Our children are crying out for help: Expert
An experienced trauma clinician is imploring the community to listen to children, to watch for behaviours that may indicate they're being abused, to protect our most vulnerable.
Working with children who have lived through horrifyingly traumatic experiences has left its mark on Act for Kids National Education director Thomas McIntyre.
Mr McIntyre has more than 20 years experience working on the front lines of child protection and said the safety of children was everyone's responsibility, to be on the lookout for and question when a child's behaviour isn't normal.
"The challenging thing, is trauma is such a complex issue and when you see someone (act out) … you might just mistake them as being a ratbag," he said.
"Language does matter and it can make a child feel excited and included or despondent and neglected, we can all help in building confidence and repairing a child.
"There was a teacher once who didn't know why a little girl would scream and refuse to go for a shower after swimming but having a shower was a scary time for her because sexual abuse by someone in the house was followed by a shower."
In 2019 alone, Act For Kids reported helping 46,000 children and their families nationally.
Mr McIntyre said specialists often worked with schools to help better understand and appropriately manage children, because they can either be a safe haven or "trigger" for trauma depending on their own response to misbehaviour.
"One of the stories that sticks with me was a little boy who was in grade 1 and he'd go and sit in the store room and the teacher said 'oh don't worry about him he just does that'.
"After our therapists worked with him it was found that he was being abused, this poor little boy actually needed his community to support him and recognise that his behaviour was a cry for help.
"Not only that, if he's excluded from education he goes right back to the back of the queue and the longer life outcomes for that child are potentially dire."
He said throughout his years of helping children to heal from abuse, neglect and trauma, he's witnessed heartbreaking cases that were the motivation to continue the often confronting work.
"There was a young boy who witnessed his mother dying from domestic violence.
"He had really extreme behaviours but he had no self-context and when he started (therapy) he was drawing basically a hollowed out person just black outlines.
"Through the Integrated Therapy Service program his therapist used drawing as a way for him to show his feelings and I remember he did a self-portrait when he left which was incredibly powerful.
"This was a boy who'd had so much trauma he didn't even see himself as having an identity and that takes lots and lots of intensive treatment with our staff to repair."
*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.
Originally published as Our children are crying out for help