The Salvation Army views the family as the cornerstone of community life and fundamental to our well-being as individuals. It seeks to promote the importance of family values as part of its evangelical and social contribution to the Australian community.
Through its social service and church work, The Salvation Army is acutely conscious that not all families experience quality family life. Many Australian families now live in poverty and the gap between the rich and the poor has been expanding in recent years.
Salvation Army social services through their day to day contact with those in need are alarmed by additional pressures on families. We are also concerned that:
- The breakdown of the family is one of the major reasons for people seeking assistance with material aid, personal support and accommodation.
- Salvation Army studies which have examined the needs of young homeless people, identified that many of these young people have been sexually or physically abused in family situations.
- Salvation Army women's refuges are unable to cope with the demand for help from women leaving violent situations.
- The Salvation Army responds to families experiencing difficulties in many ways, including:
- Providing family support and related counselling services, including in some states, grief counselling and suicide support groups.
- Operating accommodation and care services for children and adolescents unable to live with their families, which include hostels, early adolescent units and foster care.
- Managing women's shelters and refuges for women escaping domestic violence as well as domestic violence outreach services.
FAMILY SUPPORT AND RELATED COUNSELLING SERVICES
In the past, much of the response by The Salvation Army to families was short term, such as help with food and energy bills. In recent years, it has become clear that many people who seek the assistance of The Salvation Army are in need of personal support. Often this is due to the long term impact of issues such as unemployment. Clearly modern life places pressures on personal relationships within the family which is causing more people to seek assistance.
WOMEN'S REFUGES AND DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SERVICES
The Salvation Army has a longstanding history of providing services for women. In recent years this work has focussed on providing refuge shelter for women escaping domestic violence. The Army's strong commitment to the family in no way blinds it to the fact that for some Australian women and children the family home can be a violent and unsafe place.
Refuges operated by The Salvation Army are open to all women escaping domestic violence who are in need of safe accommodation and personal support. Our women's refuges generally are prepared to take women with additional difficulties such as those with a psychiatric disability or with drug and alcohol related problems. As has been noted, over recent years an increasing number of women awaiting refugee status are seeking accommodation in these shelters as they have no income and lack access to accommodation within the community.
In common with a number of other women's refuges, The Salvation Army provides child care facilities within these services to ensure that both children and their mothers are able to be adequately assisted.
ADOLESCENT AND CHILDREN'S SERVICES
One of the unfortunate ironies of Australian welfare is that while a modern perspective may question service methods used during the 1920's, the network of services for children and adolescents in need of care and support was extensive. The Salvation Army was a major contributor to this network. In particular, there were a considerable number of services focussed on young women. When larger services in this network were found to be no longer relevant and were closed the resources focussed on young women also disappeared.
In response to government policies based on de-institutionalisation, which were formulated in the early 1970's, and a desire to see children accommodated in more "normal" environments in the community, The Salvation Army and a number of other organisations with long standing involvement in providing services for children and adolescents progressively closed children's homes. These had formed the basis of its work in this area for more than 70 years.
The Salvation Army has, however, continued to operate a small number of innovative and responsive programs for children and young people at risk in our community. As its involvement with young people in the direct care of the state has declined, its role with young homeless people has risen steadily to a point where The Salvation Army is the largest provider of services for this group across Australia. In addition to a number of children's cottages, The Salvation Army operates foster care programs and a number of adolescent units providing accommodation for young people at risk.
MARRIAGE AND FAMILY EDUCATION AND SUPPORT
At the moment, The Salvation Army operates only a limited range of marriage and family education and support programs. Recognising that one in three Australian marriages now ends in divorce, it is proposed that these programs be significantly extended through:
- Development of an Australia-wide program of pre-marital, marriage enrichment and parenting education courses to be implemented at a local level. These will incorporate both education and peer support approaches.
- Development of an Australia-wide range of programs which help people cope with the trauma of divorce and the difficulties that children may experience when parents remarry.
By the time many families seek crisis assistance from The Salvation Army the family unit is under severe pressures and at great risk of breaking down. It is critical that crisis responses are able to support the family and that every effort is made to enable the family to stay intact. Initiatives to develop and strengthen the role of our crisis programs in responding to families and the individual needs of family members need to be actively pursued.
At the same time, the implementation in most states of mandatory reporting in response to the levels of child abuse in our community is symptomatic of the increasingly difficult environment in which Salvation Army workers must respond. Important directions will therefore include:
- Ensuring that the most appropriate referral is made from crisis care services into crisis accommodation and other responses.
- Development of crisis and longer term accommodation services and other creative options which allow families to be housed as a family unit.
- Development through data collection and other research of a better understanding of the needs of families seeking assistance from The Salvation Army. This will include an improved knowledge of the reasons for family breakdown and the situations that cause families to seek help from The Salvation Army. This information should be used to continue to create relevant programs and effective referral for all family members including the special needs of children.
- Implementation of an ongoing program of staff training in response to the increasingly complex issues encountered in working with families, in particular child protection issues.
LONG TERM SUPPORT
The pressures that many Australian families are experiencing must be effectively met by The Salvation Army. Initiatives to support families in the longer term include:
- Developing and providing access to formal family counselling.
- Utilising the national network of Salvation Army Corps to provide support for families at a local level through local corps based programs.
- Ensuring that long term options which address the needs of both parents and children are available.
Where irrevocable or temporary family breakdown occurs making certain that The Salvation Army provides safe and caring accommodation for both adolescents and children through its own network, and through links to other appropriate services.
Examining the role that both social and corps based Salvation Army services can play in facilitating the resolution of family conflict, where appropriate, assisting family reconciliation, and putting in place support structures designed to avoid further breakdown.
This area of work is both difficult and complex. However, it is essential that, given its Christian commitment to the family, The Salvation Army actively involves itself in addressing the challenges of this critical work.
(pp. 17-20, Coping With Change, The Salvation Army, 2000)