Early Childhood Intervention: Module Two – Special Needs & Conditions

Children Exposed to Domestic Violence

Children who witness domestic violence or who are involved or living with family violence are just as traumatized as children who experience other forms of abuse. They experience short and long term social, emotional and behavioral problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), inappropriate peer interactions, developmental delay, aggression, depression and anxiety.

Description

Children living with domestic violence live with psychological maltreatment. This is defined as “the repeated pattern of behavior that conveys to the child that they are worthless, unloved, unwanted, only of value in meeting another’s needs or seriously threatened with physical or psychological violence1.”

These children are also “terrorized.” Terrorized points at the behavior of a caregiver that threatens or is likely to physically hurt, kill, abandon or place the child or child’s loved ones or objects in  “recognizably dangerous situations.”

When children are subject to this level of violence, they experience physical and emotional impact that may end up in “trauma” (see full Glossary). This impact relates to repeated exposure to this violence is physiologically arousing, emotionally distressing and often includes trauma.

The child is often intimidated by the person who abuses and fears for his or her own safety. The child may also have feelings of fear and helplessness at watching their parent get beaten.

Violence is never a way to resolve conflicts and that the adult who abuses (man or woman) has the power in the house. Children who grow up in home environments that are violent may end up believing that violence is acceptable. These children are is often denied the opportunity to express their feelings in appropriate and supported ways.

Maltreatment also happens when the adults keep the child isolated. Adults who abuse often limit social opportunities for the spouse or children so the child is not able to develop a supportive social network.

Children in violent homes often have their health, medical and educational needs neglected.

Intervention Options

As stated with all areas of abuse, there are many variables for the child. The impact on social and emotional development is profound.

In BC there is a program specifically designed for children who witness abuse. This type of programs are community-based and provide individual and group counselling services for children who witness the abuse of a parent, most often a mother. Designed to help break the intergenerational cycle of violence against women, these programs help children cope with, and heal from, the trauma of living in an abusive situation. Support is also provided to the parent (usually the mother) who has been abused by her partner.

1 Source: Holden, 2003

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