Monday, June 11, 2007

Abused Women and Children Awareness Month

And now, for a story... the story of Jake. (Based on a true story.)
Jake is 8 years old and lives in a middle class neighborhood, with his mother, father, and younger brother. Jake is always clean and seems well-taken-care of. But sometimes he seems very sad and worried. He has trouble paying attention in school, and he has been getting in a lot of fights lately. You see, there is something wrong... something almost nobody knows about... in Jake's house.
Jake loves his parents very much. But it seems to Jake that his parents don't love each other much. They fight all the time... and when Jake's dad gets really mad, he hurts Jake's mom. Jake has seen his dad punch his mom really hard, drag her by her hair, and other things. Jake's dad also punches holes in the walls a lot and breaks things in the house.
Jake's little brother is only 2, and when his parents start fighting, Jake's brother runs and hides. But Jake is a big boy and he wants to protect his mom. His mom always yells at him to go to his room when they start fighting, but Jake wants to protect her! He tries to get in between his parents and he screams at his dad to stop. Sometimes Jake gets hurt in the scuffle, because of this. And he always sees everything that happens. Once he saw his dad pull out a knife!
One time Jake yelled that he was going to call the police. He ran to the phone but his mom grabbed him and yelled at him, "Jake, stop! Calling the police is not a game!" Other times she yells at him, "You're just making it worse, Jake!"
Jake knows he's not supposed to talk about the things that happen in his house. If he does, his dad might go to jail, or some people might come and take him and his brother away!
Sometimes, in quiet moments, Jake asks his mom why she doesn't get a divorce from his dad. That way his dad wouldn't go to jail, but he wouldn't be around to hurt Jake's mom! It seems like a good solution to Jake. Jake's mom always replies that she doesn't want to get a divorce, because she's afraid of being alone.
But inside, Jake is so alone...

Each year, more than 3 million children are witnesses to domestic violence. 90% of them are aware of what is going on in their homes... and as many as 60% of them are also victims of child abuse. In fact, children in homes where parental domestic violence occurs are 1500% more likely than other children to be severely abused or neglected... either by the abusive partner in the domestic violence, or the victim. (Mothers who are abused can sometimes react by abusing their children, out of stress or fear or as a way of dealing with their own anger.)
Kids from homes where there is domestic violence may experience actual physical symptoms, such as feeling ill a lot (especially headaches and stomache aches,) being nervous, lethargic and having a short attention span, and doing dangerous things when they play. They may have social, behavioral, and emotional problems too... such as having trouble trusting adults, being withdrawn, being violent or aggressive around other children, having temper tantrums, and feeling shame about what is going on at home and their own inability to change it. (Children often feel like they should be able to protect their mothers, or they feel that they are causing the fights.)

If you are a parent who is in an abusive relationship, please visit the National Domestic Abuse Hotline's Safety Planning Page. Even if you don't feel ready to leave the abuser, this page has ways that you can help your children deal with the experience. This site can help you see ways to keep your children as safe as possible, including teaching them that they are not responsible for trying to protect you, and that their main job in the situation is to leave the room and keep themselves out of harm's way.
Also, a wonderful tool for both parents, and people who work with children, to use when children live in homes where domestic violence happens, is this Children's Safety Plan . Print it out and help the child fill it out, and make some extra copies of it to keep in case the child loses the original. Children who live in homes with domestic violence often feel like they are not being protected and that they have no control. Giving them their own safety plan helps them feel that there are adults looking out for them, and that they can keep themselves safe.

Here are some things that others can do to help children in this situation:

1. Consider volunteering in a shelter for abused women and their children. You can volunteer to provide mentoring, tutoring, or babysitting for children in the shelter. (If you're a male, you'll be especially needed, as a non-violent role model for boys living in the shelter! You can teach boys that most men are not like that, and teach them what it means to be a real man!)

2. If you know of a child who is living in a domestic violence situation, try to provide them a safe place. Offer to provide child care or occasional respite for the parents... without seeming accusing!

3. Here are some tips from the Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence, for those who know or work with children:
Listen to children and provide them with space and respect.
Let children know you care about them, that there are adults interested in their opinions, thoughts and ideas.
Use books on the subject to help open children up.
Use art, music, drama, and play to help children express themselves.
Refer children to professional counselors, as needed.
Connect children to organizations in the community that work with youth, as appropriate.
Help children develop age-appropriate and realistic safety plans.
Tell them often that someone cares

4. Be a mentor! (I know I say this in just about every post, but I think every child needs a mentor!) You may be able to find a specific mentor program that works with children from homes with domestic violence. But by mentoring at-risk kids in general, you can also help kids grow up to be strong adults who will have less risk of becoming abusers or victims in a domestic violence situation as adults!

5. If you know or work with a child in this situation, try to avoid saying negative personal things about either one of the parents. Children love their parents, and will be sensitive about what you say. Focus on what parts of the abuser's behavior is wrong, the child's feelings, and how the child can keep himself safe.

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1 comment:

pat said...

Thank you for your post and your love for all children.