The following content may be disturbing for victims and survivors of violence and trauma. We encourage you to use your discretion as to whether you should continue reading. You can also seek support from Safe Steps (Women’s 24-hour Domestic Violence Crisis Service phone 1800 015 188) or visit here for a list of after-hours support numbers.
At the time Mel was terrified that her violent relationship would harm her children.
Her four children were all primary school age and under, with her youngest Chelsea just three years old.
Due to her financial situation, fleeing placed Mel and her children in a desperate situation. “We were homeless and we were rejected for share house or social housing as they could not accommodate myself and the four children,” says Mel.
Instead Mel and her children found refuge with a relative. Unfortunately her relative was partaking in substance abuse behaviours, so Mel and her children were still in a very volatile and unsafe situation.
During this time Mel was determined to maintain as much stability for her children as possible, so she commuted long daily distances just so her children could remain at their own primary school. “I just wanted to make sure there was as little disruption as possible to my children’s lives,” says Mel.
Unfortunately Mel was struggling to financially provide for her family. “I was barely making ends meet just trying to feed the children at the time,” she says.
It was around this time that Mel’s estranged former partner and the father of her three oldest children approached her. He stated that he wanted to resume a relationship with his children and proposed taking them on a fun, fortnight-long holiday interstate.
“I didn’t want to stop the children from having a relationship with their father, so I let them go on the trip,” she says.
Little did Mel know what consequences the promise of a holiday would bring for her three oldest children Mia 11 years, Noah 9 years and Zoe just 6 years old.
Once their father took them interstate he told the distressed children that they were unable to return home.
She has patchy memories from this time, as they are too traumatic to retain.
Mel was left caring for three year old Chelsea, who was confused and upset that her siblings had suddenly disappeared.
Mel was in a desperate situation. “I was homeless and now three of my four kids were gone. I don’t know what I would have done without Windermere” she says.
At this time Windermere Family Violence/Homelessness Support Worker Gail was working with Mel to assist her to resolve her unsafe housing situation. Gail supported Mel to apply for transitional housing which she was able to move into after a short wait. Gail also organised for Mel to attend family violence and parenting support groups.
In the meantime Mia, Noah and Zoe were living in various unsafe housing situations and being exposed to drug use and violence, before being settled into a more permanent housing situation and a new school by their father.
Windermere assisted Mel to work with child protection services to confirm her children’s whereabouts and their school attendance.
Mel was also referred to a lawyer who was able to assist her with a court process to regain custody.
“I can’t even begin to explain how I was feeling at this point, it was just sheer disbelief that this could happen,” says Mel.
In the meantime Mel sent care packages to the children with essential items such as underwear and food.
After waiting 18 agonising months for a court hearing Mel’s initial court application for a recovery order to regain custody was denied.
The children were however ordered to return home to Mel for a visit.
“When the kids returned they were clearly not doing well, with all of them having lost a lot of weight and having chronic nits,’ says Gail.
On top of this all three children were clearly distressed with Noah expressing suicidal intentions.
Gail supported Mel to organise new clothes and much needed medical and dental care for the children.
Windermere also assisted Mel to continue the court process to recover full custody of her children. As part of this process Mel was required to undertake regular drug testing to prove that she was not taking any illegal substances.
Mel’s financial hardship was also exacerbated during this time as she had to travel to court hearings interstate rather than in Melbourne.
After two gruelling years, the court finally ordered that Mel should regain custody of her children.
It was not easy for the children to return home. All of them had experienced trauma and had to re-establish family relationships and trust.
Windermere organised for all the children to receive support from counsellors, psychologists and group support programs.
Today the children are settling back into their schooling and new routines at home.
Gail has supported Mel to obtain longer term housing and she also planning to study to expand her work opportunities.
Mel encourages people in violent and unsafe relations to seek help.
“It is hard to leave a violent relationship. But if you know something has to change and you make that phone call then there is help that you can get” she says.
Windermere offers confidential counselling and intensive homelessness support services for families and individuals experiencing sexual assault and family violence.
For more information:
Call: 1300 946 337
If you need urgent help
Safe Steps (Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service)
24-hour telephone crisis counselling, information, referral and support for women experiencing domestic violence.
Phone 1800 015 188
24 hour counselling and support service for people impacted by sexual assault or family violence.
Phone 1800 737 732
** If you are concerned for yours or someone else’s immediate safety call 000.**
Visit here for a range of after hours support services here.