June 22, 2022

Western Australia has one of the worst rates of family violence related assaults in the country and, as the CEO of Ruah Community Services, Debra Zanella knows a drastic, and urgent, change is required.

We caught up with Debra to find out how the new Ruah Centre for Women and Children will help provide safety, refuge, and support for women and children escaping family and domestic violence…

The Ruah Centre for Women and Children has now received the official approval from a development point of view. How will this centre change the lives of women and children?

This Centre will allow women the opportunity to breathe, and to leave their traumatic experiences behind. In one place they will find safety, and they will find the right services, at the right time and for as long as they need, to help them create a new future in which they don’t just survive but thrive.

The Centre is a first in WA… What types of services will the Centre provide?

For the first time, Western Australia will have a safe, purpose-built centre of healing and health for women and their children at all stages on their path to safety and a new, positive future.

The services provided will be integrated, easy to access, consistent and personalised. They will include short-term accommodation along with a coordinated continuum of supports such as health services, legal support and representation, financial services, help finding employment, housing and life skills education.

Providing services and a space which allows women and children to feel safe, supported and empowered requires a lot of thoughtful consideration. What went into the design of the centre to ensure it felt that way?

Perth has a history of re-purposing and retrofitting buildings to ‘do the best we can’ for the most vulnerable people in our community. These places are often less than ideal for everyone and often inappropriate for Aboriginal people in particular, who are so overly represented when it comes to family and domestic violence.

So, when it came to designing the Ruah Centre for Women and Children we took a different approach. We put the people who will come there to rebuild and create a new future at the very heart of its design, development, and operations – and we engaged architects that understood and were also passionate about what we wanted to achieve.

The resulting trauma-informed design recognises that the physical environment has a significant impact on our moods, sense of identity and wellbeing, and that carefully crafted spaces can be used to promote empowerment. It will be an inclusive, beautiful, and safe place where women and their children will be welcomed, without judgement, without prejudice – where they can recover and heal.

Ruah Centre for Women and Children – Northbridge, Perth

Accessing funding for critical support programs is notoriously difficult. The new Ruah Centre for Women and Children has been a collaboration between private and public sector funding. How important is it for these two groups to come together to support these community services?

Family and domestic violence is everyone’s business. It’s a national emergency and gender-based violence is on the rise, particularly in Western Australia. Victims, and the whole community, pay an enormous price and the current approach isn’t working.

Establishing an innovative, world class facility like the Ruah Centre for Women and Children requires a collaborative approach. It is an ambitious project, but a necessary one.

Bringing this project to life will be made possible by funding from Ruah itself, from the State and Federal Governments, and by the generosity of the business and corporate sector and philanthropic supporters.

Every year, Ruah supports more than 3,500 of the most vulnerable people in the community. What services have you seen the biggest rise in demand for?

We continue to see an increasing demand across all areas of our organisation – in our family and domestic violence, housing and homelessness, mental health and wellbeing, and legal services. When we look just at our family and domestic violence services, I can tell you that around 750 women are turned away from our two refuges every year – on average more than two a day.

Ensuring that people know that support is available is incredibly important. What message do you have for people who are experiencing violence themselves or know someone who is experiencing domestic violence or abuse?

Whether you are personally experiencing violence or abuse, or you have a family member, friend of colleague who you suspect might be, or know they are the most important message I have for you is that there is help available, and that you do not have to go through this on your own.

The Centre for Women’s Safety and Wellbeing Support and Services Directory is a great resource to help you find appropriate support in your area – it can be found at cwsw.org.au/directory/.

It is clear that we have urgent and important role in helping organisations, such as Ruah, support people who want to create change in their lives, and work towards a better future.

If you, or someone you know, is experiencing domestic violence and needs support, please call 1800RESPECT, or 000 if you are in immediate danger.

To learn more about Ruah Community Services, visit their website at www.ruah.org.au