Renowned local author, Sarah Armstrong, in Lismore's Heritage Park in the week her new novel, Promise,  which explores issues around child abuse, is released to critical acclaim.
Renowned local author, Sarah Armstrong, in Lismore's Heritage Park in the week her new novel, Promise, which explores issues around child abuse, is released to critical acclaim. Sophie Moeller

What would you do if your neighbour was abusing a child? Sarah Armstrong’s Promise asks the question.

SOMETHING about the story of a little boy in Wollongong whose mother went on to be charged with his murder really struck acclaimed Australian author, Sara Armstrong. So much so, it inspired her third novel, Promise, which was launched in Lismore last week.

The little boy’s story got her thinking, not because she could relate so much the perpetrator and victim, but because it was revealed the neighbours had reported the family to The Department of Family and Community (FACS) on a number of occasions. Due to under- resourcing, the boy had not been removed to safety. Sarah wondered: “how far she would go to protect a child in danger.”

“I would have wished I’d picked that child up and put him in the car and driven off,” she told a room assembled at The Star Court Theatre for the launch of Promise, which The Women’s Weekly has just chosen as its “great read of the month.”

Promise raises delicate questions about our individual responsibility for the children around us with a story of a woman, Anna, who abducts a child who lives next door and is being abused. The book explores the consequences of Anna having taken the law into her own hands.

Promise by Sarah Armstrong and published by Pan Macmillan Australia
Promise by Sarah Armstrong and published by Pan Macmillan Australia

Challenge Community Services is an integrated social model which provides for the whole community to recruit, train and support foster carers for out of home care.

According to Case Work Manager for Lismore’s Challenge Childcare Services, Peter Moore, the non-government provider and creates pathways for children who are at risk and families who are in need of support.

The service, which has helped “around 50 kids” since it opened in the region three years ago, receives referrals from FACS when emergency placements are needed for transitional accommodation and supported foster care.

Mr Moore said society is getting better at listening to the voices of children and as a result more children at risk were being identified.

“It takes a community to raise a child” and Challenge was always looking for diverse and suitable people to become foster carers.

This week one of the North Coast’s main providers of safe accommodation and support for people facing domestic and family violence (DFV) has welcomed proposed changes to residential tenancy laws in NSW.

Chief Executive of On Track Community Programs (OTCP) Elaine De Vos said the proposed changes will help all community members facing domestic violence to leave rented premises immediately and not be penalised for any damaged property or rental debt caused by a violent partner.

“As the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Pru Goward said, leaving a violent relationship can be one of the most challenging decisions anyone makes. Removing impediments will greatly help vulnerable people, and benefit the community in general,” Ms De Vos said.

Manager of OTCP for Lismore Sarah Walken said over the past two years over 2000 women in the region between Grafton and Tweed have been supported in their “journey” back to safe and secure accommodation and these laws will make the process easier.

Finding accommodation can be very hard for women, especially when they are able to get an Apprehended Violence Order for themselves but are still awaiting parental orders from the courts to prevent the perpetrators of abuse from taking their children.

They are often dropping from two wages to a single mother’s allowance, need to break leases and find affordable accommodation.

They need time so they can get the legal back-up they need, she said.

ONE WOMAN’S PLIGHT TO ESCAPE DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND FIND A NEW HOME FOR HER CHILDREN HAS A GOOD SAFE ENDING

SALLY* is a single mother from the Lismore area who fled the family home when the violence and threats inflicted by her partner became both intolerable and dangerous.

"The relationship wasn’t always that bad, but it got to the stage where I feared for the life of my kids and myself," Sally said.

Sally struggled to help the children when they began living in her car. Finally, she was referred to On Track Community programs (OTCP) by Link2Home, a temporary accommodation provider.

OTCP provides safe accommodation and support for people facing domestic and family violence. The team moved quickly to access crisis accommodation and develop strategies for longer-term survival.

An OTCP domestic and family violence case worker referred the family to trauma counselling and Sally was soon able to obtain an interim domestic violence order. They helped her obtain Centrelink assistance and legal aid to apply for a parenting order so the children could not be removed by the offending partner.

After another four months in an OTCP transitional property, the family was approved for a rental property, with a real estate agency utilising the financial assistance of Start Safely, delivered by Housing NSW, an agency of Family & Community Services.

OTCP helped Sally to furnish and safety-proof her home, as well as providing ongoing emotional and material support.

Now, a year later, Sally looks back on the toxic relationship as "the hardest time of my life", but not for a minute does she regret leaving it.

"Now, I see my children can have a positive future, living with a mother who is free of the fear that was destroying our lives," Sally said, able to smile at last.

*Sally’s real name has been changed for privacy and safety reasons.


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