Life After Violence - Helping Children to Thrive through a Pandemic

A young woman, Kaitlin, sits at her desk in the Aviva office smiling

All tamariki deserve safe homes and loving relationships. Yet too many are exposed to violence in the very place where they should feel most protected.

Kaitlin, a Tamariki Support Worker at Aviva, supports children to overcome their experiences of family violence and create safer, happier futures. She describes the ups and downs, highlights and challenges of this work, and what it’s been like to work with children during a global pandemic.

“A lot of the children I work with struggle with emotional regulation, especially anger management. They don’t understand what’s happening at home and it’s all out of their control,” says Kaitlin. For many of these children, Covid has only further compacted these issues. Luckily, Kaitlin is determined and ready to help.

At the start of their time with Aviva, children are given a “treasure box” which contains little gifts, including worry dolls. Throughout their journey, things get added to the box, like weekly affirmations, objects to help them through difficult times, or glitter jars they’ve made during sessions. “They always love the glitter jar,” Kaitlin tells us. “It’s something they can use to calm themselves down when they’re feeling overwhelmed. One of the mums I work with told me that whenever her daughter wants to talk about something now, she gets out her glitter jar.”

Giving children the treasure box at the start helps to build trust. “It can take a long time to get them to talk about things – children are very good at avoiding topics, and they haven’t got the skills or language yet to talk about their feelings. We play a lot of games – a lot of the time what they need is having some special time that’s just for them. We deal with difficult topics, so it’s important that they enjoy it and look forward to coming.” 

Games and activities can help the children understand these difficult topics. “They love the volcano experiment, it helps them to understand their feelings – how if you add enough things to the mix, eventually you explode.” They also receive practical lessons on violence and safety planning that are essential in keeping them safe from further harm. “It’s not good that it has to happen, but it does, and I’m glad we are able to give them that.” 

Kaitlin speaks about what it’s been like to work in her role in 2020. “Lockdown was busy; in the two days leading up to it, we drove all over the city dropping off activities and worksheets for the kids so we could keep working with them.” Nonetheless, it was a challenge to engage young children over video calls or phone. “Online groups just didn’t work, especially for the little ones. At the end of lockdown, we ended up extending their time with us, to make sure they got the full benefit of the support.”

Even now, six months on from lockdown, Aviva is still seeing an increased demand for support. The children Kaitlin works with are navigating the anxiety, instability and isolation of a global pandemic on top of their family situations.

Despite the unique difficulties faced by working with children through a pandemic, Kaitlin enjoys her job. “I love working with children; it’s lovely getting to know their little personalities.” However, she admits that it can be challenging at times. “Saying goodbye is hard. And sometimes you can feel like you haven’t gotten very far. But then the parents tell you about the difference in their children and how much calmer they are.” 

“All these kids are just normal little people. They didn’t ask to experience what they’ve been through. We need to instill in them that violence is not normal and it’s not OK. We need to stop that cycle.”

You can help Kaitlin and other Aviva Family Support Workers in their efforts to support children and families to overcome violence by making a donation to Aviva below.