The trauma kindy helping save vulnerable kids
KIDS as young as three are attending a specialised trauma kindy in Townsville as dozens of experts work to get their young lives back on track and away from a life of crime.
The head of a national centre of excellence supporting children exposed to trauma, abuse and neglect has revealed the often-overlooked cause of youth crime after a spate of incidents across the city.
Act For Kids supports about 800 children in Townsville and 350 families dealing with issues ranging from anti-social behaviour to "selected mutism", acts of violence, sexualised behaviour and learning difficulties in children as young as three years old.
Seeing damaged kids so young has prompted them to set up a specialised trauma kindergarten to prepare the children for the school system, CEO Dr Neil Carrington said.
"There's a huge difference between a thriving brain and a surviving brain and these kids' brains don't develop the same way," Dr Carrington said.
"If they've been exposed to trauma then they are going to suffer physical development issues. Quite often they already suffer malnutrition, which only adds to developmental delays."
More than 50 staff members, including specialist trained trauma psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists and social workers, are employed at the James Cook University-based centre.
In the past six years, the organisation has reported a 339 per cent increase in demand for help across Australia.
Dr Carrington said this highlighted the need for a whole-of-community response to better support vulnerable children.
"I think it's important to remember it's a community responsibility and we've all got skin in this game and it takes a village to raise a child, just as it takes a village to land a child in these situations," Dr Carrington said. "We don't think it's too much to ask for kids to get a second chance to get their life back on track.
"The costs of keeping children in care is astronomical but even more important is a moral obligation that is there to prevent that happening."
Since March, the Department of Child Protection and Youth Safety reported a total of 585 children in care in the Townsville region.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are reported eight times more likely to have received child protection services.
Trauma in early childhood results in diminished brain development, which can play out in ways including cognitive delays and impaired emotional regulation.
Act For Kids psychologist Renee McAllister said it was important to consider the emotional impacts that could have on someone trying to cope.
"It's more in relation to the things we need from our early care givers to develop our connections and learning and when that is missing it links to certain parts of the brain," Ms McAllister said. "It's really that sense of if you are feeling safe and loved … then you're not always looking for threat."
More than 250 families are attending the centre as part of a support program aimed at keeping children out of the child protection system.
Ms McAllister said there were complex circumstances behind anti-social behaviour and what we saw was often just the "tip of the iceberg".
"Early developmental trauma can mean there's significant domestic violence in a family, poverty and also for some families struggles with mental illness," she said.
"It's crucially important to help families build their own strengths and connections.
"And it's quite a challenging area because for parents it's quite easy for everyone else to have an opinion when sometimes the most important thing is for helping a parent to find their own way."
>>A full list of support services available to families can be found at family childconnect.org.au/ or by calling "Family and Child Connect" on 133 264.