Illawarra Women’s Health Centre starts mother and son program

Rising rates of domestic violence – including son to mother violence – are behind a groundbreaking pilot program being rolled out in the Illawarra.

Illawarra Women’s Health Centre general manager Sally Stevenson said the Mothers and Sons program was the first of its kind in Australia.

This week seven mums, and their sons, started the early intervention program which aims to support mothers to raise respectful, happy and non-violent boys.

It’s specifically designed for boys six to eight years old as the research we’ve done shows that this age range is a real tipping point in the way boys understand and express their emotions – in particular anger and frustration,” Ms Stevenson said.

We want to work with them, and their mums, to develop their emotional regulation so they manage emotions appropriately and not in a violent or disrespectful way.

Ms Stevenson said there’d been a high demand for the program, which the centre had developed in response to their clients’ concerns.

We know there’s rising rates of domestic violence, and there’s also rising rates of son to mother violence, but that often goes unreported as mothers are embarrassed or feel responsible,” she said.

And while women can leave situations where there is domestic violence with the right support, that’s not possible with a mother and son.

“This is an early intervention program so it’s not that the boys on our program are violent, it’s about giving them and their mothers the skills and strategies to make sure they never are.

Thirroul mother Danielle Attorre and son Luca are among the participants. A single mother of three boys, Ms Attorre wants some skills and strategies to keep them happy and healthy.

I haven’t had any behavioural issues with my boys but I do see them get competitive, and sometimes angry, with each other,” she said. “I’m really interested in learning some skills and strategies to help them better deal with their emotions.

With the boys’ father living overseas, Ms Attorre has worked hard to ensure they have positive male role models.

The four-week program, which runs over two-hourly sessions each week, has a female facilitator who works with the mothers and a male facilitator who guides the sessions for the sons.

Having both male and female facilitators also allows us to role model respectful relationships,” Ms Stevenson said.

Co-facilitator, Illawarra psychologist Maris Depers, is a White Ribbon ambassador who has worked extensively with male prisoners on domestic violence prevention.

I’m really interested in early intervention – in helping the next generation of young men understand themselves differently, and equip mums to be able to facilitate that,’’ he said.

“Six to eight years old is a great age as it’s around that age that emotional intelligence starts to develop, and it’s before puberty kicks in.

“The program offers strategies for the boys to calm down if needed, and focuses on strengthening the mother-son bond so when there are big emotions they’ll be able to handle them in a respectful and safe way.

The not-for-profit organisation is holding its annual fundraising dinner on June 23, to raise money to run this program, and many others. Visit for details.

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