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Healthy Relationships Programme

The most commonly asked question about the healthy relationships programme, particularly regarding the primary school sessions is, ‘is it necessary’? The answer is yes, but not only is it essential the pupils are loving it! Children and young people are eager to learn about relationships and often surprised and excited to learn about their own rights, choices and responsibilities.

I am writing this on the back of a fantastic session with a year 2 group. The day started with a light hearted game using toys to challenge gender stereotypes and encourage equality and diversity. The pupils debated roles within the family and workplace and their rights to have choice, at the end of the game a female pupil stated, ‘sometimes people might be better at doing some things than you are, but being a girl or a boy doesn’t make you better’. Couldn’t have said it better myself! We continued to look at relationships and define who we are in relationships with and the fact that relationships and families all look different and that is OK.

Each child creates a safety hand with trusted adults on it, this may include family, teachers, NSPCC, police etc. but most importantly the child decides who goes on their hand. The class then creates a safety tree using the hands to make an image of the leaves. This school created the trunk out of paper mache on the wall, creating a real masterpiece out of the children’s work, which really validates the importance of the children’s voice in the classroom and acts as a reminder of their right to feel safe and where to get help. What I found interesting is that all the children knew how and who to call in the case of an emergency such as a fire, but no one knew who they could call if they felt unsafe, by the end of the class almost all knew the ChildLine number off by heart!

After the break, we put on a puppet show that looks at behaviours in relationships, putting our acting skills to the test and always received by lots of giggles. Then some more games, songs and dance to explore the themes of unsafe and safe touch and secrets. One boy told us, ‘I can’t say no, my mummy say’s its rude. I have to kiss my Grandma goodbye and I don’t like it. I love my grandma, but I don’t like kissing her’. The rippling sound of murmured agreement amongst his classmates was palpable, as twenty six confused faces looked up at us eager to hear how to manage this contradictory conundrum.

As parents we want to protect our children from harm and many of us will discuss unsafe touch, telling our children to tell us when something that worries them happens and that we will protect them.

But all too often we contradict ourselves, as we tell our children they must kiss Granny goodbye, for fear of hurting anyone’s feelings or being seen as rude, but are we considering our children’s feelings, rights and safety in the process? They have had the courage and trust in us, as their parent or carer to assert their concerns and sometimes we either don’t hear them or disregard them, confusing the boundaries of what is safe and unsafe and their right to say no. It is not rude to refuse to kiss someone goodbye. Do not get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with giving Granny or Grandad a kiss and a cuddle goodbye, if they want to, but it should be our child’s choice and if they say no, we should respect and communicate that for them. We encouraged the children to discuss their feelings with their parents or to speak to someone on their trusted adults hand if they are ever feeling unsure, unsafe or unheard.

The healthy relationships programme facilitates a conversation between peers, it is about encouraging an open, age appropriate exploration of relationships and fundamentally how we treat each other. It is giving children and young adults the language and knowledge to identify for themselves what is safe or unsafe, where their own personal boundaries sit and how to assert themselves and ask for help if they need it. It is about empowering our young people and having fun!

This Safety Tree is for children and their supporting families and friends please click here

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Did that just really happen?

As part of Domestic Abuse Awareness Week we are sharing real stories from real people…..

”Did that just really happen?

I’m a do-er, a positive person, always trying to see the best in others. A victim of emotional abuse? How could I possibly have let myself become that person? People have always told me I’m so confident, always happy but that’s because I’ve always been a pro at ‘putting on a face’.

One minute I could be physically shaking, feeling sick, in total fear of what barrage of verbal abuse was about to come my way all because I might have said something wrong, voiced a different opinion, and a second later I’d be smiling, laughing, acting as though life was okay.

Why? I couldn’t let other people see what a wreck I was. I felt friends were bored of hearing about it. The children couldn’t see us arguing yet again. I just took it, shut up, and prayed that tomorrow would be the day he would change, the day he’d realise how much we all loved him, the day he’d be kind, no more shouting, swearing and hurting the children.

For years I had an image of what my life would be like if I left. I had a perfect picture painted. My beautiful children and me. No arguing, no stress, the children not being subjected to the constant war. I could be me.

After fifteen years, I found the strength to leave my husband for the final time. Our relationship was toxic. It was time for me to show my boys that a woman could not be treated that way. It was not ok to be so totally and utterly defeated by someone who is supposed to love and care for you. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, but I had the image of my perfect picture, my little bubble for the children and me.

I was naïve, the effects of emotional abuse for us were far reaching and long lasting. It wasn’t long before I realised my bubble was anything but. Out of all the children, my eldest son was affected the most. He adored his dad, but always seemed to bear the brunt of his dads’ anger. He became a scape goat, ironically because he was quite like his dad, he was punished for it. He has a quick temper, is stubborn and defiant.

When I left, it didn’t take long until he started to take on the role of the father figure. He stepped into the empty boots and tried to fill them. He became violent towards me, he would destroy the house, the car, hit me, swear at me, use phrases he had heard his dad use. He became obsessive and controlling over me. I felt I was in another abusive relationship, being blamed for everything that went wrong. I still find it crazy how this happens without you consciously realising.

Things got worse before they started to get better. Police were involved, suspension from school, supervised contact, self-harming, suicidal thoughts, depression. All things my beautiful baby boy went through because I stayed with his dad, because I thought I could change him, and that staying would be better for the children.

The school intervened, he was given a counsellor, then social care became involved, and quite quickly became uninvolved. They suggested I had far too much support from family members for them to get involved. They suggested I go to a parenting group. They then suggested if I couldn’t cope with him, could I cope with any of my children? I was left battling it on my own. First Light were amazing and gave me lots of help and advice.

Finally, after months of almost daily phone calls, with me logging every single incident involving my son, CAMHS got involved, and have been a god send.

Even now the steps to the perfect picture are small (I am aware no picture is perfect). Some days the rage I have running through me takes my breath away. We are slowly picking up the pieces of an emotionally abused family. There will always be scars, some visible, some buried too deep to see, but over time I believe they will lessen.

I found the courage, and that in turn has helped me realise that I am strong, stronger than I thought possible. I have literally built my children a home, for them, for us, to build our future and make new memories. I have found real love, love that I didn’t realise even existed, someone who genuinely wakes up every day with the sole intention of making me happy, someone who wants to show my children how a woman should be treated.

I am still super critical of my-self, and I still keep my wall up, and maybe that is something that will always be there, but with the help of the most amazing family, and beautiful friends, we are on the up, because there’s only one other way to go, and I refuse to go there again.”

Helpline for domestic abuse and sexual violence in Cornwall 0300 777 4 777

Is this love? A teenager’s experience of domestic abuse

A teenager from the South West has spoken of her experience of an abusive relationship.

Maddie* was just 17 when she experienced physical, emotional and verbal abuse from her boyfriend, also aged 17.

During the relationship, Maddie was beaten on a number of occasions, strangled, threatened with a knife, as well as verbally abused and criticised.

It wasn’t long into the relationship when Maddie’s boyfriend started to become abusive.

“He hit me, he would call me names, put me down and talk about my weight.

“He tried to isolate me from my friends and didn’t like me talking to other guys.

“I thought I loved him. But when I looked back, I was in love with the idea of companionship and having a relationship.”

Maddie reported her experiences to the police, and is currently being investigated.

“The scars can heal, wounds heal, but the verbal abuse really gets into your head. It’s always going to be there at the back of your mind.”

Maddie is now getting on with her life and looking forward to a bright future, and has applied to university.

Maddie has been supported through Safer Futures – delivered by Barnardo’s and First Light. She attends a Recovery Toolkit programme for young adults to support them to be resilient and future relationships and spot the warning signs early.

She says: “You don’t have to suffer in silence. There is support here for you and people to listen to.”

7 signs that your relationship might be abusive, according to Maddie:

  1. If they are trying to control what you wear
  2. If they are trying to control who you see
  3. If they are trying to get into your phone while you are asleep
  4. If they are looking over your shoulder, checking who you are talking to on your phone
  5. If they criticise you a lot
  6. If they don’t let you express your opinions
  7. If they rush into telling you they love you. Sometimes this can be a way to win you over or control you.

*Maddie’s name has been changed to protect her identity.