In 2017 we were selected to be a Lead School for the Respectful Relationships program and during term three of that year we started our teaching around Respectful Relationships. As a ‘Lead School’, we have benefitted from some extra resources and training from the Education Department to get things started and have also helped our partner schools in the Latrobe Valley to make a start on the program.
The program has two clear goals – firstly to support children to know how to develop positive, respectful relationships and to better understand their own emotions and strengths. The second goal is a long-term one; we want to see a dramatic reduction in the incidents of family violence in our community over the next few decades. The research confirms what many of us would regard as common sense – if we teach children to respect one another when they are young, they will know how to respect others more when they are adults.
There are many ways we can disrespect one another – gender is one of them. Boys, girls, men and women are categories that don’t really need to define what we do with our lives or how we relate to one another. Evidence of this includes the great achievements in recent years in women’s sport and a huge increase in the number of ‘stay at home’ dads in our community; people know that their sex doesn’t need to prevent them from making particular life choices.
However, fixed views and stereotypes about men, women, boys and girls still dominate in some areas of society. The problem with these stereotypes is that they can limit choices and legitimise harmful or disrespectful attitudes towards women. The research tells us that while family violence might occur at times of financial stress or when perpetrators are using substances, it is the attitude that women and girls are less important than men that causes the violence. There are plenty of people who are stressed or who drink alcohol without choosing to use violence. We want our students to know how to respect each other and manage stresses without causing someone else harm.
The Respectful Relationships curriculum will support our boys and girls to understand that there should be no limits on what they can achieve in their lives and that it is not right to harm or try to limit the aspirations of anyone else – especially the people we claim to love. The curriculum includes some role plays, games and book reviews. While it is early days, staff at our school are proud of the way the students are thinking about how they can better understand their emotions and draw on their strengths when they are stressed.
Men can be victims of family violence, but the very large majority of victims are women. Men are far more likely to be victims of violence perpetrated by other men – usually in a public place. Again, this violence can be motivated by stereotypes about what a supposedly ‘successful’ male does when he is threatened. At Newborough Primary School, we teach all students that violence is never appropriate and that and adult should be found if someone is causing harm or threatening violence.
A final comment about family violence relevant to schools is that in most cases of family violence, children are either witnesses or victims. We know that trauma can significantly harm children’s learning and cognitive function. For this reason, it is enormously important that we work towards a future where it does not occur.
If you or anyone else you know is experiencing family violence, the Education Department recommends contacting the following free services:
SAFE STEPS Family Violence Response Centre 1800015188
Men’s Referral Service 1300766491