Children and Domestic Violence: Public policy, parents and community involvement

From Safe Start Center Director Elena Cohen

Research has clearly demonstrated that children who are exposed to domestic violence exhibit significantly more behavioral and emotional problems than children who have not been exposed.  Importantly, children who are exposed to violence are more likely to use violence in solving problems as adolescents and adults.

Children’s reactions to exposure to violence can be immediate or appear much later. Reactions differ in severity and cover a range of behaviors. One common response is a loss of trust, while another is a fear of the event reoccurring. But not all children exposed to violence react in the same way. Some children exposed to domestic violence show no greater problems than children not so exposed.  Even siblings in the same household may be exposed to differing degrees of violence depending on how much time they spend at home. Protective adults – including the child’s mother, relatives, neighbors and teachers, older siblings, and friends – may all play protective roles in a child’s life. The child’s larger social environment may also play a protective role if extended family members or members of church, sports or social clubs with which the child is affiliated act to support or aid the child during stressful periods.

Research has shown it is likely that a child who is exposed to domestic violence will also suffer other types of traumatic experiences. For example, the Adverse Childhood Experiences found that men exposed to physical abuse, sexual abuse, and adult domestic violence as children were 3.8 times more likely than other men to have perpetrated domestic violence as adults.

Public Policy Responses  

Laws relating to childhood exposure to domestic violence have changed considerably in the last decade. These laws focus most often on criminal prosecution of violent assaults. There are several examples of recent legislative changes in criminal statutes in a number of states that directly respond to concerns about the presence of children during domestic violence assaults.  Some laws have been changed to permit misdemeanor level domestic assaults to be raised to a felony level charge.  In addition, many states now include the presence of domestic violence as a criterion that judges may use to determine custody and visitation arrangements when disputed.

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New toolkit for Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Life has been chaotic and scary for 8-year-old Tonya.

Her father has abused her mother for years, and Tonya never knows when things will get bad. Finally, a beating pushes Claire, Tonya’s mother, over the edge.

Claire waits for her husband to leave for his night job. Then, at nearly one o’clock in the morning, she gets Tonya out of bed. Without bothering to pack, the two race outside to a waiting cab, which takes them to the Inn Transition South, a women’s shelter and transitional housing site in Miami.

After arriving safely at the shelter, mother and daughter are exhausted and scared. Over the next few weeks, Claire settles in, but Tonya begins to change.

She wakes up with nightmares, and she won’t interact with the other children at the shelter. Claire worries that Tonya is blaming herself for the violence they have experienced. She longs to see her daughter’s beautiful smile again.

This scenario, one of a participant of a former Safe Start grantee program in Miami, is one of many examples of how exposure to domestic violence can harm a child. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that 15.5 million children in the U.S. lived in families in which violence between partners occurred at least once in the previous year and seven million children lived in families in which severe partner violence occurred.

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When a Parent Is Incarcerated: A Primer for Social Workers

Checkout this new pub from the Annie E. Casey Foundation!

When a Parent Is Incarcerated: A Primer for Social Workers.

Description from website:

The goal of this publication is to provide relevant and practical information for public child welfare agencies and social workers when working with incarcerated parents and their children, including a chapter on immigration. This primer also outlines the many compelling reasons why child welfare agencies should develop programs and policies specifically to address the needs of this subset of children in the child welfare system.”

Tips for Parents about Bullying!

Today, we’ve got some great resources for parents to help them tackle bullying issues with their kids!

Bully-proofing your kids

This article by Katia Hetter highlights how parents can help best prepare their children in case they are ever bullied, and it provides tips for helping to reinforce their child’s self esteem.

Bullying Tips for Parents

Provided by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, this article offers some tips and guidelines for parents on how to recognize if their child is being bullied and to find ways to encourage their kids to talk about the problem.

The ABCs of School Bullying Tips for Parents and Teachers

This great resource, by Ken Druck and Jessica Malia, gives parents a list to share with their kids of five ways to handle a bully.

Have you Talked to Your Child About Bullying Lately?

Check out this great blog post about raising awareness with parents about bullying and the need for them to be active in their children’s lives.

A Guide for PARENTS

This is an amazing e-guide for parents, provided by PENN State, that breaks down what bullying is, how to recognize it, strategies for helping kids cope, and a further list of helpful resources.

Also, please take a look at the Safe Start Center facebook page today for more news and stories to help parents learn about and prevent bullying!

Bullying Awareness: Parents, Teachers, Providers

So far this month, we’ve talked about how bullying appears everywhere. But how do parents, service providers, and teachers recognize, understand, and help their kids deal with it?  To continue support for National Bullying Awareness Month, every day this week we want to share some resources and tips to help you learn how to guide the children in your lives and understand the effect bullying has on them.

A good place to start might be in understanding why kids either get bullied or become bullies themselves. A report released earlier this month from Anderson Cooper 360, “The Reason Children Become Bullies,” is a great resource. Once you understand where bullying starts, a next step is to know how far the effects of bullying reach.  We know that kids who witness or who are direct victims of violence can be negatively affected for the rest of their lives. A new study shows that bullying has the same effect as any other type of violence. Bullies and their victims are negatively impacted by bullying situations, but the results demonstrate that bystanders witnessing these events are just as affected. It is critical for the teachers, caregivers, and practitioners in these kids’ lives to not only know where bullying starts, but everyone that it hurts, so they can help the kids who need it.

To kick off the week here are some other great resources to help get you started:

Keep checking out the Safe Start Center blog and Facebook page every day this week for new resources and stories supporting parents, teachers, and providers in the fight against bullying!

Education and training key to child wellbeing

Recognizing and Supporting the Social and Emotional Health of Young Children Birth to Age 5

This training for early childhood mental health consultants, offered by the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development Center’s Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation, works to help them more fully explore the family context in which social and emotional learning occurs, so they can help parents support the healthy development of their children and properly care for them in everyday situations.

A recent study on epigenetics and stress demonstrates the necessity of this kind of training. The new study discusses and reiterates the long-held understanding that when a mother is under stress while pregnant, this stress may be the result of (repeated) exposure to a violent or traumatic event, that stress can have a long-term detrimental effect on her child’s health and wellbeing.

The problems caused by the exposure to stress can also carry on into and harm the child’s early youth and adolescent development, especially if whatever was causing the initial distress during the pregnancy is not dealt with or continues to escalate. This information only emphasizes the importance and need for early training and education that can combat the effects of the negative exposure and trauma.

There are also several other available resources that support parents and caregivers in helping their child cope with distressing events such as violence that they may be exposed to as they grow up (i.e. bullying, community violence, domestic violence), disasters & terrorism, or the loss of a loved one.


Silent Realities

In this guide, the authors explain how exposure to violence may disrupt the development of young children ages birth to 5, and the importance of talking with children about traumatic events as a necessary part of the healing process. The authors provide specific recommendations for creating nurturing environments in homes and early care settings to help young children cope.

Healing the Invisible Wounds: Children’s Exposure to Violence (A Guide for Families)

This guide helps parents and caregivers identify if their child has been witness to or experienced violence. Sometimes there may not be clear physical signs, but children often suffer from “invisible wounds” that affect them emotionally and psychologically.

Moving From Evidence to Action: Safe Start Center Series on Children Exposed to Violence
Issue Brief #1: Understanding Children’s Exposure to Violence

This issue brief assists practitioners in understanding the impact of exposure to violence in the development of children as well as the environmental and family factors that may provide a buffer and prevent or reduce the impact of exposure to violence.


Check out the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development’s National Technical Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health’s next Webinar:

September 15, 2011, 1:00 – 2:30 PM E.D.T.

A Collaborative Approach to Promoting Social Emotional Well-Being for Children, Youth and Families in the Child Welfare System

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