Amanda* and her two oldest daughters have been through hell. They finally fled the family home and checked into a motel after Amanda was punched in the head by the girls’ stepfather. That injury sent her to hospital where a social worker helped the family take the first steps towards a new life.
“I didn’t know where to go but they told me to call Centrelink and how to find out about housing,” said Amanda, recalling her first contact with a helping professional. But she was still worried about her daughters who had to change schools in the middle of term.
The school identified that both girls needed some emotional support. That’s where Miss Tara came in with both girls completing the Just for Kids and Drumbeat programs.
‘Karma*’ is 11 years of age. She’s naming herself after her favourite character in Assassination Classroom, the anime she loves to watch after school.
“Karma is a prankster and very mischievous,” she said. “He makes me laugh and I like how he goes on a lot of adventures by himself.”
‘Clary*’ is 10 years of age. She’s naming herself after a favourite character from Cassandra Clare’s Shadowhunters who “spends a lot of time with her best friend and helping people. She’s the toughest one and brave.”
Certainly toughing it out is one way of responding to the upending of your home life because of family violence. But the Specialist Group Work Programs helped them explore the complex emotions swirling behind the brave faces they put on for show.
“The programs were about expressing our feelings about our family situation,” said Karma. “We don’t have a dad and we were feeling things like disappointment and sadness.
“I was excited to do Drumbeat with some of my friends although I didn’t really know what it would be like. I think it was about teamwork and how you play together. I felt more open afterwards and you feel a lot of trust with other people. They tell you things about themselves and they know you won’t tell anyone else and make them feel bad.
“I said how I was feeling and people didn’t laugh at me. I’d feel sad when I was talking but I forgot about those feelings afterwards.”
Drumbeat is a social and emotional learning program that is also an acronym: Discovering Relationships Using Music, Beliefs, Emotions, Attitudes and Thoughts.
That’s a broad claim, and yet program feedback from both parents and participants consistently highlights the way children find pride in themselves through mastery of the instrument. Children all drumming in rhythm know they’re getting it right; they experience their power and learn to ‘tune’ into others with generosity and compassion.
Drumbeat is of particular benefit to children experiencing psychological distress and post-traumatic stress symptoms. It uses group rhythm to give children an experience of peer connectedness; a solid foundation on which to build better school and community belonging.
Clary most enjoyed the Just for Kids program. “I felt calm and I had fun too,” she said. “You can be in a group even with people you don’t know but you don’t feel left out.
“I also just really liked being with Miss Tara because she’s so calm and peaceful. She made me feel less worried and now I think it’s easy to talk about feelings.”
Amanda agreed that Clary finds it easy to talk … and talk … and talk.
“But they both used to keep their feelings to themselves,” she said. “They’d break down and there was a lot of anger and frustration in the house. They’d have arguments that were full of hurt and blame.
“I just want them to feel normal and know that they’re not the only ones going through something difficult. The programs encouraged them to open up and be themselves. Miss Tara has given them the knowledge and confidence to talk about their feelings.”
Of course there’s still the usual sibling bickering and snickering but the heat has gone out of their conflict: “You have pimples!” “No, I don’t, but you have a moustache!”
*Names have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.