Children of abuse feel isolated and vulnerable. They are starved for attention, affection and approval. Because mom is struggling to survive, she is often not present for her children. Because dad is so consumed with controlling everyone, he also is not present for his children. These children become physically, emotionally and psychologically abandoned.
►The overlap between child abuse and domestic violence in the same family is significant. 40–60% of families who present with partner violence also report child abuse.
► One study found that half the children who were physically abused were caught in the middle of an inter-parental attack.
► The more often violence is used against a parent, the greater the risk that the children are also abused.
► 77% of children in high violence families were abused over their lifetime. * Of 50 men imprisoned for killing their child, 12(24%) had also assaulted their partners.
Witnessing can mean SEEING actual incidents of physical/and or sexual abuse. It can mean HEARING threats or fighting noises from another room. Children may also OBSERVE the aftermath of physical abuse such as blood, bruises, tears, torn clothing, and broken items. Finally children may be AWARE of the tension in the home such as their mother’s fearfulness when the abuser’s car pulls into the driveway.
On average, more than three women a day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends in the United States and women experience two million injuries from intimate partner violence each year. Many of these women are mothers who often go to great and courageous lengths to protect their children from abusive partners. In fact, research has shown that the non-abusing parent is often the strongest protective factor in the lives of children who are exposed to domestic violence. However, growing up in a violent home may be a terrifying and traumatic experience that can affect every aspect of a child’s life, growth and development. In spite of this, we know that when properly identified and addressed, the effects of domestic violence on children can be mitigated.
For too many children, home is far from a safe haven. Every year, hundreds of millions of children are exposed to domestic violence at home, and this has a powerful and profound impact on their lives and hopes for the future. These children not only watch one parent violently assaulting another, they often hear the distressing sounds of violence, or may be aware of it from many telltale signs.
Domestic violence is a devastating social problem that impacts every segment of the population. While system responses are primarily targeted toward adult victims of abuse, increased attention is now being focused on the children who witness domestic violence. Studies estimate that 10 to 20 percent of children are at risk for exposure to domestic violence
What do children need? We know the answer from our own childhoods. First and foremost, children need a safe and secure home, free of violence, and parents that love and protect them. They need to have a sense of routine and stability, so that when things go wrong in the outside world, home is a place of comfort, help and support.
There is no age at which a child is immune to the effects of violence. Professionals, concerned parents, caregivers, and citizens, must all work tirelessly to reduce, if not eliminate violence in the lives of children. No one profession can succeed alone. Families are best helped when health providers, mental health providers, educators, police and the courts work together.
WHAT PARENTS AND CAREGIVERS CAN DO
►Use reassurance and a calm voice when talking to a child, especially in the aftermath of violence. Give children permission to tell their stories. Sometimes it is difficult to listen to the child’s distress, but talking helps children heal.
►Remind children that the violence is not their fault, and it is not their job to solve adult problems.
►Remember, you can get specific help from professionals in planning how to talk to children about the violence they may have witnessed.
►Work to create a stable, safe environment for the child.
WHAT NEIGHBORS CAN DO
► If you know of a child who is witnessing violence, you can help the child by helping his/her parents. In the case of domestic violence, you can help by supporting and helping the battered partner.
►Call the resources listed below to ask questions and get support for yourself as well as the person you are concerned about.
►Be supportive of your neighbor or friend and express your concern. Simple statements like, “I am concerned about you. How have you been doing?” can make a lasting difference.
►Share the telephone numbers of support services with the person you think is in need of the information. If the violence is domestic violence, share those numbers privately.
►Be willing to make a phone call for your friend or neighbor.
►If needed, help them get to a safe place. Perhaps give them a ride or call a taxi for them.
►If possible, help them find a safe place to stay.
►If necessary, support them in getting legal or housing assistance.
►Remember that if the violence you are concerned about is domestic violence, you don’t help the victim by confronting the batterer yourself. Have trained professionals respond.
WHAT PROFESSIONALS CAN DO
There are many counseling treatments for children who are exposed to violence that have been carefully evaluated for their effectiveness.
While there are differences in how these interventions are delivered, they share the same core components of focus. They:
►Give family members support and information about how children respond to witnessing violence. Caregivers may be unaware of how affected young children are from exposure to violent behavior.
►Work with caregivers to create strategies for reducing symptoms and managing challenging behaviors.
►Help the child and the caregiver understand the child's perspective of the violent event(s).
►Help the child to tell the story of the traumatic event in play or words.
►Correct cognitive distortions or misunderstandings about the event.
►Provide activities that promote a child’s competence and self-esteem.
►Collaborate with all agencies and care providers that are part of a child’s life.
Not all children fall into the trap of becoming victims or abusers. Many adults who grew up with violence in the home are actively opposed to violence of all kinds. There is reason to believe that children know that domestic violence is wrong and actively want it to stop. Many children who are present during acts of domestic violence try to help. One study showed that in 15 per cent of the cases when children were present, they tried to prevent the violence, and 6 per cent tried to get outside help. Another 10 per cent actively tried to protect the victim or make the violence stop.
Children who grow up with violence in the home learn early and powerful lessons about the use of violence in interpersonal relationships to dominate others, and might even be encouraged in doing so.
The single best predictor of children becoming either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence later in life is whether or not they grow up in a home where there is domestic violence. Studies from various countries support the findings that rates of abuse are higher among women whose husbands were abused as children or who saw their mothers being abused.
Physical responses may include stomachaches and/or headaches, bedwetting, and loss of ability to concentrate. Some children may also experience physical or sexual abuse or neglect. Others may be injured while trying to intervene on behalf of their mother or a sibling.
The behavioral responses of children who witness domestic violence may include acting out, withdrawal, or anxiousness to please. The children may exhibit signs of anxiety and have a short attention span which may result in poor school performance and attendance. They may experience developmental delays in speech, motor or cognitive skills. They may also use violence to express themselves displaying increased aggression with peers or mother. They can become self-injuring..
The emotional responses of children who witness domestic violence may include fear, guilt, shame, sleep disturbances, sadness, depression, and anger (at both the abuser for the violence and at the mother for being unable to prevent the violence). Infants and small children who are exposed to violence in the home experience so much added emotional stress that it can harm the development of their brains and impair cognitive and sensory growth.
Children who grow up with abuse are expected to keep the family secret, sometimes not even talking to each other about the abuse. Children from abusive homes can look fine to the outside world, but inside they are in terrible pain. Their families are chaotic and crazy. They may blame themselves for the abuse thinking if they had not done or said a particular thing, the abuse would not have occurred. They may also become angry at their siblings or their mother for triggering the abuse. They may feel rage, embarrassment, and humiliation.
►Growing up with violence affects a child’s basic drive to explore the world. Natural curiosity is thwarted. Children may be less willing to try new things.
►Children growing up with violence are at greater risk to become violent themselves although most do not.
►Children exposed to high levels of parental violence are at risk for adjustment problems in young adulthood.
►Most children who witness domestic violence manifest some symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
►Witnessing violence affects children’s abilities to learn. They may have difficulty focusing and concentrating in school. They are easily distracted.
►Witnessing violence affects children’s behavior, sometimes making it difficult to establish good peer relationships.
►Children who witness violence may be more aggressive and fight more often.
Child Welfare Information Gateway
Child Witness to Violence Project
Safety and security don't just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear."