April is Child Abuse Awareness Month: Children, Domestic Violence & Abuse

(04/05/2015) Amber Bachelor, Director of Special Programs, Safe Nest

Because of programs like Safe Nest and others working with youth and children, most of us know that child abuse is an unfortunate reality which has harmful and frequently long-lasting effects on the children experiencing it.  Child abuse is not uncommon in homes where there is domestic violence. Studies suggest that 30% to 60% of perpetrators of domestic violence also abuse the children in the household. It’s also projected that annually 3.3 million to 10 million children witness domestic violence at home.  Some of these children go beyond being witnesses to the violence.  While not the immediate target they may be injured when they try to intervene or are “caught in the cross-fire”.

How does childhood exposure to domestic violence affect those “hidden” victims in families where it’s occurring?   Like their adult parents or caregivers children and youth experience trauma from the physical and verbal abuse happening around them at home.  “…exposure to trauma can occur repeatedly over long periods of time. These experiences call forth a range of responses, including intense feelings of fear, loss of trust in others, decreased sense of personal safety, guilt, and shame. We call these kinds of trauma chronic traumatic situations.”

At different times of their lives they can demonstrate a variety of issues related to the witnessing of domestic violence.

They may experience disruptions in their sleep or eating patterns.  Separation anxiety, developmental delays or regressions, aggression and anxiety are all some of the effects of witnessing domestic violence. At later ages there can be an increase in aggressive behavior, difficulties in peer relationships with their peers and poor school performance. As ‘tweens and teens they may skip school, get involved w/alcohol or drugs, or become runaways trying to escape the violence at home.  Youth who’ve witnessed domestic violence may become involved in their own abusive dating relationship and have a higher rate of unplanned teen pregnancies.                                    

This month we’re reminded that children continue to experience abuse and continue to witness the violence between the adults in their lives.  But they’re not alone in having to deal with the aftermath of those experiences.  Communities too end up addressing the repercussions.

If you can help distressed and traumatized child witnesses to domestic violence please help break the cycle of violence and abuse in the lives of children. Help us to demonstrate that happy childhoods can exist and unhappy ones can be mended.  Donate to Safe Nest to support our domestic violence programs.

  National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN). The Network is funded by the Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, US Department of Health and Human Services through a congressional initiative: the Donald J. Cohen National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative.