Now in its sixteenth year of operation, The Good Samaritan Inn in Melbourne continues to provide vital crisis accommodation and care for women and children escaping domestic violence and homelessness. But in the last year, staff at The Inn have been working on a new initiative with schools that they hope will reduce the need for safe havens like theirs.
“Ironically, we are working to put ourselves out of business; we’re working to make sure that places like this aren’t needed,” said Shannon Smith, Co-ordinator of The Inn.
“That will never happen, unfortunately… But you’ve got to be doing something. You can’t sit back and say ‘Oh well, we can’t help them all’. I think we can, and it’s been proven that with a little bit of awareness comes a lot of attitude change.”
In 2011, Shannon and her manager, Good Samaritan Sister, Michelle Reid, began to forge links with a number of local schools and discuss the possibility of violence prevention programs in their communities. Backed by broader research, it’s Shannon’s and Michelle’s belief that young people are the most important population to target with violence prevention efforts.
“Schools are now significant sites of violence prevention and respectful relationships education, both in Australia and internationally,” said Shannon.
By the beginning of this year, three schools – Santa Maria College Northcote, St Monica’s College Epping and Parade College Bundoora and Preston – had agreed to participate in The Inn’s program.
Still in its infancy, the program, called “We Can Do It”, aims to foster non-violent, respectful and equitable relationships within the school environment, targeting students, teachers, parents and the broader community.
Because the three schools involved have different needs, each program will be customised accordingly. However, the underlying program strategy is to raise awareness of violence in all its forms – from the overt expressions to the subtle and yet insidious.
“And then it’s changing behaviours and attitudes, and also getting information out there to kids who may be struggling, who may be experiencing tiny facets of these issues, empowering them with information to know that they’re not alone and that there are options out there for them,” explained Shannon.
So far the response from schools has been positive. “They’ve been so supportive; they’re really interested,” said Shannon.
According to Cathy O’Brien, Senior Teacher of Wellbeing and Counsellor-Psychologist at St Monica’s College Epping, her school agreed to participate in the program because of their commitment to develop and sustain positive relationships among students, teachers and parents.
“While generally we believe that our community demonstrates the ability to relate well within the various groups, we have been concerned about some aspects of relationships that have been revealing themselves over the past few years. In particular, we are concerned about the sexualisation of young people in society and how our young people are learning to relate to each other,” she said.
“The messages which are given through the media about body image, about sexuality and self-worth may be unrealistic, place emphasis on the superficial and visible attributes of people rather than inherent worth, and be disconnected from any moral framework. These messages are available to all young people with very few alternative messages.”
For Cathy, schools are important meeting places for young people. “Therefore, there is great potential to explore with our students the kind of lives they want for themselves, the society they wish to be part of.
“While this already occurs in a variety of ways at the College, the [Inn’s] project places a particular focus on this aspect of personal development and may provide the opportunity to bring together curriculum, programs and activities in a more co-ordinated way.”