When Pam met the new neighbors, their adorable school age children, 5 and 8 smiled sweetly, but were very withdrawn . Her puppy bounded up to them, wagging its tail, but they pulled back, fearful, and clung to mom. The puppy seemed intent, and surprised- as all the other neighborhood children actively pet and played ball or tug of war with it. Pam thought it odd she’d never seen the children out playing in the yard or with other kids. She ran into the neighbor at the grocery two years later who was chatting with a friend, and overheard that the son was in psychiatric care, on medication; the daughter seeing a therapist. There had been two emergency vehicles to the home, a few months apart. The father was taken away. At one point, she’d heard angry shouting and loud crashes, working in the garden. Not long after, the mother and children moved to their own apartment. The mother and children stayed together and took advantage of care and counseling opportunities. Today, the children are in college and thriving, and mom -a fiancé.
At the Voices for Children conference, there were two presentations focused on prioritizing safety for children who are exposed to domestic violence. The first, “Walking the Walk; Talking the Talk’ and the second, ‘Safe and Together: How Ohio is Helping Children Heal from Exposure to Domestic Violence.’ The IPV Collaborative reports that “According to the Ohio Family Violence Prevention Project, more than 48,000 children (ages 0-17) in Ohio live in homes where an adult reports intimate partner violence. More than 4,300 take shelter in a local domestic violence shelter.” Jenny Hartmann, MSSA, LSW, Collaborative Coordinator reported on the impact of DV on children. By age four, 1/4th of children have witnessed one violent event according to SAMHSA data. As insidious as not seeing or hearing it, is ‘knowing it’. And most cases don’t come to the attention of authorities. Hartmann led the audience through an exercise to identify how children experience DV. Every child processes the experience differently; some have more resilience factors than others.
The National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health reports that as infants and toddlers, children may exhibit fearfulness, separation anxiety, sleep disturbance, become irritable or aggressive, or startle easily. School age children might engage in play that is a re-enactment of the experience or event; feel vengeful, exhibit physical symptoms- like stomach aches, be withdrawn or avoid reminders, feel guilt, and/or show difficulty concentrating in school. In adolescents emotions and behaviors can emerge such as detachment, shame, self-consciousness, acting out, making plans or having fantasies of revenge, or exhibiting coping behaviors –which can include self-harm. The Voices for Children audience watched a video, ‘First impressions’ on exposure to domestic violence. Here’s the YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=brVOYtNMmKk
The Ohio Intimate Partner Violence Collaborative identified Safe and Together™ as a model to help increase safety and well-being of children exposed to DV- by David Mandel & Associates. This model stresses keeping a family together -children with the non-offending parent, and holding perpetrators accountable for their behavior-which includes coercive control. It identifies contributing factors such as socioeconomic conditions, mental health issues, cultural heritage and conditioning, or substance abuse.
It’s important to help children and teens find ways to express their feelings whether through art, journaling, writing stories, poems or play/recreation. Actor Tom Hanks is bullied in the movie Forest Gump, and channels his terror, anger and sense of helplessness into running. Recently, the Center for Family Safety and Healing and the NFL have each launched ads to bring awareness of DV to public attention; that it is not acceptable to batter partners or children, no matter who you are, or what you’ve experienced.
Video- First Impressions different version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkSW3__pbI0
Video on Trauma: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYyEEMlMMb0
Social and Emotional Development in Early Childhood: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkJwFRAwDNE
Safe and Together™ model www.endingviolence.com
The National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma & Mental Health www.nationalcenterdvtraumamh.org (See Children Exposed to Domestic Violence: A Curriculum for DV Advocates, Patricia Van Horn, JD, PhD)
(photo credit: Dreamstime 523811)