Children: The forgotten victims in the cycle of domestic violence | SierraSun.com
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Children: The forgotten victims in the cycle of domestic violence

SHERRY MAYS, Sierra Sun

Domestic violence claims victims at an increasing rate each year, and it isn’t only the adults in a relationship that are hurt through the violence.

Children are most often the “forgotten victims” in the cycle of violence that is generated by domestic violence.

Area agencies and school officials work with children daily to help mend their lives while their parents or guardians work to mend theirs.

“Kids are terrified by domestic violence,” said Phebe Bell, program director for Tahoe Women’s Services. “Adults don’t think that the violence is affecting kids, but it is. They are the forgotten victims.”

Bell said that TWS programs are addressing children’s needs in hopes of working more proactively with abuse.

“We need to let children know that abuse isn’t the norm,” she said. “We need to tell them that there are people in the community that want to help them.”

Ruth Hall, director of Sierra Nevada Children’s Services, said the most common help for children in homes with domestic violence is providing a safe place for them to be children while their parents are trying to get help and move on in life.

“So many children face adult strife at home,” Hall said. “It’s important for children to have fun and do childhood things. Kids grow up too fast in abusive environments.”

Hall said when a parent leaves a household it is common for a child to assume the missing family role. Children can become the caretakers for younger siblings.

“I’ve seen children as young as 6 take on caretaker roles,” she said. “The family structure breaks down when domestic violence is present.”

Hall and SNCS help parents with one-on-one parenting classes to put structure back into their lives and into their homes. When structure is lost, even the simplest tasks such as waking up in the morning and finishing homework become impossible.

“Life is chaotic in abusive environments,” Hall said. “It is really sad to see children so worried. The sooner they are out of the cycle of violence, the better.”

It is during the transitional times when parents are trying to move away from the abusive environment that SNCS sees the child victims.

The school counselors see the victims each day.

“In the past five years I have seen a tremendous increase in the number of children who are from homes where there is violence, divorce or separation,” Jan Susman, Truckee Elementary School counselor, said. “There are a lot of stressful homes in our district.”

What Susman sees more than ever are skewed perceptions of what normal life is like. It is more common for children to be experiencing one-parent families than it was in the past.

“When I was growing up I was the only child with divorced parents,” she said. “It was an embarrassment. Today it’s the norm. It is accepted.”

Susman said in a recent student counseling group, a girl said to her that eventually all dads move out and fly away.

“It made me stop and think about what students think about family,” she said.

The school’s counseling includes divorce groups; social skills groups that include anger management, problem solving and how to be a friend; and a new student group that Susman said seems to quell some of the initial confusion when students are new to the school.

She said it is fascinating to watch children, and their resiliency to domestic violence.

“It always amazes me to see one child who can get through it (domestic violence) OK, while another child crumbles,” she said. “There are no stereotypical clues to domestic violence because children all act so differently.”

Some common clues educators look for are:

drastic changes in behavior.

inability to stay awake in class.

learning curve changes.

defiance.

children who tell big stories.

obvious marks on a child’s body.

One program that is working successfully in the district is Special Friends, a research-based program that has been in existence for about 25 years and in the district for about 10.

Susman said it is the best she has seen.

The program provides children one half hour of non-directive play at a specific time each week.

“Sometimes it is the only peace and quiet they can get each week,” she said. “It is a place of safety and peace for these children. They get to play however they want for that time each week without judgment. The aides don’t ask questions, just let them be happy.

“People shouldn’t underestimate the power of play.”

To increase the awareness that families some times need help and it is OK for them to need to reach out for that help, TWS is sponsoring the Safe Place campaign through the beginning of November.

“We are asking people of all ages to submit drawings of where they always feel safe,” Bell said. There are many individuals who are not safe in their own homes and we need to find ways to make that change.”

The campaign includes a poster contest that will end Nov. 6. Three winning entries will be selected to become community posters. Final posters will be displayed at the TWS annual Holiday Open House in December.

“Our question to the community is not only where do you feel safe, but how can we work together to make this community as safe place for children and families,” she said.

SIDEBAR

October has been packed with events sponsored by the Tahoe Women’s Services in conjunction with Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Ongoing – Purple Ribbon Campaign. Wear purple ribbons as a sign of support for the end of domestic violence.

Ongoing – Everybody Deserves to Feel Safe Campaign. A kick-off for the campaign is a poster contest where district children will draw posters of where they feel safest.

Ongoing – Hands Are Not For Hitting Campaign. TWS focuses on elementary school students with activities aimed at teaching positive hand uses.

Oct. 28 – Healing the Wounds of Violence Against Women. TWS honors victims of domestic violence with a candlelight ceremony.

For information, call 546-7804 or the Truckee office at 582-9117.

STATISTIC: More than 50 percent of child abductions result from domestic violence.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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