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February 25, 2021

Support for mothers of at-risk daughters

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Paula Bannan
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A group of frustrated local mothers have decided to establish their own informal support group.

‘We believe we are part of a growing epidemic,’ says one mother who wishes to remain anonymous, ‘battling in isolation, trying to find ways to manage our daughter’s self-harm, depression or anxiety.

‘The system offers very little real support for carers, and few strategies to prepare parents for what lies ahead. In fact many times as a mother I’ve felt the focus of the system on me, that somehow our family life or my own mothering has been deficient, and thus caused my daughter to suffer from a mental illness. I carry a lot of guilt and sadness and feel frightened about what the future holds for my daughter.’

Art therapist Paula Bannan is the public spokesperson for the group, which she says ‘targets mothers who need support with adolescent daughters exhibiting difficult behaviours, such as self-harm, eating disorders, drug abuse, depression or anxiety.

‘Over the last few years a lot of parents have spoken to me and expressed that they have no idea where to go. Parents dealing with children with mental illness or challenging behaviours feel very isolated.


‘How do you connect with a population of parents not experiencing the joy of their kids achieving at school, entering HSC and eventually graduating? Where do you go when your kid can’t even get out of bed?’

These parents are not waiting for the system to provide the services and support they need to assist them find new strategies to manage their daughter’s mental health needs, and have established their own informal support group.

Paula sees her role as a facilitator to support mothers and daughters who want to develop strategies to deal with these complex and often emotionally charged issues.

‘There is also a real need for a directory of services – I feel that when parents are in that state of chaos they need information immediately, and the information is really hard to find. Part of what I want to do is create a comprehensive directory of services and link that in to an active support group that can feed back their experiences.’

The group has named themselves Proserpina, referring to the mythic story of the mother journeying to save her daughter from the Underworld and return her to Spring.


‘It would be great if it was mothers of boys and girls for the group but at this stage, as many of the girls we are talking about have experiences that sometimes involve sexual assault, we need to provide them a safe environment,’ says Paula.

‘Statistics of sexual abuse are one in four, and the girls we are talking about are extremely vulnerable and more likely to experience this in their lives than others. Proserpina will provide a safe environment for the women involved and protect the anonymity of all. We are focusing on sharing stories, and providing mothers and daughters with access to skill-enhancing programs and environments.

‘It’s not just sitting and talking. We want to provide positive outcomes. It might include tw0-day walks up a mountain. It’s all about what the group wants.

‘Maybe art class, cooking, writing classes; we want the girls to find a way and the freedom to express themselves and to also get the opportunity to have some great experiences and learn something new.’

Mothers of ‘at risk’ daughters are invited to come to the next meeting at 11am on Wednesday October 9. For more information call 0423 683 556.

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