Read about the incredible courage of a mother and her children to resist the horrific violence in their lives, and how their tenacious caseworker Liz supported them to safety.
'It taught me what it really means to live in fear.'
In my job I hear stories about violence all the time. I never get used to them. The story of Angela and her children will stay with me for life. It taught me what it really means to live in fear.
The first thing I did when we got the call from Morgan’s school was to look at our records and talk to the police. It was obvious this boy had an urgent story to tell. We had to be at our best because he and his family needed immediate and real safety. I started with his mum. I’ve learned it’s the best way. We didn’t always start with mothers but that’s another story. I am glad we have new ways of working with women and children hurt by violence.
Picture of outback.
'She gave her blessing for us to step in by empowering her children to lead the way.'
Picture of close up of Liz.
When I rang Angela I could hear her fear. It was coming right down the phone line and I knew she didn’t want to talk to me. That made sense – I was a perfect stranger with the power to take her children. I needed to earn her trust. But even in her fear she was able to give me some very clear messages. She said it wasn’t safe for us to go to her home and she said to believe everything the children told us. She gave her blessing for us to step in by empowering her children to lead the way.
We were at the school for three hours. Those children were incredible. I talked with them with the police officer there the whole time. I listened as they described intolerable fear and gut-wrenching violence. I was sick to my core to hear how their mum had been hurt. At the same time, I was blown away by the courage of those three. As I listened I focused on the things they did when their dad used violence. We used to ask kids a lot about their feelings. I have noticed the difference when we ask about their actions instead. I asked Morgan simple and curious questions about what he did when his dad hurt his mum. I remember his animation as he described his efforts of distraction and mediation. I could see glimpses of pride as he answered those questions. I really believe that talking like that helped Morgan to see all the things he was doing for his family. It upheld his dignity by moving him from a mere observer to a brave survivor.
'It upheld his dignity by moving him from a mere observer to a brave survivor.'
A lot happened after those children talked. The police did their job beautifully. They had plenty of evidence; thanks to Angela, her children and her mother. Once Angela’s husband was sent to jail my job was to get the family to somewhere new and safe. I worked hard to build trust; to show I understood that fear wasn’t going to just evaporate for Angela, even with her husband behind bars. I listened and I was gentle. I worked to show respect and to be reliable with all the things I said I would do. The day Angela asked me to look at some of her photos was an honour. It was her way of showing me trust. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. Those images made me sick with shame for how she had been treated.
The second time I got called from school it was different. This time Morgan wanted to talk about how his dad had hurt him. I understood that he was ready to tell this part of the story because he had started to trust in the safety he felt with his dad in jail. The first time he talked it was for immediate safety. The second time it was to correct the record and stand up to the threats. I treated that call with the same urgency as the first one. By asking for the police to accompany him I knew he wanted the system to act. We had to be true to the trust Morgan was placing in us. It worked – more criminal charges were laid against Morgan’s dad because of that story. He is the bravest and smartest 11 year old I know.
I love my job. I got to bear witness to the most extraordinary courage of a young woman and her children. I was trusted to know their deeply personal stories. I relied on curiosity to understand remarkable abilities to survive and to love. Most of all, I saw hope flourish into new lives.
'I love my job. I got to bear witness to the most extraordinary courage of a young woman and her children.'