First Aid for Mental Health

#41 Helping women living with domestic violence – Annabelle Daniel OAM, CEO Women’s Community Shelters (s02ep17)

Sep 23, 2022

Women's Community Shelters, works with local communities to establish crisis accommodation shelters for women and children who are homeless or leaving domestic and family violence. As the CEO of this organisation, Annabelle Daniel OAM, faces tough challenges daily. For every vacancy they have at a shelter, there are three women in urgent need of care, and Annabelle and her team have to make a very difficult decision on which woman is accepted.
"For me, it's being very rigorous about finding my own balance and building in time for self-care and setting boundaries."
- Annabelle Daniel


  • The importance of self-care in this front-line sector.
  • Learning to listen to your gut feeling.
  • The challenges in her role as CEO and the real life scenario of two women turn up every day – and there is only room for one.
  • Acknowledging the importance of surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you for the best outcome.
  • The importance of community support and contributions in order to continue their work.


Want to learn more about what you can do in workplace mental health training?

Want to to reach out, share a great leader we should interview or learn more about The WeCARE Way, click here to contact us. 

Transcript from the interview

The following transcript was generated using a specific tool. It serves as a convenient method for converting our podcasts into text and allows for easy text searches. However, we kindly ask for your understanding if any typos have inadvertently occurred as a result of the tool’s usage.


Graeme Cowan, Annabelle Danielle

Graeme Cowan 0:27 

It’s a real pleasure to introduce Annabelle Daniel to the caring CEO. Welcome, Annabelle.

Annabelle Daniel 0:34 

Thank you very much for having me, Graeme. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Graeme Cowan 0:37 

What does care in the workplace mean to you, Annabelle?

Annabelle Daniel 0:40 

A lot of things. But for me, it’s actually a really focused discipline in the work that we do, because unless I from the top lead care for my staff, and you know, and put in the institutional structures that provide care to them, then I actually can’t do the work of caring for the women and kids that we support. And so, for me, that’s, that is around things like processes and procedures that encourage mental health, processes and procedures that encourage staff peer to peer debriefing, if they’ve worked in a challenging situation. It’s about giving, I give our staff a break between we shut down between Christmas and New Year each year at our hub, because it is a quieter time of the year. And I think people need to recharge, I’ll generally find another mental health day during the year as well, particularly during COVID. As that said, adding particular pressures. And caring is also very much front of mind for me, because at the hub, I have an all-female staff. So, it’s 16 people at the moment. And I’m always really conscious that that, particularly women are often carrying additional caring responsibilities, you know, in addition to the caring work that we do, and that could be, you know, as diverse as, as, as caring for young children, or teenagers or adult children that have particular needs. It could be about volunteering, that people do in their community, it could be about age parents. And so, for me, it’s actually caring is about recognizing each worker is a whole person and recognizing that they have those other commitments and responsibilities and providing support around that. 

Graeme Cowan 2:29 

Yeah, you work in a very stressful environment where I’m sure there’ll be lots of challenges to mental health, can you just give our audience a quick overview of what the community women’s shelters do?

Annabelle Daniel 2:41 

Yep. So, we work in partnership with local communities to establish new Crisis Accommodation Shelters for women and children who are homeless or leaving domestic and family violence. And so, over the course of the last nine years, we’ve actually established nine shelters around New South Wales. And we also do a host of other things now, which includes the next stage of housing after that process period where women and kids usually stay for around about three months, but then need another couple of years to get back on their feet after a crisis. And we also do a host of community education programs, high school education programs, and also corporate education programs around domestic and family violence and homelessness. So, it’s actually a very care centered kind of work that we do.

Graeme Cowan 3:25 

Very much so. And what’s the hardest part of your role?

Annabelle Daniel 3:30 

The hardest part of my role? Look, I think, for me, it’s about balancing responsibilities, because I have to manage up to a Board of Directors obviously. And also, I have to make sure that I set the tone of the organization for my staff who you know, will always take the lead from their leaders. And so, for me, it’s being very rigorous about finding my own balance, and building in time for self-care and setting boundaries. Because that can be a real challenge in our field, you know, the work is never done. I often say to, you know, if I’m mentoring younger women who are coming up through the ranks, I say, you will never get everything done. Like literally, you simply have to pick a point at the end of each day where you abandon it, you know, it’s, it’s abandoned, it’s never completed. And so, sometimes, you know, those kinds of judgments are often quite difficult, I think.

Graeme Cowan 4:27 

Yeah, I can, I can really imagine it must be a very tumultuous, sort of area to work in and I just happen to see this week it was a study published in the Herald saying, it was 60,000 new women that experienced domestic violence in 2020. That’s a pretty dramatic increase, isn’t it? And what can you do to start ramping up to prepare for more people coming to through, more women coming through that need your assistance and support?

Annabelle Daniel 5:04 

Well, I think it’s always a matter of, of raising advocacy and awareness that that services exist to support people. And I think that’s, that’s very important, because what we know is that when we can quantify these figures, these are the women and kids who have actually found a place to ask for help. You know, they’re all that and that’s the very tip of the iceberg. There’s also, you know, a number of people that that either can’t reach out or don’t know that they can reach out for assistance. And that’s certainly one of the things that we’ve found, when we’ve established shelters in communities over the last few years, I remember one in particular, we had about a dozen women who tried to put themselves on a notional waiting list before we’d even opened, and that that wouldn’t have been captured anywhere, but they were waiting for a safe place to go to open before they were prepared to leave.

Graeme Cowan 5:56 

I’d also be interested to hear a little bit about how you establish a community center, you know, why you choose a certain area, what’s in helping to launch it, you know, funds and that sort of thing. And also, you know, people on the ground to assist.

Annabelle Daniel 6:15 

And I think it’s that last ingredient, that’s probably the most important and that’s, that’s pretty unique in the way that we work. So, if I were to describe us, I would call us as essentially a social franchise model. So, at the hub that women’s community shelters, what we do is we provide the project management support, which is to walk alongside a local community that has identified a need for more women and kids. And that means we find the local champions in the community, we bring them together as a steering committee, we walk through a series of steps that you need to incorporate a little organization, get it charity status, find the right place to operate as the shelter in the people to be involved. The second part of what we do is provide funding support. So, for community fundraise $25,000, we would match that from our philanthropic funding and say that I would then go to my board and say, right, this community’s got skin in the game, they would like to start a shelter. The third part of what we do is intellectual property. So all of the policies and procedures that you need to actually run an organization on a day to day basis, we have that the computer system, you know, the job descriptions, the templates, the you know, the agendas for the meetings, the you know, the safety plans, all of those things we have, and so that can be provided, essentially in a bundle to this new organization. And then the fourth part of what we do is join everybody together in a network. So, the boards for each shelter, talk to one another, the shelter managers engage in best practice, and we get the staff together as well. So, it really is the, you know, that whole suite of walking alongside a community, bringing people to the work who might never have been involved in domestic and family violence or women’s homelessness before, but have a drive to do something about it in the local community.

Graeme Cowan 8:00 

I love that, you know, the community has to contribute as well. And so that there’s, you know, equal commitment on both sides. Is it councils that do that, or, you know, service clubs? Where does it typically come from the–

Annabelle Daniel 8:17 

Yeah, it’s come from a variety of means, you know, in one example, it was a local sporting club that ran a Gala and raised the money that they needed. Others, it’s been put together with crowdfunding campaigns, or a combination of philanthropic support on the ground, and crowdfunding, local grants, also all sorts of, you know, ways it’s been put together. But in the way that we did our model, that was a threshold that we set, because that’s, that, together with our contribution is about half the setup costs for– to get a shelter off the ground, in a property in the local communities. So, and the commitments have been fantastic. Every community we’ve worked with, has, has managed that without too much trouble because it gives, it gives people a call to action. And that’s been really powerful.  

Graeme Cowan 9:05 

Yeah, you started as a lawyer.

Annabelle Daniel 9:09 

I did.

Graeme Cowan 9:11 

To our listeners, how you evolve your role now?

Annabelle Daniel 9:16 

Well, I wanted to be a lawyer because my best friend in high school, who was still my best friend, thought she wanted to study and I thought, oh, that’d be really cool. I’ll do that too. We can go to uni together. And I, I didn’t get into law in the first round. But I did get in, I did get in for my second year. And she actually pursued other things and did politics. And I– so, I had studied law, but I kind of got sucked into this pipeline of thinking that success for a law graduate was to get a position in a big city law firm, and I did, I did get that but after about nine months, I just realized I was a square peg in a round hole. I was never going to be a fit for a commercial law environment. And so, I spent a couple of years in the career wilderness and then, and then actually joined the federal public service where I was working in and around child and family issues for most of my career. And that’s what brought me around to this kind of thing. I had always had a bit of a, bit of the yen for social justice issues. That had been a bit of a theme in my studies, and I felt much more at home, in this kind of domain. But I have to say that a good knowledge of constitutional law federalism, and an Australian politics has served me incredibly well, in a CEO role.

Graeme Cowan 10:39 

I’m sure. I’m sure. What do you think about your career? And especially in the early stages? Who were your mentors? Who did you sort of learn from? About–

Annabelle Daniel 10:52 

Yeah, look, I think, I think my, my early good bosses were probably the most influential people. And I had, I had a couple of them who were just incredibly different. You know, I had a wonderfully knowledgeable female boss, at when I was at the Commonwealth ombudsman, and she was just great for, you know, she was very, very good for getting me to go back to basics and return to source documents. And, you know, just as a way of focusing my thinking and getting to grips with things. And I had, you know, another boss, when I was working at what was then the child support agency, who was just a great people person, and a good team leader. And, and I think that’s, you know, when I think of my good bosses in the past, they were the people who influenced me very much in the early days. And it was actually, my boss, who used to take me back to basics, who sort of really encouraged me to get out there and fly on my own a little about 15 years ago. And, you know, I had felt a real yen to run my own thing and to, you know, to take control of my own show. And so, it was under, you know, it was, it was kind of with her blessing and support that that I actually left the Commonwealth ombudsman and went to manage LC Women’s Refuge, which is the oldest established one, Australia.

Graeme Cowan 12:15 

Wow. And it often does take great boss to encourage you to do those things, doesn’t it? And realize that you’re best off to give it a shot, and whatever, whatever happens, you’ll learn from it. And there’s one lesson which is pretty commonly shared in this podcast, it’s, you know, if they had to get back and given themselves their advice, the 20-year-old, it would be to, you know, have more of a go, you know, not to run with it and have a shot. So, you have a boss that supported that one support that you need to enter into doing something for yourself?

Annabelle Daniel 12:54 

Look, I think, I think that first time that I did that, that I kind of stuck out and went to manage my own service. It was the license from the boss that I needed. But it was a couple of years later, I think that I just– that it was my own support and backing that became most important because after I had managed LC Women’s Refuge, for a while, I had to go back to the public service, I’d taken some leave. And I had to go back. And I went back, and I spent the next 12 months feeling really grumpy knowing that I found this work that I really felt my heart was there. And so I had– and then this the opportunity to work with the founding board of women’s community shelters came up and that was a real fork in the road moment. And it was a fork in the road moment. For me personally, as well as professionally, I can see a really assured career track, great leave, great superannuation up into the senior echelons of the public service. Or I could junk everything, join this startup charity, where I would literally have a desk and a phone and have to make it all happen myself, you know, to get out there and make it happen. So, and you know, and also at that time, my marriage has broken down, I’ve just become a single parent. I’ve taken on a Sydney mortgage on my own. So, the risk factor was absolutely through the roof. And I had no choice but to back myself. And I think, you know, putting yourself right out there on that limb and saying right, this is on you to make it work is probably the bravest thing I’ve ever done and, and returned in the end the biggest reward because it really built my own confidence in my ability to fly on that.

Graeme Cowan 14:45 

And ruled off does follow risk, doesn’t it? I mean the biggest breakthrough when they try something new or even when something doesn’t work and puts them in a different direction but now, you’re evolving and learning. And with your experience in the LC shelter, how did that contribute to your first year of planning for the community, women’s shelters?

Annabelle Daniel 15:13 

I think what it did was I had, like, I’ll be honest, it popped my middle-class bubble in a really big way. You know, I had experienced relationship separation and marriage breakdown myself. But I was working in an environment where there were women and children who experienced multiple and complex and intersecting disadvantages of, you know, abusive care or penalty, financial abuse, you know, that they, that literally, every, every gender disadvantage that women face was right there in front of me, you know, you could not, you could not walk away from it, my office is, you know, the office is in the refuge, in the shelter. And so, you are supporting women and kids every single day. And I think that really brought home to me how important this work was, it made it very tangible, and it made it very real. And that was what really fired that outrage in me that there just wasn’t a safe room or safe bed available for everybody who might need one. Because, you know, every single day, if we happen to have a vacancy, there’d be three clipboards on a desk in front of me. And I’d have to make Sophie’s Choice every day about who we would take and who we wouldn’t. And so, you know, if you have got a social justice bent, you know, if you’ve got those bones in your body, that is absolutely unacceptable, and it will light a fire at it to change. And so, you know, for me, it was that role that really set the stage for this next part.

Graeme Cowan 16:46 

And you mentioned that there’s often three people waiting for every vacancy that comes up. How do you assess which one you accept and which you have to tragically turn away?

Annabelle Daniel 16:56 

Oh, look, it is, it is incredibly difficult, and you do it based on risk. And I’ll give you an example of you know, of one particular day. So, on those three clipboards, you know, you’ve got this one room available. And the first call comes from the local police station, and the police station, you know, the officer says, look, I’ve got a young Aboriginal mother here, she’s got three kids with her, she has been physically assaulted. You know, we’re going to take her up to the hospital now, but she needs to somewhere safe to come with her kids, could you take her? And then on the next clipboard, there’s the social worker from RPI hospital, who says, I’ve got a mother in here who gave birth to premature twins four weeks ago, we can’t, we can’t let her go home. Because we know that there’s TV at home. So, we’re actually going to have to take the babies into care if she doesn’t have a safe place to go. And then the third call is from a mom who’s been living in her car with her teenage son and daughter over the weekend in Warren Gong, who says, I will put my last $30 in petrol in the car and drive up to Sydney, if you can give me that room. And so those are the kinds of choices that you make. And so, in that situation, our assessment was that the mother with the premature twins was at the greatest risk, you know, she needed to be kept together with her little babies. And so, we brought her into the shelter. And what we did was, we knew that there was likely to be a vacancy coming up in another couple of days, because one of the mothers who was already with us, had made a lease application for a property and was likely to be able to move out. So, we supported the young Aboriginal mom in a nearby motel for a couple of nights before we could bring her in. And then we made a host of phone calls and were able to locate a service that had just had a vacancy that was closer to Warren Gong for the other mom with her teenagers, so she didn’t have to drive up to Sydney. But those are the kinds of miracles that you pull off every single day on the frontline in domestic and family violence services. That’s how urgent it is. That’s how, you know, that’s how, you know, in the heart, these stories are because I don’t, I don’t think people realize that, you know, we are essentially a fourth emergency service in a lot of ways for women and kids in crisis.

Graeme Cowan 19:27 

Yeah. Yeah. And with you know, this, I saw that you had attended a course at Harvard strategic leadership course. How did you find that? What were the key takeaways for you from that?

Annabelle Daniel 19:46 

Oh, look, that was incredibly interesting. So that was strategic perspectives in nonprofit management. And it was about a seven- or eight-day course, it was very intense. But what it did, what it does is it brings together nonprofit leaders all over the world and puts them in the one room. And you’ve got all of this pre work to do that is case studies about particular nonprofits and about businesses. And for me, it was just fascinating because I think more than anything, it gave me such a boost in confidence to know that the work that we were doing at women’s community shelters that the model that we had developed, could hold its own on a world stage and was, you know, a viable and translatable way of solving social problems. And for me to be able to, I guess, measure myself against my peers from around the world, hear from them, and learn from them, made that an experience that I just keep going back to, like, I’ve got a book, which is about this thick of, you know, sort of notes and coloring ins, and you know, all of these colored pens, which I love to use. And you know, it’s just it was it was a life changing experience in that respect, and just really helped me take things to the next level.

Graeme Cowan 20:59 

And did you form friendships with some of the people there that have continued on since you, since you returned?

Annabelle Daniel 21:06 

Yeah, we stay in touch on Twitter, and a lot of you know, and, and that supportive element really remains I think there’s, there’s a real, when you get the opportunity to spend time with other chief executives, there’s a real camaraderie that develops because so many of the challenges that we work with no matter what we’re doing are the same. You know, there’s the structure of the nonprofit sector is essentially the same than any of us work to Boards. You know, most of us have staff challenges to deal with most of us work with funders and have funding challenges. I mean, you know, what’s not to get along with, we get, we get the sector. And so, it’s, it’s great to be able to provide support peer to peer.

Graeme Cowan 21:49 

Yeah, I used to work in recruitment for about 15 years, and I always used to find it amusing, where people would say, our industry is really different. And it’s really competitive. It’s how you deal with people, and it’s changing quickly. I’ve heard that before, believe it or not, I’ve heard it before. Yeah, any books or videos or people that you’ve observed, that you found particularly interesting and relevant for you?

Annabelle Daniel 22:19  

That’s, that’s really fascinating. I tend to pick up things here and there. I, one of my, one of my majors during my degree, I actually did philosophy, honors of all things as part of my arts degree. I love following things like, like The School of Life, oddly enough, I often find that they’ll often have a reset or a perspective that I find very useful. I also love following the margin alien, which has Maria Popova who, you know, just has little vignettes from, you know, from literature, or songs or poems, or, or popular culture that just puts a different slant on things. So actually, really find, for me educational value in anything that takes a completely different angle on, you know, on a perspective or a point of view, I tend not to overdose on the leadership stuff too much. And I– and I have a kind of a funny perspective on this, in some senses is I also, is I think, I’ve always had the point of view, and it’s perhaps stronger, even in the last couple of years that there is no point spending too much time worrying about your deficits, or the things that you don’t do particularly well. You actually get a much better return by focusing on the things that you’re already good at and becoming extraordinary at them. Because, for me, that’s about giving yourself permission to not be perfect. And also, to recognize that you can supplement the things that you’re not great at with people who aren’t really good at that. And that’s actually what makes a good team in an organization. So those have been a really evolving learnings for me in the leadership space over the last couple of years.

Graeme Cowan 24:03 

You mentioned before that, you know, self-care and setting boundaries is really important in that role. And in many CEO type roles. What do you practice? What’s important for your self-care?

Annabelle Daniel 24:16 

Look a few things. So firstly, I’m a single parent. So, I have, I have my girls with me week on week off with their dads. So being able to switch off from work mode and go into, you know, go into relating to my family mode, my partner and my kids that’s incredibly important for me. And I don’t like too many intrusions into their time, so I don’t tend to set a firm boundary there. In my weeks when they’re not with me, I tend to go a little bit harder at work but what I’ve, what I’ve started a practice of is actually spending time away from Sydney every second weekend to the degree that I can, getting down to the south coast and just looking got really big horizons, really big oceans and immersing myself in green and blue because I find increasingly that helps reset. And in other really funny downtime I have since I was a kid, I was the first generation of kids that had access to computer games, right? So, when I was about 10, I got an Atari, I thought it was the best thing ever, and have pretty much always had a game that I’m playing. And for me at the moment, it’s Pokémon Go, I’m hardcore. I am like, like, elite level player. And it’s, and I play hard when I play. And so, for me, that just gets me into an alternate universe, and it takes up so little of the front of the brain, I find that it just allows the back of my brain to do all of that processing and, and sorting out that, you know, that’s just so necessary. You know, because when you’re working, working hard, it takes everything in there. And sometimes you just need to park that bit and do something that’s a little bit mindless and easy.

Graeme Cowan 26:13 

Yeah, so find a really good way to be mindful. And in the present moment. You also, you know, share your thoughts about the importance of nature and getting out in Sydney in blue on the green. And I did something very unusual last Saturday. There’s a, an author called Colin Brady and he said all these ridiculous things like cross the Antarctica self-supported, go on a rowboat from South America to Antarctica like and been to Everest twice. But when COVID really happened, he got really frustrated because everything was locked down. And so, he decided to duplicate what he did, and , you basically move for 12 hours a day, for 53 days straight. And so, during COVID, he decided to, you know, go for 12 hour walk again, and just found that to be a wonderful escape. And the whole thing was you completely separated from everyone, you know, there’s no phone, there’s no anything. And so, I took that challenge last Saturday, and I live in New Lane Cove National Park. And so walked all the way over a 12-hour period up to Hornsby, Hornsby station, and–

Annabelle Daniel 27:37 

Fantastic and I know very well, I grew up in Lane Cove.

Graeme Cowan 27:40 

There you go, there you go. And it is amazing to just really cut yourself off to turn it into airplane mode and just to have no distractions for that period of time. And there is something very special about being immersed in the nature. And there’s more and more evidence that talk about, you know, the resilience building qualities of nature. And it is great to be able to plan those sorts of things.

Annabelle Daniel 28:08 

It is fantastic. And I find because I was, I was dragged around on bushwalks as a kid and resented that at the time. But now I’m actually coming back around so in adulthood, because I realized the value of it. And it’s, it’s funny, I think you find your body actually yearns to get out in night trip, if you haven’t done it for a while, you know? And if you tuned into that, it’s good to listen.

Graeme Cowan 28:31 

Yeah, that’s certainly the case for me, I go a bit crazy if I spend time there, which is, which is which is really good. When you think about leading your teams in the shelters. You mentioned also that it’s a very high stress environment. How do you keep tabs on not just your own well-being but those of the people that are working for you?

Annabelle Daniel 28:57 

Yeah, look, I think there’s both formal and informal ways that you can do that. And I think that formally, one of the things that we know is that when you’re working in things like domestic and family violence, if you are on the front line, you will hear a lot of really awful things like really awful things. And it is very, very easy to take on what we call vicarious trauma. And so, you actually have to have a system for debriefing that and you have to be rigorous about that. I do it. Like every, like every around every month to six weeks, I will have a debriefing session with a you know with a professional counselor because if you don’t manage it, it will bubble up in really, really challenging ways. And for staff on the frontline that is a priority for us. So, it is about the collective and professional debriefing that’s done, but it’s also the peer-to-peer debriefing. That’s really, really important and being able to work shot through the difficult or the challenging issues with a manager who’s really good. And for us to have those systems in place that support that, because the last thing that we would want is for people to burn out, you know, it is so important to prevent that. And also, to acknowledge that there are steps before burnout. And one of the things that like the pandemic made that really difficult because when we’re all working from home, if you’re working in domestic and family violence, a lot of workers will actually have a ritual where they literally mentally close the doors before they step out of their workplace. And the reality of the pandemic was it bled over entirely, you know, you might be, you might be, you know, working with a client on Zoom, but also like homeschooling your kids, you know, and that’s, that’s a blending of the spheres that can be incredibly difficult to manage. So, I think the pandemic has actually heightened our awareness around that kind of thing and sensitized us to really good work practices in a formal sense. But I think for me, the informal stuff is also about how you lead and about just that laser focus on the mission, why we’re different, why we’re doing it this way, why it’s important. And for me to be able to set up, you know, what we’re doing against the broader context of, you know, of movements and changes in society. You know, for example, one of the reasons it’s so hard to leave is because it’s so hard to find somewhere affordable to go. A lot of, you know, in a lot of major regional cities, the rental vacancy rates are well below 0.5%. And so, all of those social factors, and government policy settings will have a bearing on the work that we do and being able to explain that to people will often set the frame for how they manage their work on a day-to-day basis.

Graeme Cowan 31:54 

I really love how you proactively address vicarious trauma or in the stories you hear, and what have you and I’ve seen calls for other groups work in stressful areas to do the same thing, but they’re not always doing that. Why don’t you? Why don’t you consider that some important and put it in place proactively? What will– Were there any, were some of the, you know, tortured or explained that? Or is it something that you just came to realization yourself?

Annabelle Daniel 32:27 

Like, for me, it’s about the ethics of care work. This is about this, you know, what, what we are trying to do is prevent harm, we do not want harm to come to people on our watch. I mean, aside from the WorkCover responsibilities that are, you know, that are of high standards, you need to provide a safe, safe workplace for your employees. That’s a legal baseline. But I think there’s also a moral obligation that goes above that, which is, when you are dealing in difficult stories and hearing the worst of what people do to one another every single day, you need to have the structures in place to protect your longevity to continue that work. Because I have such an enormous respect for the women in our services who do this day in and day out. And I want to protect them and buffer them from the worst impacts of that to whatever degree that I can because their ex, like this is a professional job. You know, I think responding to domestic violence requires a higher level of professionalism, an incredible level of empathy, you’re working with people, and you’re essentially taking their emotional temperature all day every day. And responding to that and pushing them a little bit when they need it. And supporting them when they just can’t get there, and being their cheerleader, when you know when they step through towards their own goals. And so being able to do that is a professional job. And we need to support that. And so, for me, like the supports around better are actually a no brainer. And I do not want people to burn out from this work, I want to preserve them. But also, it’s a knowledge, again, of that greater picture of the workforce demographics and knowing that around somewhere between a quarter to a third of the domestic and family violence workforce are going to aged out in the next five to 10 years. And we’ve got a big gap in the middle and then a lot of younger grads coming through. And so we want to obviously protect the careers of those older workers as long as we can, you know, find a way to supplement the needle but also support well, the new young grads that coming out and who are interested in this field so they don’t burn out from the work or get, you know, get you know or feel disenfranchised, disenfranchised or unsupported when they come into the workplaces.

Graeme Cowan 34:45 

Yeah. I have a female friend who went through real abuse, not so much physical abuse, but real emotional financial abuse. And what I found very interesting was that you know, at one point, they’d be really determined to leave and have a new start. And then it would change, you know, go back and go back and do another shot, then really determined to leave this time. And then, and then not. Is that sort of isolation common with women who tried to leave, yeah.

Annabelle Daniel 35:18 

Yep, it absolutely is. And what that represents is the cycle of abuse and how coercive control actually works. And that is, is what happens is there’s often, you know, there might have been an incident and then there’s, there’s a honeymoon period where the person who is using abuse will say, I’m really sorry, that happened on gonna change, they might go and have a few counseling sessions or what have you–    But then slowly, slowly, it slips back into the normal, and then the tension will start to build again and again and again. And then there might be a point of explosion and, and the cycle repeats itself. And so it is that cycle that makes it incredibly difficult, quite often for, you know, for someone who’s experiencing the abuse to be able to leave, because generally what happens is their self-esteem gets eroded a little bit more each time it happens. And their sense, their locus of control, and their ability to take, you know, assertive action, just, it gets harder and harder. And quite often, what happens in relationships that do have coercive control, is that their perspective on the world gets erased. Jess Hill calls it perspective side. And I think that’s a really powerful term. Because if someone isn’t allowed their own view of reality, and how the world works, and how they perceive events, you can end up thinking that you’re crazy. And if you think that you’re crazy, and you can’t cope, and you’ll never manage on your own, because that’s the messages that you keep getting, it is very, very hard to leave. So, you know, and that’s, and it is knowledge of the way that coercive control and the cycle of abuse can work that is part of, you know, that is part of the provision professional knowledge of domestic and family violence workers.

Graeme Cowan 37:04 

Yeah, yeah. And when you are speaking to younger people coming through, what sort of advice to give them when they ask?

Annabelle Daniel 37:17 

I would say that this is an incredibly rewarding career. It is a career that is filled with meaning that you need to get those issues to do with your boundaries, and your outside interests, and all of those kinds of things well set up early in your career to be able to be sustainable and to keep going. I would also say, I would also say to people to have an open mind. And I think one of the, one of the things that I think really shocks people is that, is that when you’re working with women and children, you are often working with entrenched trauma, you know, there might have been people who have experienced traumatic events from childhood, you know, from their earliest memories. And so, an understanding of how trauma operates for people, particularly long-term trauma is foundational to be able to do this kind of work. And you know, and that can manifest in behaviors, which might be difficult to understand, or which might be challenging, or which might be confronting at times. And so, learning to understand what trauma does, and learning to roll with that and learning to, you know, learning to maintain your center, in the face of that, I think is an incredibly important skill that’s part of learning the work well.

Graeme Cowan 38:43 

Yeah, there’s some very, very good insights there. And I love the way that you’re stressed about, you know, the meaning and purpose of it. Because I think that’s very, very important when we have setbacks and knockbacks to just really pull back and think, well, this is why I’m doing it. This is the difference in like, it’s increasingly I think, purpose is becoming more and more important with successful workplaces. When you think about a high performing team, what are the key elements that you think that are the foundations for that?

Annabelle Daniel 39:16 

Oh, well, in the case of my team, it’s surrounding myself with people that are a lot smarter than me and know a lot more in a whole bunch of, you know, in a whole bunch of different areas. You know, I don’t– it’s exhausting being the person who, who has all of the solutions all of the time. I mean, who’s, who’s got time for that, you know, you need to be surrounded by people who are really, really good at what they do. You know, you need to pay them well. You need to,  you need to provide them flexibility, you need to provide them understanding, you know, goes back a little bit to what I was talking about the beginning, you know, you need to recognize that these are not just your employees, but they have whole lives outside of work and home responsibilities, and they’re juggling all of those in their heads, and they bring that to work every day. And so, for me to having a team who understands why we’re here, you know, what our mission is that you know that our laser focus is on supporting women and children. And if you keep that focus really clear, what it does, I always find too is it melts away a lot of the organizational politics or the sector politics, it’s, you know, when we first got started, we were always working in somebody else’s patch, you know, it was the government contracted things out by district. And wherever we wanted to start something up, we were notionally in someone else’s patch. And so having a team who back you who know that we are there to meet a need that is not being met, and that is our accountability. You know, it helps, it helps maintain a strength and a unity, I think, but, you know, I’m also a real fan of hiring for cultural fit, and then building the skills after that, you know, we had some learnings with that over the course of our, you know, over the course of our, of our life, where we’ve hired people who have exceptional technical skills in their particular field, but they just weren’t a mesh with us, culturally, they didn’t vibe with us. And so, for me, that is now the number one principle of hiring people, are they a good fit? Because anything else we can train them for.

Graeme Cowan 41:23 

Yeah. And how do you assess that cultural fit? Is it a gut feel? Or is it any more rigorous than that? Is it from experience? How do you, how do you judge that?

Annabelle Daniel 41:36 

I think once you’ve been around the block a few times, you know, you tend to rely pretty heavily on that gut feel if it served you really well. You know, I remember watching a video, like, like a couple of my staff interviewed someone, and they asked if they could record the video, because I couldn’t be there. You know, and I watched it back later. And I think I felt within about the first 35, you know, 40 seconds that this person wasn’t going to, you know, that they presented well, but there was just something about them, that meant they weren’t going to last with us. And we did subsequently employ that person. And they only lasted six months, and there was always something that just wasn’t quite right. And so, for me, yes, that that gut feel is important. But also, but also, I think having a slow like, I would prefer to get it really right and have quite a slow hiring process, and take my time over it, then to actually have to do something really quickly, and then undo it again later, because they’re a huge cost to the organization with that. So, getting a good sense, getting a few of our staff members to get a sense of a person is usually the way we do it.

Graeme Cowan 42:48 

Very good. And I just am hearing more and more about the need for hiring for attitude. And because as you say, if they have the right attitude, they can learn anything. The wrong attitude, it’s very, very hard to train for that and turn that round. That’s– Congratulations on you know, the amazing work you’ve been doing Annabelle. And we’ve covered lots and lots of really interesting things, but obviously to, I guess return to our normal last question. And that is knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 20-year-old self in the first year of your law degree? What advice would you get 20-year-old self-based on what you’ve learned?

Annabelle Daniel 43:31 

I would say to her that you’re on the, on the right path. Even if you can’t see it yet. I would tell her that your brain is nowhere near finished growing yet and that there’s plenty of learning to do. And I would also say to be patient because everything will unfold as it should. So, trust yourself and back yourself.

Graeme Cowan 43:51 

What great advice. Thanks very much. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.

Annabelle Daniel 43:55 

Thank you so much, Graeme. I really appreciate this opportunity. Thank you.

Thanks for joining us today. I hope you’ve learned something new and heard some practical tips you can try with your team. If you enjoyed this interview today. Please rate us on iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform. When you rate us It helps other people to find us. We also welcome any comments. If you’re interested in seeing details about our scalable WeCARE Mental Health Training Programs, please visit us at Our goal for these programs is to make them accessible, practical, and ongoing. If you’ve been impressed by a CEO that you would like us to interview please email details to Please subscribe by clicking the button below. We really would love to have you as part of the care movement. Thanks for joining us.

chat icon

Oh, you are inquisitive… getting all the way to the bottom of the page!

Thanks for listening 🙂

From all of us at The Caring CEO, and the WeCARE team, keep listening, keep caring and lead with your heart.

P.S. If you want to reach out, share a great leader we should interview or learn more about The WeCARE Way, click here to contact us. 
0/5 (0 Reviews)