Domestic Violence: When Children are Involved

As I stated in my previous post on ways you can help those who are in a violent and abusive relationship, there are situations in which taking a more active role is called for.

That’s when there are children involved as victims as well as witnesses.

Research has shown that witnessing violence in the home is traumatic for children. Depending upon the frequency and intensity of the violence, they may become

* fearful,
* anxious,
* depressed,
* untrusting and
* confused.

The very people who are supposed to keep them safe are doing just the opposite.

A partial list of symptoms that a child witnessing domestic violence may display include:

* becoming withdrawn
* becoming aggressive
* bed wetting
* poor school performance
* hyper-vigilance
* unwillingness to spend time with one or the other parent (or intimate partner)

When I work with clients who have children or are responsible for the care of children and I suspect that the children are being exposed to Domestic Violence, I try to gather as much information as possible including speaking with the children.

Then, as a Mandated Reporter, I call the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and report them. This launches an investigation, a Case Worker is assigned to the case, and unscheduled home visits, interviews and other actions are part of the process.

Being a Mandated Reporter means that I am legally and ethically required to take this step. I inform my clients from our first session when there are children involved that this is something I must and will do.

For them, this may create a dilemma. Ideally, they need to feel they can share everything in their lives with me. However, doing so can have consequences they would rather not experience.

On the other hand, my Mandated Reporter status may have a positive effect. People who are involved in abusive relationships are often clueless about the deleterious effects on their children. When I explain how Domestic Violence traumatizes children, their understanding may be broadened. When they realize that Domestic Violence can destroy their family, they may start to take their behavior more seriously. Perhaps when they realize that what they experienced as children which was traumatic for them is being perpetuated by their own behavior.

Sometimes, but only sometimes, they may get the help they need to change their violent behavior.

Sometimes, but only sometimes, it may be enough to get someone to leave an abusive relationship.

My role and responsibilities are clearly defined. However, for the lay person who’s best friend or brother or sister is in an abusive relationship and there are children in the home, the response is more difficult. Do you call ACS or not?

My recommendation is to make the call. It’s anonymous. The investigation may put the adults on notice that their behavior is harming their children. They may understand that maintaining the status quo of abuse can have serious consequences.

They make take the steps needed to change. You may in the end save lives.

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