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Humans of Aura: Empowering a child to get justice

Diane Kerr: Empowering a child in their fight for justice. Read more about the volunteer role that changed Diane's life.

Humans of Aura

Diane Kerr: These kids always blow me away with their courage

Four years ago my life changed completely. At the time I was working in child protection in Child Safety where I’d been for 13 years after finishing my degree as a mature-age student after my first marriage broke down. I loved my job - it was very challenging and yet there were definite rewarding moments where I really felt that I had made a huge difference in the lives of a child or children. But I went through a very stressful experience and I voluntarily walked away from my job - there was no way I could work there with that stress.

All of it led us to rethink our lives, where we were living, the stress. At the time my now husband Barry was working away from home and we lived on acreage, had a big home so it was a lot of work. We started looking at other options to be able to downsize our lives and make things simpler which we obviously did when we moved here (The Avenue Maroochydore). It was a huge process. We have three children each – a blended family – and they were all very happy with our decision.

Now I am studying again, doing a diploma in Family History through the University of Tasmania and am enjoying it immensely. I also volunteer for PACT (Protect All Children Today), an extremely valuable not-for-profit organisation supporting children in the court system, and I’m really glad that I found it. I had been thinking about what I could do after leaving my job. I wanted to do something where I felt I was giving back. Then one day on Facebook an ad popped up and it was for PACT and I immediately thought ‘that’s perfect!’ So I sent in my resume, had an interview and away I went, and I’ve been doing it now for 18 months.

PACT provides support to children who are victims of crime or who are witnesses for the prosecution in serious crimes, sexual abuse, that type of thing. It’s all the cases that go to the District Court or above. It’s only about 10 years ago that children had to sit in front of a jury and the judge in a courtroom and be treated just like an adult witness. If they were a victim in a sexual abuse case they could be hammered by the defence barrister and the perpetrator was also there. Being in court is intimidating enough for an adult let alone a child. Now it’s all done remotely via a video link. The child and I are actually in the courthouse but we are alone together in a different room that they call vulnerable witness suites. In these rooms there’s a TV monitor and we see the judge on the screen and he can see the child and myself. But the child does not see the offender at all. The jury’s not there as it is recorded and later shown to them in the trial as the child’s evidence. It’s still traumatic for the kids but it’s now easier for them.

We meet the family and talk to the child about the whole process and what’s going to happen. We sit with the child while they listen to the pre-recorded evidence they had given to police when they were first interviewed. We also sit with them so they are not alone when they give their evidence to the court. The children feel supported and we support other members of the families too. We act as a bit of a go-between for the families, the court system and Department of Public Prosecutions.

It’s always amazing how well these kids do, they blow me away with their courage because they just don’t let it faze them. It’s such an emotion-filled room when they are giving their evidence but when we walk out the door the first thing each of those kids has done has been to put their arms around me and start to cry. They are so strong but the minute we walk out together, they let it out. They are all just amazing. I give them a hug and say ‘you are absolutely awesome and I am so proud of you’. That’s the reward for me.

Usually we don’t hear the outcome of the case because our job with the family finishes after the child gives their evidence. That is when our case is closed. However, sometimes the families keep in contact with me just for a bit of support. Some need that because of the circumstances or because other family members and close friends all have an emotional connection to the child, for the volunteers, even though it does affect us, it isn’t a personal emotion.

PACT is Queensland-wide and they are always looking for volunteers. You receive training, really good support and some lovely recognition. They truly value their volunteers and it is funded from a grant from the Queensland Government and through donations. There are about five paid employees and the rest are volunteers. They hope soon to trial a new initiative to have assistance dogs so the kids can sit there and pat the dogs. There is a similar scheme in Victoria and it would be a wonderful idea here going forward.

There’s a lot of retired teachers who do this work and other people from various backgrounds but I think I’m the only one who has worked in child protection so I’ve heard all these stories before and nothing that I’ve heard is new but it continues to bewilder me. Most of the offenders are well known to the children and none of them are strangers. It’s a myth – and it was around when I was a child – of stranger danger. It’s always people who the child would normally trust.

The other thing I like about what I’m doing now is that when I was working with child protection the families didn’t welcome me with open arms because I was usually there to investigate allegations of child abuse. Back then I got called all things under the sun, one grandmother even took to me with an axe … thank goodness the police were there! With PACT, the families really appreciate what you do and welcome you as they know you are just there to help them.

Having grandchildren of my own, I want to think that there would be someone there for them if, god forbid, something bad happened to them. Unfortunately it’s a sad part of life and it does happen to kids. Abuse can happen anywhere in some very good families but there is this organisation that can support these kids and I’m really glad that I found it. I’m doing something where I feel I am giving back.

While the reward isn’t financial, the reward is intrinsic and makes me feel good that I am supporting these kids. I definitely plan to keep doing it. One volunteer, a lady in her late 80s, was doing it until recently and had supported something like 2,000 children. I think that once I found this role post my traumatic work situation, I really turned a corner. Everyone looks for something that occupies them and gives them a sense of purpose. The personal reward is huge knowing that I’ve helped a particular family and a child through something so big.

At Aura Holdings we feel very privileged to have so many wonderful residents living in our villages. A very big thank you to Diane Kerr, a resident of The Avenue Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast, for sharing her inspiring story with us.

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