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2003 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 8, No. 3
May 2003

Understanding and Helping Children Exposed to Domestic Violence

Know that children may feel . . .

Afraid:

  • Their mom/dad will be hurt or killed
  • They or their siblings will be hurt or killed
  • They’ll make things worse if they tell
  • The battering parent won’t love them anymore if they tell

Angry:

  • With the battering parent, the parent being abused, siblings, other family members, and with themselves for not stopping the violence

Confused:

  • They may love and hate the battering parent
  • They may not know what causes the violence or how to stop it
  • They may be confused about whether it is abuse at all

Helpless:

  • To stop the violence
  • To escape the abuse permanently
  • To get help for themselves, the batterer, the abused parent, siblings

Guilty:

  • They believe they are the “cause” of the violence
  • They believe they should intervene but sometimes don’t
  • They use unhealthy coping mechanisms to “feel better” or “escape”

Source: NCCWDVC, 2002


To support these children child welfare workers can:

  • Support the child’s mother by helping her establish a safety plan and by connecting her to resources that promote her independence

  • Identify and support those factors that shield children living in violent homes from harm. Protective factors include:
    — Child is old enough and mature enough to carry out a safety plan when violence occurs at home
    — Child has a positive relationships (with family members, neighbors, and friends) that will support him during a crisis
    — Child is self-reliant and willing and able to seek help
    — Child’s caretaker is willing to seek help for domestic violence
    — Caretaker’s primary concern is the safety of the child
    — Adult victim has good parenting and coping skills

Source: Ganley & Schechter, 1996


References for this and other articles in this issue