More than words
Children’s excitement about Christmas is one of the joys associated with the season. You may be looking forward to seeing children take part in a nativity play, open gifts, read the Christmas story, share a special meal, or join their church family at a Christmas service.
But there are some Tasmanian children who dread Christmas. For them, Christmas is a time associated with traumatic memories, and feelings of fear, loneliness and sadness.
Here are some real reflections from local children:
- I hate Christmas. It’s a day for everyone to get drunk and fight.
- Christmas? Who cares? It’s just another messed up day.
- Christmas is nothing to me. It’s a day I remember that I don’t have anyone in my life.
These are comments shared with Anglicare workers caring for vulnerable children in our communities.
Anglicare CEO Chris Jones said, ‘Often, when our workers reach out to traumatised children, these young people run a mile at first. Experience has taught them that adults can’t be trusted. They don’t keep their promises. They hurt you. But we refuse to give up on children who have been exposed to violence and neglect.’
‘What these children need is more than words.’
Anglicare offers food, clothes and basic hygiene products like soap and deodorant. Anglicare helps children find safe shelter, and supports them to begin the long journey of recovery from trauma.
Catherine Robinson, a researcher in Anglicare’s Social Action and Research Centre, has spent time listening to highly vulnerable young Tasmanians talk about their life experiences. ‘They are amazing survivors. They come from families where there’s no money, there’s no food in the cupboards and, if there is, they make sure younger siblings get it first.’
‘These young people have great strength and resilience but they don’t have a lot in their lives to call their own.’
Catherine said domestic violence was the key reason children took to the streets. ‘For some young people their home environment is so toxic and dangerous, that they eventually leave. But because there’s nowhere to keep any possessions safe, and they’re constantly moving from place to place, they can’t have trinkets and the kinds of things our own kids’ rooms would be full of.’
Her research identified an urgent need for supported accommodation for older children and young people. ‘There are clearly opportunities to provide more practical assistance for these children and top of the list is a safe place,’ said Catherine. ‘These young people have experienced early childhood trauma and, in older childhood when they have enough capacity to leave home, they lose their childhood and access to safety, nutrition, education, care and love.’
Catherine said, ‘Anglicare steps in to provide a safe holding point of care, love and very practical life-skills and assistance. But we need support to do this. In my role as a social researcher I have responsibility for highlighting the issues that I find to the community and the government. I use words as powerfully as I can to do that. But these kids need more than words. They need somewhere safe to sleep tonight. They need dinner tonight. They need someone to help them with their homework tonight.’
Mardie Blair leads a team in Launceston who respond to the needs of highly vulnerable young people.
‘We go out and find these kids,’ she said. ‘Then we offer help with the basics. Often they haven’t eaten or washed for days. We give out food, blankets, pillows, socks, underpants…these are kids who come to us with nothing.’
Once these basic needs are met, Anglicare supports young people to safely reconnect with family members, education, health care and the wider community.
Anglicare workers said that when young people began to feel safe, they often tested the relationship. ‘They will try to self-sabotage, just to see if you are going to stick around or if you’re going to bail on them like so many other people have in life. It’s really important in our work to be genuine and consistent,’ said youth worker Raf Patterson.
Bishop Richard Condie has urged parishes to support the work of Anglicare by giving to the Christmas Appeal.
‘Christmas is a wonderful time of celebration in the church,’ he said. ‘But for many young people who are vulnerable it is a time of great pain... We want to make sure we are demonstrating the love of Christ in their lives. I encourage you and your parish to get behind Anglicare’s Christmas Appeal.’
You can give to the Anglicare Christmas Appeal by calling 1800 243 232 or visiting the website. Alternatively, a donation can be made at any Anglicare office or by post to Anglicare Tasmania GPO Box 1620 HOBART 7001.