A rewarding job that makes all the right connections
‘My daughter is a victim of family violence and she needs extra support sometimes.’
Priya (not her real name) is direct in describing how her child can find it hard to keep up with normal activities, like school, because she wants others to understand the value of specialised help.
‘She copped it a lot throughout her childhood – mentally, hearing the violence and screaming, crying a lot and having her father saying things about me to her,’ Priya said.
‘Every child has their own experiences, but for her it’s another world, coping with all this stuff… As someone with so much in her mind, her mind can’t focus.’
Priya had to fight for her own education, finding ways to study in secret when her daughter was in kindergarten because her husband didn’t agree with her pursuing it for herself.
She is fierce about ensuring there are no barriers to learning for her daughter, so after periods of home schooling during COVID-19 and a return to primary school, they are also re-engaging with a special tutoring program run by McAuley Community Services for Women.
The program provides one-on-one support to children who have experienced family violence and/or homelessness to stay engaged with schools and feel confident to keep learning.
Research shows that childhood exposure to family violence can result in impaired cognitive functioning, mental illness, poorer academic outcomes, aggressive behaviour, anxiety, behavioural issues, learning difficulties and low self-esteem.
In 2020-2021, McAuley supported 232 children of school age for varying periods of time. The tutoring program, that provides each child with a laptop and physical resources, currently supports 13 children in primary school and 14 in high school.
Program Manager Brendan Shanahan said that the transition of the program to a secure platform online (due to COVID-19) meant that it could be accessed by families in need anywhere in the state if there were enough tutors and funding.
McAuley is looking to bring more educators on board as tutors, providing specialised training through Berry Street Family Services, as well as training in the use of technology and resources.
The training helps tutors to understand that a child’s working memory can be significantly reduced by trauma, with their bodies sometimes sustaining an elevated heart rate despite being at rest. They will also be taught to think about the difference between misbehaviour and stress behaviour.
‘Our tutors are special to start with because they volunteer, and after learning how to support young people who have experienced trauma, they have even more to offer,’ Brendan said.
‘Establishing a relationship with these young people is a first step in helping them gain the confidence to take part in learning, enjoy learning and reconnect with school so that down the track, they have the same opportunities as other children.’
Tutor Catherine Noonan joined the program after volunteering as a supervisor of a children’s playroom in a women’s shelter. The retired teacher found herself worrying about the potential for children to disconnect from school while they were in crisis care.
‘I found myself with some angst because I’d been in schools with a lot of disadvantage and I’d seen how moving around and being dislocated impacts on childrens’ learning,’ Catherine recalled.
‘If kids felt like they were underachieving, not making friends or fitting in, they’d misbehave and then you can end up with kids who are disconnected and then leave.’
Catherine now finds it enormously rewarding to support children from the same family after school and to see them grow more connected in their relationships with school and each other.
‘School and home should be really connected and form the basis for confidence and security,’ she says.
‘Early intervention is the most critical thing; if you can get in early and increase that connection between home and school, that’s huge for children.’
The sessions are both relaxed and focussed, depending on how Catherine finds the children to be when they log on.
‘It’s one-on-one and we might have a chat about school and what’s going on to start with, and it’s important that they can do that to offload; it’s like I’m a grandma that they can have a chat to once a week!”
Brendan noted that tutoring also supports mothers who are under a lot of stress and not always able to help out with school work as much as they’d like to.
‘A mother who was grateful for the tutoring told me once that when you’ve been experiencing family violence and your child’s education suffers as a result, it adds a another layer of depression and guilt to the feelings you already have of disadvantage.’
Priya explained how important understanding is for both mother and child.
‘It’s hard for a normal person to let go of things, so if there’s something that a teacher wants to talk about, I want that teacher to understand what the child is going through and what I’m going through when their father is dominating and making things hard for me and her psychologically.’
Catherine highly recommended the job, offering this advice to prospective tutors:
‘Don’t be daunted; it’s not difficult. It’s about building the relationship and it’s very rewarding. Each time I come away going ‘how good does it feel!’ and I know it works both ways.’
Learn more about how McAuley Learning Support works
If you’re interested in finding out more about becoming a volunteer tutor, check out our careers page