All of the hard work that I do is also for the children and young people who have been disadvantaged by their circumstances, the justice system or anyone who were supposed to protect them such as mandatory reporters.

–Annika Mcaffrey, YACVic Young Thinker in Residence 2017

When we met Annika a year ago we recognised her courage and determination to make change in young people’s lives. Annika was one of our first Young Thinkers in Residence and during her time with us she developed a short film as her piece of advocacy – The Hidden Victors. The video shares messages of hope for young people with experience of family violence, from young people. It aims to speak to those who may feel as though their voices aren't being heard, offering them a new frame of reference for their experience: from ‘victims’ to ‘survivors’ to ‘victors’. Since her time with us Annika has been inspiring us with her courage and determination to change the conversations around young people with lived experience of family violence.

In June we caught up with Brittany Witnish – one of our former Young Thinkers. Now we’re chatting with Annika about what she’s been up to since her time as Young Thinker in Residence.

Life since the Young Thinker in Residence program  

What have you been up to since Young Thinkers in Residence?

Since finishing up with the Young Thinkers in Residence in 2017, I have presented at the launch of the Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria’s What’s Okay At Home? Resource – a website aimed at children and young people witnessing or living with family violence. It was a pleasure to present at the launch of such a fantastic website. It gives practical guidance to support children and young people’s safety, health and emotional wellbeing and assists them on how to talk to someone and find the help they need. I have also finished my Diploma of Justice. I led a workshop called ‘See Me: Children and Young People’s Experiences of Family Violence’ with the Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic) and Berry Street Y-change team. This workshop addressed the issue of the invisibility of young people in family violence. It was a safe space for young people to come along and voice their opinions on what changes need to be made to better empower and protect young people in relation to family violence. Together we came up with practical solutions and actions that can change the way people talk about and support children and young people experiencing family violence. Later in the workshop we were joined by Liana Buchanan, the Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People, and presented the ideas on a panel discussion.

Brittany, my former Young Thinker in Residence peer and ‘sushi partner’, and I were then asked to meet with Fiona Patten at Parliament to share our advocacy with her. Unfortunately, she was caught up with work but we met with her advisor instead and got a tour around Parliament House, which was a great experience. I am also part of the Berry Street Y-change team as a lived experienced consultant. The position involves empowering young people who have lived experience of disadvantage and want to make change, share expertise, and advocate on behalf of young people. I got to spend time with my fellow Y-change team mates over a three-day camp. The camp was a challenging time for me, but putting myself out there changed me. A few weeks later I unfortunately had to leave Y-change due to study. I continue to be an independent lived experienced consultant and youth advocate. Part of my role is advising organisations and services on how to better support children and young people experiencing family violence and presenting at events. I have advised Family Safety Victoria on the launch of their ‘Support and Safety Hubs’, that help women, children and young people experiencing family violence and families who need support with the wellbeing and development of their children.   

This year I was a finalist for two awards, the Holmeslgen Outstanding Student Diploma Award and Individual Achievement Award. In addition, I attended the Holmesglen Gala Dinner Awards festival and won the Individual Achievement Award category. The Awards night was an amazing experience and I thank my teacher Alana Hewitt from Holmesglen for the nomination. I was also nominated for the 2018 Berry Street Create Change Award which is part of the Victorian Young Achiever Awards by my former YACVic supervisor Sam Champion. I got through as a semi-finalist and attended the Victorian Young Achiever Awards Gala presentation dinner at the to receive my certificate from the Minister for Families and Children, Youth Affairs and Early Childhood Education the Hon. Jenny Mikakos MP. I was so inspired by everyone’s work and it has inspired me in turn to improve my work.

What drives you to do the work you do?

I have a purpose to be here and I am going to use my time in showing what I can achieve. I am inspired by my loved ones to do the work I do and I am also doing it for myself. My little sister, my partner and my future family inspire me to do the work that I do. All of the hard work that I do is also for the children and young people who have been disadvantaged by their circumstances, the justice system or anyone who were supposed to protect them such as mandatory reporters. I want young people to have a voice and that is why I put hard work into the work that I do. I am so passionate about what I do. Being an advocate for children and young people and a lived experienced consultant is only just the beginning for me.

What have been the highs and lows of the project(s) you’re working on?

I want The Hidden Victors campaign to reach as many young people across Australia as possible. The video sends out messages of hope for young ‘victors’ of family violence and it needs to be heard. My goal is to share my video across high schools so that young people can see it and access any support they may need. I want young people to know that it is OK to reach out for support and realise that they aren’t alone because some children and young people do experience family violence.   

I am happy that The Hidden Victors has reached a few organisations and professionals working in the field. It has given me a starting point to reach young people and professionals, to show my video, share my experience, and advise organisations and professionals on how to better support children and young people experiencing family violence.  

What advice would you give for young people wanting to embark similar projects?

Be passionate about what you are doing. For those with lived experiences and are wanting to embark a family violence project, I’d advise you to not let anyone bring you down in what you’re wanting to create. Remember that your lived experience is your own personal story and that you have the power to choose what to share and what not to share. Also remember to have support around you or seek support as it can be confronting and distressing when creating a project around social justice. Be creative, do what you want to do, share, remember that you are in control, and do not be too hard on yourselves with it. Self-care is also extremely important when taking on a heavy topic so continue to do what you love as well as taking care of yourself.

What’s coming up for you for the rest of the year?

I have one semester left to finish my Advanced Diploma of Justice. In September this year I’ll be I am presenting at the Child-Centred Approaches to Ending Family Violence conference. I will be discussing The Hidden Victors, sharing my lived experience and other young people’s lived experiences going through family violence, discussing practical solutions to improve services for young people, and advocating for change. I am also running a workshop for Whitelion this year. I’ll be working with their young people, who are part of their Young Lions Advocacy & Ambassadors Program (YAAP), to discuss campaigning on social justice issues.    

Annika’s top 3 insights

What I know now that I didn’t know then… is to stick to what you are passionate about and go with it. Do not rethink or overthink it as it will get overwhelming and frustrating sometimes. I knew what I wanted to do at the beginning of my project but I kept overthinking and changing it. Family violence is a broad topic but you know yourself best to do what works for yourself.

The biggest challenge I’ve faced and overcome was… going through a tough time as well as creating my campaign. It is not easy creating a project around your own lived experiences – it can get overwhelming, distressing and triggering. But with my strength, determination and motivation, I was able to strive in creating The Hidden Victors and I did so successfully. My campaign was the only thing that was giving me hope at the time and I am so proud of myself for what I achieved. That was the biggest challenge I faced and I overcame the barriers that came with it.

Every young person can…rule the world. Every young person has the power to make change if they have determination and motivation. Any young person has the power to do anything they want to if they put their minds to it. I believe that young people are inspiring people and that we have as much power as any other individual has. Every young person can follow their dreams.

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