A beaming smile takes time

One of the most joyous parts of working at Bonnie’s is observing the positive change in the children who come to us.

When they first arrive their sense of ‘unsafety’ is often what is most noticeable – Watchful eyes, sometimes tears, sticking closely to their mother and siblings – We don’t always see a lot of smiles in those early days… Staff coax them and distract them with their calm, reassuring voices, gently checking out their likes and dislikes and providing activities to entertain them while their mother meets with staff. Often they are very protective of their mother and they wait anxiously for her return.

Their joy takes time to emerge. While the children’s sense of safety develops, we witness a change in their confidence and the anxiety many children experience begins to dissolve. A while ago a woman came to the refuge with her two young daughters – they had ‘watchful eyes’. The children had witnessed extreme violence, committed by their father against their mother – finally, they were in a safe place. The girls stuck close to their mother in those early days, so we were delighted when they told their mother that they liked it here – they had decided that they wanted to stay with the Bonnie aunties!

Share accommodation has its challenges for families who come to the refuge in a crisis situation, but the benefits for the children are evident when they connect with others and develop new friendships. I watch their sense of ownership develop – the ring, ring of the doorbell is a strong indicator of their growth. When they first arrive at our door, they stand close to their mother, generally quite hesitant, but over time, many children, particularly those with a several siblings, are confident and keen and rush to the door, pressing the bell repeatedly, keen to come in and see their worker or their newfound friends. Their nervousness about arriving at Bonnie’s has diminished and they burst through the door full of news and excitement. Some of the weight of responsibility lifts from their little shoulders.

When beaming children share their artwork, their achievements or show off new school uniforms, it makes us glow and affirms the work we do.  On Friday afternoons when families come to collect their Ozharvest food box, I am often privy to the children’s laughter and conversations below my window.  At other times I hear stories of a child’s positive impact on their peers or the delight in their voices as they move to transitional accommodation and have a home of their own. I watch and listen and hope that these positive experiences stay with them and help keep them safe as they grow up and become adults.

Written by Tracy Phillips

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