Charlotte Young was recently chosen as Woman of the Year for her work in domestic violence. FOCUS sat down for a cup of tea in the gardens of Warrina Women and Children’s Refuge to find out more about her career and the award.
What is your connection to the Coffs Coast?
I moved to the Coffs Coast in the early ‘80s after having lived in Darwin. The territory is a beautiful place; however, I am a person who loves the change the seasons bring. Where we live has the perfect climate; the forests, the ocean and the mountains all bring me great joy.
You were recently recognised as the Coffs Harbour International Women’s Day Woman of the Year. Can you tell us how you feel about receiving this award and recognition?
I struggle with recognition and when my name was announced, I found myself for a moment unable to move. It was a large audience and sitting on a stage, the focus of everyone’s attention is uncomfortable for me. Initially I felt incredibly humble and overwhelmed.
The women and children that I have worked for and the inspiring women I have worked with over 20 years came to me, and I very quickly found my voice. That day and winning the award forced me to reflect on my achievements. The work I have done for over 20 years in the domestic and family violence sector and my belief that all women and children have a right to live free of abuse has been paramount in the way that I work. Recognition by your peers and the broader community is a challenge for me; I am the type of person who believes that we go to work wherever that may be and do the best job we can. Nevertheless, on International Women’s Day 2016 I had reason to think about the last 20 years and to recognise that I have made a contribution to a challenging and complex societal issue. It was difficult to pat myself on the back.
What is the hardest part of your job?
There are many aspects to my work that make it difficult, and at times I struggle with the systems that women and children have to deal with in order for them to regain control of their lives and move forward. Working with women and children who have had to move to the refuge and witnessing the difficulty for them to secure private housing is hard. These brave women have made the most difficult decision of their lives, hoping that things will change for them and their children, only to discover they are often not considered as a suitable tenant; this can be soul destroying.
Research tells us that women will leave a violent relationship more than seven times, before making the final break. As a worker in this sector, I understand this; however, for family and friends this is distressing and can result in family and friends withdrawing their support at a critical time.
Having a supportive and committed team must be key to success in this field; can you tell us a bit about that?
The range of services Warrina provides are delivered by a strong professional group of women. I am incredibly honoured to work alongside of them. Each of them bring to their roles specialised unique skills and experience. Some have been with the organisation for many years, and others are new to the sector. Without such a dedicated and hard working team, I don’t believe Warrina would have become the organisation that it is. I applaud them all as women of the year.
Have you seen a lot of change during this period?
There has been so much change in the landscape of domestic and family violence over the last 20 years; some of it good and some not. The expanded legislation around apprehended violence orders, changes to the tenancy act, new ways of protecting children have supported us in our work. I was extremely optimistic when I heard our new Prime Minister speak of domestic violence in the context of gender, and I believe this is now where this conversation needs to be expanded
We are a partner in the Engaged to Change, men’s behaviour change programme with Kempsey Family Support and Port Macquarie/ Hastings Domestic and Family Violence Specialist Service; this is a new arena for us as a women’s service, as historically this work was left up to others. This is a big change, and Warrina is embracing this opportunity to bring about a new way of working in our community.
What advice would you give to younger people who may be considering a career in the field?
I would say we need you. There are some great courses offered by TAFE that are great starting points; admittedly like any job, this work is not for everyone. Personal experience can make this work challenging; however, with training this need not be a barrier. We have different types of roles within the organisation; we have designated CALD, Aboriginal and Children’s staff who work at the refuge and provide outreach. I would say to anyone considering this work, ring and have a chat with a team member.
What are your hopes for the future?
My big dream would be a community where all are equal regardless of sex, culture, religion and age. A place where violence no longer exists in the home, schoolyard, workplace or on the street.