OT students find a place helping children heal from violence

Three Bendigo Master of Occupational Therapy Practice students have completed a project they hope will help mothers and children who have experienced family violence. 

Teal Annett-McClellan, Josh Henthorn and Hayley Burton have spent the past ten weeks developing a Sensory Toy Library and Children’s Support Manual for Bendigo refuge centre Annie North.

Teal says while the new library system will assist Annie North staff to manage their sensory toy collection, the manual brings together practical, evidence-based strategies to support children escaping domestic and/or family violence.

“We completed a rigorous literature review and reviewed hundreds of journal articles to form the development of the manual,” Teal says.

“There are three mains sections of the manual. The first section explores the impact of trauma on behaviour, and strategies to manage these behaviours, such as creating safe spaces, building trust and how the behaviour my indicate the child’s unmet needs.

“The second section provides education on sensory processing and how children experience trauma on a sensory level. Building on from this are strategies to support a child’s individual sensory needs, such as relaxation or music,

“The last section provides education on the mother-child relationship and the different attachment styles. It then leads into strategies to nurture the attachment between mother and child, such as the circle of security, empowering the mother and self-reflection.”

Josh says their aim was to provide education and practical strategies to staff at Annie North to assist in the management of trauma-related behaviours, integrate sensory toys/strategies into their practice and to support the mother-child relationship. 

“Another positive outcome we hope will come out of the project is that it will hopefully play some role in changing the lives of mothers and children who have gone through some very challenging experiences.,” Josh says.

“We also hope that this project highlights the need for more involvement of the occupational therapy practice within the family violence sector, as we believe that it could make a huge difference in the experience of mothers and children.”

Hayley says throughout their four-year OT degree they’ve been made aware of many places and setting in which an OT can be employed. “However I don’t think any of us had considered how we could provide care to families fleeing domestic and family violence,” she says.

“Throughout this project it has become increasingly evident the value an OT can bring to a setting like Annie North and how we can incorporate our diverse knowledge into the care of children and families to help them heal from domestic family violence and trauma.

“Not only has this project made us aware of yet another area OT’s can provide care, it has also shown us how our role within each setting changes. OT’s can provide hands-on support, recommendations, emotional support, mental support and so many other intervention strategies aimed at supporting a person to participate in the things that make them happy.

“To use this knowledge to help families fleeing or seeking shelter from violence is extremely rewarding.”

Josh says the project highlights the potential for Annie North to hire an occupational therapist as part of its “already amazing, multidisciplinary team”.

“It was amazing project,” he says “We all loved it and it really did teach us a lot about a topic that we didn’t know a lot about and it’s just been such an eye-opener to what some people go through and the need for more work in the family violence sector.”

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