There’s nothing like food to bring people together and sharing a meal allows us all to connect on a more personal level. We also were lucky enough to hear from inspirational gold medal winning Paralympian, Scott Reardon.

Scott Reardon had four tips to help build resilience from his own personal life lessons:

  • Identify your support networks and communicate this to them
  • Read and practice mindfulness to increase your awareness
  • Have gratitude – learn to be positive and grateful for your life and experiences
  • Remember to stop and breathe – practice coherence breathing (4 seconds breathe in and 4 seconds breathe out) – this helps you to learn to step away and regroup for a moment
So ask someone RUOK? You don’t need to be an expert to reach out – just a good friend and a great listener. A conversation could change a life.

Barnardos comments on NSW Government’s landmark commitment to criminalise coerceive control in NSW

Barnardos Australia was invited to comment on the Exposure Draft Bill criminalising coercive control in intimate partner relationships. Read here.

Our CEO Deirdre Cheers endorsed an open letter prepared by the NSW Women’s Alliance to the NSW Attorney General and Minister Ward calling for a longer consultation process on the Coercive Control Bill and expressing concerns about several aspects of the Bill.

Dr Robert Urquhart, Head of Knowledge, Research & Outcomes, also facilitated an in-depth consultation with our Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) Strategy Group members. The Strategy Group members provided expert feedback as practitioners, highlighting the gaps in the legislation regarding the safety needs of children and young people and the use of third parties by perpetrators as a means of control, which informed our submission. In addition, our practitioners’ themes strongly resonated with feedback from Departmental First Nations roundtables with Aboriginal practitioners in Dubbo and Kempsey, which Tina West, Manager Gurung Wellama, and Robert attended to represent Barnardos. ​​​​​​​

The Department of Communities and Justice also invited Barnardos to comment on two new five-year plans – the NSW Domestic and Family Plan (read submission here) and the NSW Sexual Violence Plan (read submission here).

All three submissions below highlight the need to recognise children and young people as equal victim-survivors of DFV in their own right with their own safety and support needs.

Jill’s story – paying it forward to help more children

“We never give up” is at the heart of everything we do at Barnardos.

We never give up on supporting vulnerable children, young people and families. We walk beside them on their journey for as long as it takes. We recognise the challenges they face and we use our shared wisdom and experience to care for, protect and empower them to reach their full potential.

There’s one powerful way to ensure that we continue to have the resources so we never have to give up – that’s to include a gift to Barnardos in your Will. This week is “Include A Charity Week”, a social change campaign raising awareness of the massive difference made by everyday people including a charitable gift in their Will. Big-hearted people like Jill.

Jill’s life was changed by Barnardos over 70 years ago. Now, she’s about to change more children’s lives to give them a brighter future.


Older lady smiling at camera

Jill doesn’t know where she’d be today without her adoptive mother Margaret’s big heart.  Margaret, a single woman in her 40s, adopted Jill when she was just 3 weeks old. A well-loved and respected member of her local community, Margaret had volunteered during the war with Dr Barnardos Services in London.

Jill always felt valued and loved by her mother.  “There was no way that anything could ever harm me with mum around”, she says.

Tragically, when Jill was eleven years old, Margaret died from bowel cancer.  Jill remains deeply grateful for her short time with her mother.  Margaret never gave up on Jill despite the hardships she faced as a single parent in the 1950s and fighting a terminal illness.  And Jill will never give up on bringing hope to a new generation.

That’s why she is leaving a gift to Barnardos in her Will.  Her big heart will keep her mother’s legacy alive by giving the opportunity for another child “to be loved and accepted as part of a family”, just like she was.

Jill has made her Will about her life and the values she holds dear. Your Will can do the same by not only offering a wonderful opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of your loved ones, but by having a long-term impact on the world they live in. By leaving a gift to Barnardos, you will be instrumental in changing the lives of children and young people that need it the most. For more information, click here.


Your guide to leaving a Gift in Will

Many people find it difficult to talk with their family about their Will, particularly if it includes a charitable gift. Knowing how or when to raise it with them can also be challenging, but it’s a really important conversation to have.

That’s why we would like to provide you with a free information booklet from Include A Charity to guide you through the process of speaking to your nearest and dearest about your legacy, in the right way, at the right time.


It’s time to make your mark on the world while keeping your family informed and involved. Your Will should be your will – what you want to happen. Why not discuss it with your family, so when the time comes, your wishes will be followed in the way you intended?

To find out more, click here or contact our Bequests Manager, Kingsley Edwards, by phone on (02) 9218 2311 or by email at kedwards@barnardos.org.au.

Carer Recognition Awards Winner 2021 Barbara Wallisch

Last year, Barnardos nominated a number of our carers for the My Forever Family Carer Recognition Awards. Due to COVID, the awards were delayed and have only now been awarded. congratulations to the amazing Barbara Wallish who received an award. Below is her nomination, certificate and a video featuring her and her foster son Scott.

Barbara Wallisch has been a carer for Barnardos for over 24 years. Barbara has adopted two children (now aged 33 and 23) and has cared for siblings, a boy, now 20 years of age, and his sister 19 years of age, since they were three and two years of age respectively. These siblings have significant autism, and struggled in their younger years, requiring lots of support and special education.

Barbara has always believed in the importance of focusing on ability and not disability, with the result that the boy has obtained his license and has a job and his sister holds down a job as well. They have been supported from a young age that they can do anything that they put their mind to, and have been taught by Barbara independent living skills, and as such have the ability to cook and look after themselves in general.

In addition to the children as mentioned above, Barbara has always been available to take children who need a safe place to land on short notice, providing Intake care, respite care and crisis care. She is a carer that can always be relied upon to help out in a crisis. She is currently caring for a little two year old girl because her permanent placement has ended, until such time as she is moved into permanent care. In addition, Barbara runs family day care from her home and loves her work with young children.

Barbara has been a wonderful mother to her four children as mentioned above and to many many more children who have been touched by her love, compassion and care.

Congratulations Barbara Wallisch.

Certificate for Barbara Wallisch

Aboriginal Artist teams up with Barnardos Canberra

Artwork by Eddie Longford

The Intensive Intervention Service Team at Barnardos Canberra teamed up with local Aboriginal Artist Eddie Longford. Together they came up with the beautiful idea on how to represent Barnardos Canberra in the local area with Indigenous Art.

Sitting on top of all in the Centre is a large circle, this is Barnardos Canberra.  Around it is U shapes of all different sizes – this represents staff and clients – it also represents being welcoming and inclusiveness. You will also see that there are U shapes on the outer edge that lead to the Centre – this represents the work the staff do externally with families and children in the community. The outer U shapes on these are the clients – the track behind them represents them coming and going as needed. These symbols in this cluster also represent learning.
Eddie Longford 

At Barnardos, we approach our work with children, young people and families in a way that is respectful and curious of all cultures. We acknowledge Sorry Day in an effort not to repeat the mistakes of the past and recognise the great trauma caused to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families by successive government policies.

We are committed to be brave and tackle the unfinished business of reconciliation so we can make change for all, especially Aboriginal children, young people and their families.

Reconciliation must live in the hearts, minds and actions of all Australians. We all have a role to play when it comes to reconciliation, and in playing our part we collectively build relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories, cultures, and futures.

sass & bide x Barnardos 2022 tee now launched!

We are thrilled to announce the release of the 2022 “Universal Love” limited edition tees from sass & bide with 100% of profits coming to Barnardos Australia.

A symbol of love, identity, and a sense of belonging.

Centred around a gold heart, the tee is a homage to the richness of the relationships the family workers and children share.

Twins Ka’iulani and Mirriyindi aged 10 affectionately shared:

“Barnardos tells us that we are all a family and give us opportunities to play with our friends and be creative with our art and culture.”

Shop the tee here

sass & bide 2022 tee


Barnardos Australia and Rainbows Families celebrate Family Pride Day at Petersham townhall

On Sunday, Barnardos Australia joined their partner, Rainbows Families, to celebrate Family Pride Day at Petersham townhall.

The event was a wonderful success, with beautiful families in all shapes and sizes enjoying activities such as a photo booth, face painting, and a free raffle prize (kindly donated by Sass & Bide) drawn by the fabulously vibrant Drag Queen, Joyce.

Thank you to the staff who assisted on the day, Rebecca Villarreal, Tracey Mulligan, Amanda Budden, Timothy Hunt, Bill Greenfield, Leonard Brown, Chelsie Bedding, and a shout out to the key people who worked behind the scenes to make this event happen, Natalie Logan, Alana Indratheb, and Mariam Rifai.