Concerned about the number of school students suffering from the effects of abuse in their family environment, Presbyterian Support Northern family violence prevention advocate Jude Halberg approached a local college with an idea: a one-day workshop “to help kids understand what healthy relationships look like”.
Aware of the importance of developing an initial rapport with the principal and staff, Jude met with Piopio College Principal David Day to let him know what PSN had to offer. She suggested a presentation to his staff first – that way it would be a team effort between PSN and college staff, a symbol of unity when presented to the students.
While most agreed to the workshop, some teachers were a little resistant. Explains Jude, “they believed if we opened up a can of worms they weren't equipped to deal with the flow-on effect”. However, the team from PSN were aware of possible repercussions and had organised a support team to come in behind them, consisting of social workers and counsellors from the local area. Says Halberg, “you can't bring a subject up which will surface a lot of things and then just walk away”.
Once staff were happy, they organised the workshop. “We knew kids wouldn't open up as much if teachers remained in the classroom,” she states, “so we [initially presented] as a team, but then college staff stayed out.”
Jude developed a program that was age appropriate. They worked with the year 10 students (half one day and half the next) and didn't mention it was a family violence workshop, just that it was about healthy relationships. “We took them through the whole spectrum of family violence. Many of them had normalised all forms of abuse, not just verbal. Some kids were in the third generation of this family violence cycle”.
The PSN team provided fun exercises that helped identity what was okay and what wasn't okay; what was acceptable and what wasn't. They identified a wide range of types of abuse: psychological, mental, physical, sexual, cyber, financial, and spiritual. “We put kids in teams, gave each team the headings and a description and got them to match them up. Many didn't know there were this many types of abuse. They thought of violence as being physical only”.
At end of the day-long workshop, the students were asked to draw a poster to show what they had learned about family violence. “Kids love art,” says Jude. To finish off the day, the back-up support team of men and women previously organised came in to meet the students. “They spent a bit of time with the kids so that they were more than just a face. The [support team] were there when we displayed their art work, and shared afternoon tea together to mingle and let them know they were there if needed. It went incredibly well”.
At the end of the second day, some student volunteers were asked to come and present to the staff how it went. They had lots of volunteers offer. Taking three, the staff got to ask the kids questions directly. When asked, “how would you have felt if the teacher had been in the class?” Jude says the reply was honest and as expected: “we were not gonna talk in front of them!”
Staff were overwhelmingly surprised at the change in attitude of some students. Participants became adamant about respecting each other all day. One teacher shared how there had been one ringleader-type boy who, when seeing his classmates talking over the teacher, got up and said, “hey you guys, stop talking over the Miss 'cos that's rude and makes her feel like what she has to say isn't important”. That teacher was gobsmacked, says Jude, “and by end of the day none of the kids were talking over anyone, including kids coming from incredibly abusive homes who had been loud and boisterous all day because the subject was a sensitive one for them”.
A couple of weeks later Jude drove the 3 hours to spend an hour in the afternoon to check in with the students who had participated in the workshop. The kids were touched, she said, that she had travelled such a long way to see them.
After a debrief with college leadership, the pilot programme was considered a success. The PSN team are now looking at providing their workshops in other little areas around the country.
When asked what is distinctive about the programme they offer, Jude replies, “I have a story myself [of abuse as a child and adult, spending time in gangs etc] and the kids relate to that. I let them know my story and people really connect to that rather than someone who comes from a strictly academic perspective, so I blend real life with education”. They also like to use mediums that kids like to work with, e.g. art, as opposed to solely educational. However, says Jude, “it also has a lot to do with who presents it, the person who needs to connect with the kids – if they connect, you can teach them anything if you've got that connection and rapport with them. If you don't, then it doesn't work. You can't just walk in knowing your stuff, it isn't enough”.
Love Your Neighbour asked Jude how she relates her faith to her work. “There are times I don't mention my faith as it can shut people down,” she says. “God taught me very early on in this work when to speak of it and when not to. He said very clearly that the times I don't mention it I need to represent it the best I can”. Jude used to think she needed to tell everybody but, she says, “you can lose a lot of people. [Now] people come up to me afterwards and say 'you didn't mention you had a faith, but do you?' And when I say 'yes' they say 'I knew it!'” What better way to share God's love among people affected by violence in our communities?