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Winter message from the EO

One of the questions I am asked most often is what is the process that women and families go through when they come to Mary's House? Other than providing shelter and food, what does Mary's House do for these families?

Obviously, each situation is different but let me give you some idea of the types of things that our professional staff do to help women seeking refuge in Mary's House.

The first concern is the safety of the women and their children. Safety these days comes in two main forms – personal safety and eSafety. A risk assessment determines the level of risk and the responses that are appropriate. A safety plan is devised. For many women, it is the first time in a long time that they have felt safe and in control of their own lives. If necessary, our staff help the women obtain an AVO. Unlike some ill-informed media depictions, obtaining an AVO can be a long and arduous process requiring a number of court visits over time. There are often other court visits required to determine the ongoing arrangements for any children involved.

Our Doctor provides Mary’s House families with on-going medical care and also referrals to support mental health and allied health service needs.

Of course, there are many emotional and psychological scars that remain after women and children have left a relationship that involved domestic violence and our staff help our women to navigate their way through the grief and pain of their situation and learn new ways of managing this over time. Often they attend courses or groups with other women in a similar situation designed to help them through and offer support. Children are also affected and often traumatized by their experiences and may need professional counseling, play therapy or other child-focused support, to help them overcome their experiences and move forward with their lives.

As part of the wrap-around services provided to our families, Mary’s House case managers help our families to navigate and overcome the barriers to a safe and independent life. In practical terms case managers support women in developing plans and setting achievable goals. This often means dealing with a number of government and non-government services including legal, financial, health and mental health, child-care, employment, welfare and housing.

Without financial independence, women often return to their violent partner rather than becoming homeless. Statistics tell us that the majority of homeless women and children are homeless due to domestic violence. The key next step is to help our women to have some financial independence. Applications are submitted to Centrelink, independent bank accounts are set up, Medicare cards are obtained and so on.

Due to the lack of affordable housing the only option for some women is to apply for government housing support or for social housing. Applications for housing support are submitted to FACS Housing and, if approved, clients may obtain rental assistance. Our staff then help find suitable accommodation (often a very difficult task due to the low affordability for women on Centrelink payments).

Where women are keen to get back into the workforce, retraining is often needed to update previous skills or obtain new, more child-friendly career choices. Loss of self-confidence is one of the key barriers to finding employment and our women are provided with tools to help them to rebuild their confidence. Assistance is given to write CV's, practice interview skills, search for jobs and often also to provide suitable clothing to go to interviews and to work. Mary's House helps with all these requirements.

When our families are ready to move on to the next phase of their lives (about 3 months after coming to Mary's House) we help them to set up this home. Together with our generous partners, we provide all furniture and household items needed for a new home. We help them to move in and make their new home a welcoming one.

However, as with any family this is not ‘goodbye’. Those who wish to, can have an ongoing supportive relationship with Mary's House. Ranging from accompanying women when attending court through to ongoing counseling and family support, Mary’s House case managers continue to provide outreach services and, like many families, also arrange social gatherings with other Mary's House family members with whom they have formed relationships while in the refuge.

In essence, Mary’s House is a client-centered, family-focused refuge and support service aimed at helping victims of domestic violence to find a safe way to start a new life.

Footnote: To all our benefactors, partners, volunteers and supporters who walk alongside and sustain our Mary’s House families through the often arduous journey described above, by providing financial, material and personal support, we say ‘thank you’ on behalf of all those families who you have never met, yet have helped to survive and find the freedom to live a normal life.