So often domestic violence gets talked about in the context of the adults involved that we don’t always stop to think about how it’s affecting the kids. Children who live in homes where there is domestic violence are almost always aware of what is going on, and are often abused themselves. This can have a devastating effect on their lives. Many of the children we see experience sleep troubles, nightmares, or fear of falling asleep. The effects of the trauma may show up physically, with things like headaches, stomach aches, and other aches and pains. Sometimes kids start to lose skills they had learned earlier, such as toilet training, naming colors, beginning math ability, etc., and they often exhibit signs of aggressive behavior, angry feelings, and repeatedly pretending to act out a violent event. They might have trouble concentrating, are often hyperactive, and constantly worry about the fear of danger. In some cases they withdraw from contact with others.
With the proper help, these effects of violence can be reversed.
Jackson is a four-year-old boy who lives in our shelter with his mother. His mother says that Jackson witnessed “everything” as it relates to the domestic violence (from yelling to physical assaults) and that he will often talk about the violent events in inappropriate settings. When Jackson came to the house he was exhibiting violent and aggressive behavior. In therapy, we are currently working on Jackson’s ability to regulate his emotions. He’s been able to name and identify his feelings during stressful moments which has helped him self-regulate. He has also developed an awareness of asking for help from others as a result of the therapy. For example, when Jackson is frustrated, he can now say (most of the time) “Mom, I am mad that I can’t put the pieces to the Legos together. Can you help me?” Whereas before, he would throw all of the Legos on the floor and start crying in the corner.
Using things like therapeutic play, art, and behavioral therapy, REACH helps children who have witnessed or experienced violence begin recover from the experience of domestic violence. Kids we work with know that they can speak freely about their struggles and process their experiences with our therapist, developing ways to express their feelings and cope with their trauma history. They learn that it’s ok to trust, to experience feelings, and to talk about those feelings. We create an environment that is safe, where all feelings are acceptable, and appropriate behavior is modeled. When kids learn healthy coping skills, we see improvements in school, stronger friendships, and increased self-esteem that positively affect the kids around them as well.
We also offer support and consultation for parents who are struggling to do what’s best for their children in the wake of abuse, and childcare for kids while their mothers attend support groups. We provide crisis prevention services such as safety planning, transportation, and help with other basic needs that are so crucial in the first steps of recovering from abuse. In addition to these services, we run donation drives for school supplies, basic necessities and holiday gifts, which help ease a family’s transition to independence (whether that is a move into new housing, or the transition to a one-parent household). We provide all of our services free of charge and not requiring insurance, which gives us a great deal of flexibility in how we can support a family.
Our Therapist is bilingual and bicultural, which means she can provide translation services and offer culturally competent care to REACH’s growing caseload of Spanish-speaking families. She actively helps parents advocate for their children in the school system, attending meetings to develop Individualized Education Programs or facilitating requests to have the child evaluated for Special Education. When helping families in our shelter, she reaches out to the school the child or teen came from to determine what was working there, and how they can keep the child connected and decrease isolation in order to keep the family as stabilized as possible following their move to shelter.
You can be a part of this work and make a difference in the lives of kids who really need to know that there are trustworthy and kind adults out there. We are always looking for childcare volunteers who can help us provide a warm, caring, stable environment for the kids we work with. If you are good with kids, like playing games and having fun, contact us to get involved!