The scourge of domestic abuse has become a national talking point, but including some of the youngest victims in that conversation is difficult.
Two early childhood educators from Tasmania, Judi Rhodes and Tanya McQueen, were struck by the lack of resources to help. So they made one themselves.
Queenie’s Little Book of Comfort follows Queenie the quoll who, when faced with family violence, seeks help from her neighbour Eric the echidna.
“We decided to create this little book about Queenie because we were so heartbroken about the amount of children that come to school or play group that are trying to survive family violence,” Ms Rhodes said.
“These little children have no skills or tools to help them survive.”
‘Hopefully we can give children skills to cope’
Ms Rhodes and Ms McQueen spent two months working on the book and several more getting it published.
“We’ve already trialled reading the story to different age groups of young children and instantly you’ll hear comments like, ‘My Mummy and Daddy never argue,’ which is lovely, or, ‘Daddy makes Mummy cry all the time,'” Ms Rhodes said.
Family and domestic violence support services:
Ms McQueen hoped the book would allow teachers and carers to help those children.
“The right support can happen for them, they can have the conversation,” Ms McQueen said.
“If they disclose something major we can refer into the right services to get assistance for these children and also for the family as well.”
The book provides steps to help children calm themselves and seek shelter.
“Hopefully we can give children skills to cope and survive. That’s our biggest thing, because quite often these children are still in the situation all the time,” Ms Rhodes said.
Resources for children ‘really hard to find’
Judi Rhodes has been working as a kindergarten teacher for 30 years. (ABC News: Natalie Whiting)
The authors recently read the book to children at their local childcare, the Cygnet Community Children’s Centre.
Centre director Angela Conley said it could be read to groups of children or used one-on-one with children that may be having trouble at home.
“Resources that deal with tricky topics, and that are suitable to use with really young children, are really hard to find,” she said.
“A book that gives you tools or strategies about how to deal with it is really, really important to have in this environment.”
The Women’s Legal Service Queensland, which works with women who are victims of domestic violence, has the book in its waiting room for children to read.
“I really like how the book validates children’s feelings of feeling scared because children, you can imagine, feel quite confused in a house where there is domestic violence, where the one that loves them they are also fearful of,” chief executive Angela Lynch said.
“So this book validates those feelings and gives some really simple steps for children to do in response to that fear.”
Speaking out can be dangerous for children and Ms Lynch said it is important teachers and carers are properly trained.
“The way we protect children is to believe and validate their feelings when they come to somebody and say what’s happening in their house, and to actually make the referral,” she said.
“If you’re not an expert yourself in relation to domestic violence, make the referral over straight away to a domestic violence service.”
More support needed for ‘forgotten victims’
While it’s hoped the book will spark conversations, the authors said the priority should be funding more programs to help child victims.
Ms Lynch agreed.
“This book is a small piece of the puzzle in relation to how we respond to domestic violence in relation to children,” she said.
“There has to be significant investment by government in relation to children’s counselling and policy around this to really respond to children appropriately in these situations.”
Ms Lynch believes children have been overlooked to some extent.
“I think it’s just a natural thing that happens. Adults are in many ways able to articulate what’s going on for them, whilst children perhaps don’t have the language to be able to do that and so they can be the forgotten victims.”