A Safe Harbour: How KidsXpress supported one family experiencing domestic violence and homelessness

There’s a well-entrenched stereotype which perpetuates the idea that homeless people are alcohol-dependent middle-aged people roughing it in parks and bus shelters. The reality is that this only represents 7% of Australia’s homeless population, as most homeless people are hidden away, temporarily staying with relatives or friends, in cheap accommodation or in shelters.

And while there are many pathways to homelessness, for some, it’s a sudden freefall triggered by a lost job, a broken home life or some other seismic personal upheaval.

This was the case for Sarah* and her two young children who suddenly found themselves without a safe place to live following the breakdown of their family due to domestic violence.

“We will forever be changed.” Sarah said when we spoke to her recently, before going on to poignantly add …“Unless you’ve been in our position, you never think to be grateful for your home every single day”.

The “storm” as Sarah refers to it, happened in 2016. With no family living nearby for support, Sarah and her two young children, then aged 10 and 5, felt vulnerable and alone as they fled the family home. And while Sarah’s priority was finding a safe and stable place to live, she was ever-conscious of the impact the turmoil was having on her children’s emotional health. And so, when the children’s school counsellor reached out to Sarah to suggest that both children could benefit from our Expressive Therapy program, she jumped at the chance to get them on the program.

“We commenced the program while we were in the throes of the storm and KidsXpress became a safe harbor for both children. Not only did the therapists help to keep the children stabilised, they guided them through the emotional chaos of the situation.”

Sarah’s youngest child has been diagnosed with global developmental delay and at the time struggled with expressing himself verbally. Sarah credits the uniqueness of our Expressive Therapy program where art, music, drama and play therapy are combined to facilitate a flexible response to meet a child’s needs, with providing her son alternate ways to express himself without the boundaries imposed by words.

“I still have his artwork from that time and while I can’t bring myself to look at it as the memories of the trauma flare up, I can’t bear to dispose of it either. My son still uses art as a way of processing his feelings and my daughter does the same with dance. I know these are coping tools they discovered during their time with KidsXpress and even today, I see them drawing on those tools regularly.  Despite now feeling safe enough to express themselves with words too, I know they will carry those creative tools with them as they continue on with their journey in life.”

And it’s a life full of promise and potential, with a home now free from violence and instability. Sarah’s daughter plans on becoming a child psychologist – which according to her mother is “without a doubt, a direct result of her time with KidsXpress”. Her son dreams of becoming a Vet for rescue animals – specifically working with animals that have been abused. This too, is not a coincidence.

Despite working full-time in addition to the time-consuming tasks required of all mums, Sarah is incredibly generous with her time when speaking to us. She consistently offers to support KidsXpress in any way she can. We tell her we’re pleased that we were able to help her children, but she quickly stops to correct us….

“You didn’t help just my children. We were ALL supported by KidsXpress. I felt like someone was holding my hand throughout the crisis. I had no family here in NSW when it all happened and KidsXpress became my family. By holding my hand, this allowed me to hold my children’s hand. We were all supported…” she repeats a second time before her voice trails off. *Name changed to protect children’s identity