Thursday, 31 July 2014

Can babies be homeless?

Wendy Bunston from La Troube University in Australia kindly presented a seminar based on her PhD research during a recent visit to CRFR. Using infant observation and interviews with mothers and staff, Wendy is exploring what happens to the baby when they first enter refuge after fleeing family violence.

If it’s hard for us to think of how violent it must be for a woman to flee her home, how much harder is it to think about what a baby goes through? Perhaps that’s why we don’t. Most would prefer not to know that babies feel terror, fear, sadness and despair. Very few people would stop to consider what happens to, or for, babies who go into refuge (Bunston, 2011). My work in this area has led me to explore what happens to the infant made homeless by family violence and accompanying their mothers into refuge (Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, 2012; Glennen, 2011). The reason women typically go into crisis accommodation services is to escape family violence. A large proportion of these women are mothers, most often with children under five. Infants are rapidly developing, and what happens in these early years can have an impact for life. Early, repeated trauma caused by family violence, can lead to future mental health, language, learning, behavioural and relationship difficulties. Getting in early, can absolutely make a difference to infants who, either in utero, or after birth, have been exposed to violence (Bunston, 2006; Bunston, 2013). My PhD research is interested in what happens to the baby who with their mother comes in refuge. Are babies thought about as their own person, who have their own feeling states and reactions? What do infants make of these new sights, smells, noises and people? Do they miss their fathers, do they miss what they knew of as home? Do they feel that something is different for their mother and does that difference feel good, sad, or maybe confusing? So far, I’ve met babies in refuges across three countries, and I hope to find out.

Bunston W (2006) The Peek a Boo Club: group work for infants and mothers affected by family violence. The Signal: newsletter of the World Association for Infant Mental Health 14(1):1-7.

Bunston, W (2011) Let's Start at the Very Beginning: The Sound of Infants, Mental Health, Homelessness and You [online]. Parity 24(2):37-39.

Bunston W (2013) What about the fathers? Bringing ‘Dads on Board™’ with their infants and toddlers following violence. Journal of Family Studies 19(1):70-79. doi: 10.5172/jfs.2013.19.1.70.

Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (2012) Resources for workers supporting children. Website.

Glennen K (2011) The Homeless Infant [online]. Parity 24(2): 35-36.

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