by Christina Hays
Missed Opportunities with Children Who Witness Domestic Violence
Working with children takes special people. Children present unique challenges on a daily basis. They require lots of patience, supervision and understanding. Teachers, school dietary workers, school administration staff, daycare staff, doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, speech therapists, occupational therapists, social workers and countless other people come into contact with children regularly. Observing changes in behavior and appearance give all of these people a chance to make a difference for a child and their family.
Family violence can no longer be a private problem handled behind closed doors. The time to take action is now. Working with children provides an opportunity to make a real and lasting impact on someone else’s life. Children witnessing domestic violence display a variety of red flag behavior and warning signs. The importance in taking action when witnessing this behavior is crucial. Early interventions with abused children can allow them to learn coping skills that will help them later in life.
Futureswithoutviolence.org has a violence fact sheet that is free to download. All they ask is for your email address, first name, last name, and zip code. This facts sheet offers a wide variety of information on family violence. Some of the numbers are startling if you are unfamiliar with the rate of intimate partner violence in the United States. According to futurewithoutviolence.org facts sheet, “15.5 million children in the United States live in families in which partner violence occurred at least once in the past year, and seven million children live in families in which severe partner violence occurred.” These children grow up learning that violence is a normal part of life. They learn to associate violence with love, and when they are left without proper intervention, can become adult victims or perpetrators of violence themselves. We live in a society where being a woman or a child makes a person vulnerable and at a potential risk for victimization. These are just the statistics that are reported. There are still incidents that happen that continue to be unreported.
When working with children, being vigilant about checking in helps screen for potential violence within the home. If a child starts to appear withdrawn, fails to make eye contact, startles at loud noises or appears disheveled these are all warning signs that need further investigation. When children act out violently with other children it can sometimes mean that they are witnessing violence at home and are reenacting or mimicking behavior they see. Taking time to regularly talk about healthy relationships promotes conversations about what these children experience at home. If a child discloses violence to anyone it is worth reporting to your local Department of Human Resources. Allowing social workers to investigate and provide interventions could make an extreme difference in these at risk children’s lives as well as their family’s lives.
A missed opportunity to intervene with children perpetuates a cycle of abuse. Stopping the cycle of abuse in a family starts with one person who decides they want different for their children. It is not easy to stop the cycle of abuse without help. Learning healthy boundaries and nonviolent coping skills takes practice and hard work. People can change the outcome with guidance and understanding. If you see or hear something going on with a child that you work with regularly, please do not hesitate to say something. It could save a life.
If you or someone you know is currently in a violent relationship or has experienced intimate partner violence, Crisis Services of North Alabama can help. We have trained advocates waiting to talk with victims/survivors of domestic and sexual assault. For more information please contact us locally at 256-574-5826 or at our 24 hour HELPline at 256-716-1000. If you want to learn how to stop the cycle of abuse in your family, we would love to collaborate with you on ways to make this happen.