A city filled with child heartache
Shocking figures have revealed hundreds of Townsville children, some as young as three, are growing up amid scenes of drug abuse, violence and sexual assault.
Child safety charity Act for Kids are working with 800 children and 350 families across the city, with their services in such high demand they were forced to move their national base here.
The scourge of ice on the community is leading to violence and heartache inside homes across the city, according to the charity, which says the complexities of the city's youth crime problem can, in some cases, be traced back to horror home lives.
The need for therapy and support is so high, the charity has had to operate its services on a triage system, with Townsville seeing a significant waitlist for children and families.
The child safety heroes are dealing with cases of deep trauma that have led children to act out violently, adopt anti-social or sexualised behaviours, develop learning difficulties and in some cases, become "selective mutes''.
The trauma sustained in their home environments can lead to young people spiralling out of control, unable to self-regulate their behaviour and without the proper guidance their ability to deal with stressful situations is all but muted.
Working closely with James Cook University, Act for Kids is developing clinically proven programs and medical research via its Townsville centre of excellence to come up with ways to help the young people living through the trauma.
Amid the ongoing political tensions around Townsville youth crime situation, Act for Kids, Executive Director Stephen Beckett said he wanted to shed a light on the complex and often heartbreaking situations kids in their care were responding to.
"A lot of people sometimes don't understand that trauma that can have an impact on a child's mind (and) a lot of these parents have their own childhood trauma and are kids themselves emotionally," he said.
"The surge of ice in Townsville in particular brings a level of aggression into the house we've never seen before and it's incredibly addictive and people will do almost anything to get their hands on it.
"The complexity of cases that we're dealing with is through the roof.
"With more resources we can do more, Act For Kids has had to open to sexual assault clinics for children in Gladstone and Rockhampton to keep up with the demand."
Medical research suggests the greater the severity and duration of childhood trauma the more severe the psychological and physical health consequences. People who have experienced complex childhood trauma often have multiple diagnoses.
Mr Beckett said neuroscience findings had proven that ongoing stress or trauma affects the structure and function of the developing brain. It also affects it chemically, releasing stress hormones over time which in turn created inflammation.
"A child who has six or more experiences of trauma will die 20 years earlier than people without," he said.
"They are more likely to develop depression, more likely to get cancer.
"It often leads them to risky behaviour and criminal activity because they haven't had that safe environment to learn how to self regulate emotions using both sides of the brain."
Mr Beckett said the charity received referrals from the Child Protection and Youth Justice Departments, Queensland Police Service, health care providers, schools, domestic violence support services and self referrals where more than 50 staff members, including specialist trained trauma psychologists, speech pathologists, occupational therapists and social workers stepped in to provide "wrap around treatment".
He said to achieve the best outcomes for the child, it was important to include the entire family in intensive treatment programs.
"What's seen as scary behaviour and unacceptable to community standards is often a defence mechanism and it's complex stuff," he said.
"If we keep sending them back to a dysfunctional environment at home the outcome is not going to be good and so it's really important to take a deep dive into the root of the issues, especially when intergenerational trauma is involved."
*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.
Originally published as Queensland city filled with child heartache