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Supporting families from refuge to recovery

Service delivery was front-of-mind in all our work this year. Whether it was designing and implementing programs to support the education of children in refuge, introducing therapeutic programs, employing nurse educators, or making sure the needs of pets that are brought with families into refuge are met, our focus has been squarely on empowering our clients to move from crisis to recovery. 

Here’s a snapshot of just some of the work of Refuge Victoria in 2023. 

Supporting children in refuge 

Every child who comes into refuge is seen as a client with individual needs, and this year we launched LEARN, a program designed to make sure a child’s stay in refuge doesn’t adversely affect their education. As part of the program, children have their learning needs assessed and are provided with the educational supports they need, including one-on-one tutoring and assistance with school enrolment. 

Of course, childhood learning occurs not just at school, and at Refuge Victoria, we run school holiday programs that allow kids to have fun, nurture their curiosity, and help them reach their developmental milestones. Activities include art and craft, cooking, movie and popcorn days, and BBQs at some of the great local parks. It’s important that the kids have fun, but these activities also have therapeutic benefits, such as building a rapport with the Children’s Practitioners who support them. 

Pets in refuge 

Pets are welcome at Refuge Victoria and the importance of this cannot be understated. Allowing pets in refuge saves lives, for the simple reason that women often stay in violent homes for fear of leaving their pets in dangerous situations. Pets can also be a great comfort for families and bring a sense of normality to children, who may be feeling anxious or scared. 

Each unit in our refuge properties has a fenced-in backyard, and during their stay in refuge, pets can be seen by a vet and provided with treatment, where needed. Sometimes, especially if the family has had to move around a lot or if financial abuse has been a factor, they may not have a regular vet or have had regular check-ups, and we can organise that too. 

Nurse educators 

Even at the best of times, many of us have health issues we manage, doctors’ appointments to keep, and medications to have dispensed – and for those who are dealing with the multiple pressures of escaping family violence, these health needs can sometimes fall through the cracks. That’s why this year, we introduced nurse educators to our refuge staff.  

The nurse educators work with women and children to make sure that their health needs aren’t adversely impacted by the move into refuge. The nurse educators can arrange appointments with doctors and specialists and can help make sure clients are able to attend them. They can support clients to get and manage the medications they are required to take. The nurse educators support clients to stay on top of regular health checks, such as breast screens and pap smears. 

Importantly, the nurse educators listen. They gain an understanding of the health concerns of the clients and make sure they have the information and resources they need to take control of their wellbeing – for the long term. 

Animal Therapy 

This year, the fundraising undertaken by one family in their daughter Didi’s memory allowed Refuge Victoria to introduce our Animal Interactions Therapy program. Animal interactions, including equine therapy and farm visits, are used in the treatment of trauma and a range of other mental and physical health challenges, and have proven to be effective, particularly for children and young people.  We extend our heartfelt thanks to Didi’s family for allowing this important program to be developed as Didi’s legacy.  Donations can still be made to this program here. 

Videos to help families entering refuge 

Coming into refuge can be a daunting experience for families. At a time of enormous stress and disruption, women and children often have little idea about where they are going and what the future holds. That’s why, this year Refuge Victoria produced two videos – one for adults and the other for children – designed for families entering refuge.  

The videos include a walk-through of where they will be staying, and an introduction to staff and the services they will provide and answer common questions. The video for adults explains what will happen in refuge, and how refuge staff can work with them to create a safer life for their family. The video for children has a strong emphasis on reassurance and comfort and aims to get them excited about their stay in refuge. 

Incredible acts of kindness 

Every year, the work of Refuge Victoria is supported by individuals, businesses and community groups, keen to make a difference to families escaping family violence, and this year we received some amazing donations and made new friends and allies.  

To mark International Women’s Day 2023, our friends from Tait Mitre 10 / Hardings held a breakfast to raise funds for Refuge Victoria at their Tooronga store, and the wonderful staff at Accenture raised money for Refuge Victoria and held a workshop where they used their expertise to address some of our technological challenges.  

The Melbourne office of global property and construction consulting firm Rider Levett Bucknall made a financial donation to help families who were spending Christmas in refuge, and several staff members added to the donation from their own money, while many more went shopping, personally selecting and wrapping gifts. 

Throughout the year, Refuge Victoria receives donations from many community groups. The Generosity Collective provide us with beautiful clothes specific to the needs of each client, as well as backpacks for families to carry them into their new lives. Impact for Women’s ‘Bags of Love’ provide woman entering refuge with essentials such as toiletries and personal care items, edible treats such as chocolates, something personal like a photo album, and sometimes a craft project or jigsaw puzzle.  

Thanks to very generous donations from Sleep Safe and Next Steps, we’re able to give every client a new set of bed linen and donations from Share the Dignity make sure that women and girls in refuge are never forced to choose between buying food to eat or buying expensive sanitary items to get through their periods.  

In addition to businesses and community organisations, Refuge Victoria received many donations from families and individuals. Regardless of the size of the gift, every donation made a difference. Every client who comes into refuge has different needs. Financial donations allow us to provide individual support, specifically tailored to meet these needs. 

Our Christmas appeal is seeking donations to continue this amazing work. You can find out more here.