Domestic violence has become sadly prevalent in our society today. According to Volpe, “It has become increasingly apparent that some individuals are at greater risk for victimization than others. ” (Volpe 1996) In particular, children are especially vulnerable. “Domestic violence has adverse effects on individuals, families, and society in general. ” (Volpe 1996) In cases of domestic violence where the child is either a witness or a victim, “the young child? s need for predictability and consistency is threatened”. (Baker 2002) It is not just any one social or cultural group that is affected, either.
Volpe tells us that “Domestic violence is widespread and occurs among all socioeconomic groups. In a national survey of over 6,000 American families, it was estimated that between 53% and 70% of male batterers (i. e. , they assaulted their wives) also frequently abused their children. Other research suggests that women who have been hit by their husbands were twice as likely as other women to abuse a child” (Volpe 1996). Statistically, “it has been found that children under the age of 5 are more likely to live in a household where domestic violence occurs than children in any other age category.
” (Baker 2002) There are many ramifications for the children living with domestic violence. Trauma from domestic violence negatively affects children and adolescents by increasing their chances of suffering from emotional and behavioral problems. (Baker 2002) It has been found that “emotional responses may include shock, terror, guilt, horror, irritability, anxiety, hostility and depression. ” (Volpe 1996) In addition, a proportion of individuals may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In response, governmental and mental health organizations have organized to create programs to address and combat domestic violence.
In order to help victims, it is important to educate teachers as the signs of domestic abuse so that they can recognize when a student is showing the signs of trauma that accompany the abuse. Education is the key not only recognizing existing abuse but to preventing future abuse. When it is recognized that a child is being abused, it is important that they are given the opportunity for treatment and help as soon as possible. “Without treatment, these children are at significant risk for delinquency, substance abuse, school drop-out, and difficulties in their own relationships. ” (Volpe 1996)
Infants who are exposed to domestic violence will show signs of irritability, immature behavior, sleep disturbances, emotional distress, fears of being alone, and regression in toilet training and language development. Preschool children may develop enuresis and speech problems, such as stuttering. (Newton 2001) Some young children will react by not speaking at all and smiling infrequently, a condition sometimes called parentified. (Richardson 2009) As these infants grow, the parentified condition will cause them to take on more adult responsibilities, such as caring for family members, even younger children.
This condition causes them to grow too fast, missing out on a normal childhood. Also, Richardson states that “the fallout of witnessing domestic violence includes childhood cognitive, hearing and language problems, delays in reaching developmental milestones and physical health problems. ” (Richardson 2009) Sadly, the effects of domestic violence on infants will imprint and continue to affect them later through life, long after the initial trauma has ended. There are many signs of domestic abuse in younger school aged children that are fairly obvious to the observer.
Teachers many notice that a child is depressed, anxious and shows signs of traumas. In extreme cases post traumatic stress disorder may be observed. Children in domestic violence tend to be either extremely introverted or extremely extroverted. A child may have numerous bruises or welts is he or she is themselves the victims of the violent acts. Or not, as many children may only be witness to the violence. Psychosomatic problems (aches and pains for no apparent reason) are common; these children’s eating and sleeping patterns tend to be disrupted.
Children who witness domestic violence can develop behavior problems, including aggression and violent outbursts. (Newton 2001) According to Baker et al, “some children who experience difficulties display traumatic stress reactions (e. g. , sleep disturbances, intensified startle reactions, constant worry about possible danger). (Baker 2002) Older children also have a difficult time adjusting to their environment when they are the victims of domestic violence. They react by becoming increasingly more aware of their emotional state and the emotional state of those around them.
Older children may become more obsessed with fairness, and they may also show an increased complexity in thinking about right and wrong. In school, children of domestic violence tend to be more distracted, leading to poor performance on tests. They may become agitated easily as a heightened awareness of negative feedback may make them miss any positive statements. (Baker 2002) It is important for educators to be able to recognize the symptoms of violence in order that these victimized children are not overlooked or passed off as being simply slow to learn, or worse, troublemakers.
Like their younger counterparts, teenagers must cope with feelings of isolation, behavior problems, issues at school, and stress related medical and mental health problems. Adding to the level of discomfort is the fact that teenagers are confronted with the extra pressure of entering into the dating world for the first time. Since they probably do not have a good model on which to base a healthy relationship on, they may formulate theories or ideas about relationships that are destructive or harmful.
They have witnessed the cycle of violence with the abuse, apologies from the perpetrator, tensions building and more abuse. This puts them at a disadvantage when entering into a relationship since they may not have the ability to deal with issues that arise in a positive and non-violent way. Unfortunately, some teenagers may be faced with a higher risk of being victims of dating violence and as mentioned earlier, ending up in violent relationships as adults either as victims or abusers. (Newton 2001)
The precise incidence of domestic violence in America is difficult to determine for several reasons: it often goes unreported, even on surveys; there is no nationwide organization that gathers information from local police departments about the number of substantiated reports and calls; and there is disagreement about what should be included in the definition of domestic violence. (Newton 2001) However, much independent research has been undertaken by mental health professionals who are trying to address the issue of domestic violence and children. Surveys have estimated that over 3.
3 million children are exposed to either physical or verbal spousal abuse each year. Exposure is defined as seeing or hearing the actual abuse or dealing with the aftermath of the abuse. (Newton 2001) Several scholarly reviews have been conducted of this literature, resulting in a general consensus that exposure to domestic violence “has a significant and measurable negative effect on children’s functioning, relative to children from non-violent families. ” (Wolfe 2003) The problem of domestic violence and its affect on children began to be addressed by the American government in the beginning of the 1970?
s. Since the 1970? s the government has tried to address the problem of domestic violence by conducting surveys in an attempt to understand how prevalent domestic violence has become in American societies. According to the surveys, those families reporting domestic violence as a significant co-occurring problem ranged from 11% in a 1977 to 42% in a 1982 study. (Osofsky 2004) The drastic increase in domestic violence may be due to better surveys, or it may be that the violence is on the rise due to other factors.
In a 1998 a study of Minnesota child welfare cases revealed that “71% of families in crisis reported issues related to domestic violence. In addition, 45% – 70% of children exposed to domestic violence were also the victims of physical abuse and that as many as 40% of child victims of physical abuse are also exposed to domestic violence. ” (Osofsky 2004). From the research it is clear that children are at a high risk for physical abuse when they are in a household where domestic violence is taking place. There is also a link between domestic violence and other risk factors that may negatively impact children.
Households where domestic violence is occurring often have contributing factors that lead to child maltreatment. There may be mental health issues, substance abuse, divorce, criminality, poverty, and general family dysfunction. (Osofsky 2004) With studies indicating that children who are exposed to domestic violence are at risk on a number of levels, both emotionally, socially and physically, it is important that follow up studies are completed to fully understand the long range effects of domestic violence on children, from childhood through to adulthood.
The gender of the child involved in domestic violence has an effect on how the child will respond. In a 2008 study published in the Journal of Emotional Abuse documented the responses of 115 children ages 6 to 11 to questions after viewing violent and anger-provoking scenarios involving emotions, victims and perpetrators. The study revealed that male children who witness or experience domestic violence were more easily provoked to anger while the female children resolved to act more peacefully.
The study also reported that the responses varied based on each child’s age, exposure to violence and the role of the victim or perpetrator. (Richardson 2009). In 2008, a study was conducted in Florida to determine the effects of domestic violence on the class room environment. Alachua County was chosen for the study as it is the 194th largest county in the United States and over 53% of the students are eligible for subsidized lunches. The sample group was 3rd through 5th graders from 22 different elementary schools.
The findings were troubling. It was found that children from domestic violence schools can lower their peers reading and math test scores. Troubled children also increase the misbehavior of others in the classroom. A particularly troubling statistic from the study showed that by adding one troubled child to a class room of 20 can lower the overall test scores of the class by 0. 67% and increase the amount of disciplinary infractions by nearly 16%. (Richardson 2009).
It is obvious from this study that domestic violence can have a significant impact on not only the child witnessing or experiencing the violence, but on the community in which that child interacts. Since domestic violence has been identified and it has been clearly demonstrated that it has long ranging and far reaching affects on children through to adulthood, a number of different programs have been developed to help educate teachers and social workers on how to deal with the traumatized youth. It has been shown that young children can benefit from having a “safe place”, such as a day care or school setting.
“Early childhood teachers can assist young children affected by domestic violence by providing a nurturing environment, creating a predictable routine for the child which lends a level of comfort, and providing support to parents with information about community resources for victims of domestic abuse. ” (Baker 2002) Adults with an attentive ear and kind intentions can help child victims by simply allowing the children to talk and express themselves without fear of judgment or repercussions. In addition to talking, children can benefit from keeping a journal of their thoughts, feelings and experiences.
Art can be a creative way for children to express their feelings, either through painting, drawing, or sculpture. For older children, group counseling or individual counseling may be beneficial. Referrals for counseling, such as family counseling, outside of the school should be made to the family as well. (Volpe 1996) The community should also be made accountable for helping children of domestic violence. There needs to be a continuum of accessible and coordinated services that provide safety to the child and family victims of violence.
Community services should foster the emotional well-being of all the family victims by giving them a safety net, whether it be assisting them with finding safer housing or protecting them from the offender. The perpetrators should be held accountable for their actions through legal sanctions and re-education counseling. (Baker) Some children may benefit from the assistance of specialists in family counseling or child trauma programs. Specialists are trained to know what to watch out for when dealing with a child that has been severely traumatized by domestic violence.
For example, children of domestic violence can be re-traumatized by seeing violent actions on TV, in movies or in video games. Keeping victims away from these types of media is an important part of the healing process. Caregivers of victimized children should be given the proper training so that they can make sure that traumatized children get the proper care that they need. Specialists in family counseling may also be able to directly help the child by offering individual counseling and therapy to help them cope with the traumatic stress and express their emotions. (Baker 2002)
Informal community support can also greatly help a child victim of domestic abuse. A caregiver should continue with interventions to preserve the child? s positive contact with significant others, such as aunts, uncles, and grandparents. (Baker 2002) It is comforting to children to know that they have a loving group of adults that they can trust. Continued participation in extracurricular activities, including child care programs and faith related programs, gives the child a sense of normality and lessens the feelings of isolation that the domestic violence causes.
The feelings of loneliness and isolation that a child victim has are offset by positive interactions with kids and adults. A sense of community and trust that is instilled in the child through positive community interactions can help a child feel more secure and safe within their community. Successful rehabilitation programs are judged by the benefit that they bring the child victim. A successful program must recognize that each child is unique and is in a unique situation.
The program must be flexible enough to respond to the specific needs of each child. Being unique, each child needs a different level of emotional support and physical nurture. Children will also benefit more when the intervention program creates fun and positive experiences for them. Domestic violence can disrupt a child’s feeling of security by creating a lifestyle that is free from routine. Programs can help to rehabilitate children by letting children know what to expect by creating comforting routines and planning for upcoming events.
A successful program will help the child to understand what should be expected from a safe and healthy relationship as opposed to an unhealthy one that is full of domestic violence. It is also important for there to be adequate emotional support for children who are undergoing life-changing situations such as divorce, separation, or a move into a new house or shelter. In some cases a child may be taken into juvenile custody due to severe problems from domestic violence. Here, too, there are possibilities for positive changes.
Collaboration between judges and child development/clinical specialists have provided a unique opportunity to “heal the child” in juvenile court. (Osofsky 2004) By referring young children early for evaluations and introducing dyadic therapy for them and their mothers who are motivated to become better parents, remarkable changes can be observed. (Osofsky 2004) With the right program implemented, and cooperation between the judges and mental health professionals, juvenile court can offer new beginnings for children of domestic violence.
They can begin to relearn how to interact in society in a healthy and positive way. Children from homes where domestic violence is taking place have a tough road ahead of them on many levels. They are more likely to have emotional problems and learning problems. Psychological problems can cause learning disabilities, speech problems, emotional instability and even post traumatic stress disorder. Their behavior may gain them negative repercussions such as disciplinary action or, in worst case scenarios, land them in the juvenile court system.
There is hope in the future however. Recently there has been an increase in research dedicated to understanding the actual number of children affected by domestic violence and an effort by mental health professionals to understand the repercussions that domestic violence can have on children and adults. The amount of literature on the direct effects of the abuse on children, both physically and psychologically, has increased significantly and has led to a greater understanding of the issue.
Mental health professionals, educators and researchers are dedicating themselves to understanding the issues associated with children who experience domestic violence and programs are being implemented both in schools and the community to offer support to both children and families of domestic violence. With continued research and support from the community, educators, and mental health professionals our understanding of the effects of domestic violence will increase and hopefully the negative impacts of domestic violence will diminish.
References Baker, Linda L. , Jaffe, Peter G. , Ashbourne, Lynda. (2002). Children exposed to domestic violence: An early childhood educator’s handbook to increase understanding and improve community responses. Ontario, Canada: Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System. http://www. lfcc. on. ca/ece-us. PDF Geffner, Robert A. , Jaffe, Peter G. , Suddermann, Marlies. (2000) Children exposed to domestic violence: Current issues in research, prevention, intervention and policy development.
Binghamton, NY: The Hayworth Press, Inc. Newton, C. J. (2001). Domestic violence: An overview. Mental Health Journal. Retrieved from http://www. findcounseling. com/journal/domestic-violence/domestic-violence-children. html Osofsky, Joy D. (2004). Young children and trauma: Intervention and treatment. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. Richardson, Recco Santee. (2009). Domestic violence and children: How parents and mental health providers can address the fallout. Flint, MI: Recco S. Richardson Consulting, Inc.
http://reccorichardson. com/DOCS/Domestic%20Violence%20PDF. pdf Volpe, Joseph F. (1996). Effects of domestic violence on children and adolescents: an overview. American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Retrieved from http://www. aaets. org/article8. htm Wolfe, David A. , Crooks, Claire V. , Lee, Vivien, McIntyre-Smith, Alexandra, Jaffe, Peter G. (2003). The effects of children’s exposure to domestic violence: A meta-analysis and critique. Clinical child and family psychology review, 6(3), 205-213.