The Young Victims of Domestic Abuse
As we acknowledge October as National Domestic Abuse Awareness Month, we need to evaluate the implications of domestic abuse for the children and families we serve. According to the U.S. Department of Women’s Health more than 15 million children in the United States live in homes where domestic violence has happened at least once. Children who've witnessed domestic violence are also at a higher risk for medical and mental health issues and a much greater risk of being abused or abusing others in the future. Although some children may never fully recover from the trauma of witnessing violence firsthand, there are things we can do to help set them up for a greater chance of success in the future.
Establish Felt Safety
The first thing children need is a personal sense of safety. Felt safety is a critical need for all children, but especially crucial for a child that has experienced abuse. The key factor with felt safety is the child’s perception of their safety. Regardless of whether or not the child is safe, the child needs to believe he is safe. Talking to the child about her fears, about proper boundaries, and about healthy relationships are all conversations that can help the child feel safe in your home. Through careful observation of those fears, you will probably be able to pick up on practical steps that could make a child feel safer in your home. Things like door and window alarms and a clear shower are ideas that have helped foster children in the past.
Create a Support Network
Establishing a support network of relationships will often help a child feel safe, including a professional counselor and trusted school staff. The more layers of safe support a child has the better for the brain's healing. In a church setting where you might be away from the child in children’s ministry or youth ministry, it can be helpful to find a target person willing to be the child’s consistent, safe person. Consistency is key here.
Model Healthy Relationships
Your children need to see a model of healthy relationships help them on the healing journey. Talking about healthy relationships and modeling them in your home will help children reframe prior relationships they experienced before coming into care. The time children are in your home might be the only time they are living in a Christian home, seeing Christ-centered relationships, and experiencing gospel-based parenting. These experiences could reframe how children view their future relationships.
“Despite their scars of past deprivation and lingering fearfulness, at-risk children can learn to take comfort and safety from their families. Be patient, and do everything in your power to let your children understand that they are safe and welcome in their new homes.” (The Connected Child by Karyn B. Purvis, David R. Cross, and Wendy Lyons Sunshine, p.72)
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