As a parent you will have tried to protect your child as much as possible from the domestic abuse you are suffering, and hope that they do not know what is happening. However, in the majority of families where there are children, and where abuse is being perpetrated, the children will be aware of this, and will often hear it or see it going on.
Children are affected in different ways by living in a family where there is domestic abuse;
- They may become anxious or depressed
- They may have difficulty sleeping
- They may complain of physical symptoms such as tummy aches
- They may start to wet their bed
- They may have temper tantrums
- They may behave as though they are much younger than they are
- They may have problems at school, or may start truanting
- They may become aggressive
- They may have a lowered sense of self-worth
- They may begin to self-harm by taking overdoses or cutting themselves
Children, will be affected in some way by tension or by witnessing arguments, distressing behavior or assaults – even if they do not always show this. They may feel that they are to blame, or – like you – they may feel angry, guilty, insecure, and alone, frightened, powerless, or confused.
Bringing children into Refuge is a very big step for a mother and you will worry about how your child/children will cope, you may feel guilty about taking your child/children away from their home, family networks, friends, school and all that is familiar to them. However it is our experience that children settle very well and quickly into refuge life.
At St. Albans and Hertsmere Women’s Refuge we aim to support children who have lived in homes where domestic abuse has occurred. We have two very experienced child support workers who will help and support both the children and their mothers in overcoming the abuse they have suffered. Most children appreciate an opportunity to acknowledge the violence and to talk about what they are feeling.
When a family comes into the refuge it is part the role of the child support worker to meet with the mother and carry out an assessment of the children’s needs; This looks at all areas of the child’s physical, social, emotional and educational development.
The Child Support Worker works closely with pre-school, nursery and local educational settings ensuring children are found places as quickly as possible. It is our experience that supporting children into school helps to establish routine, some security and normality when everything around them may feel chaotic. Safety is a priority, but some children can remain in their previous school if it safe to do so.
The Child Support Workers provide play sessions which include activities such as painting, sand, water, storytelling and many other fun activities, after school activities helping and supporting with home work as well as play, and individual sessions to support children who may need additional support, these are informal and child led. There are gardens with climbing frames and toys to play with. All of the work is under-pinned with the ethos of giving children and young people the opportunity to play and communicate in an environment that is free from abuse, that is safe due to clear boundaries, that is respectful, taking into account their individual wishes and feelings.
The over-riding principal of any interaction with the children within the Refuge is to increase their confidence and self esteem, giving them a greater sense of self which may have been eroded by the impact of domestic abuse.
During the school holidays trips are organised such as a day at the seaside a visit from Ark Farm and many other fun activities chosen by the children.
Often when it comes time for families to leave the refuge this can cause anxiety for children so work is done to prepare them for the move; children often miss the relationship with the child support worker that they have built up over time, so to make the transition from life in the Refuge to living back in the community the Child Support Worker provides ongoing support through resettlement, visiting the families in their new homes, ensuring that children have a school, GP and social activities they can join if they wish. This support will last as long as there is a need.
Some families do not come into the refuge but their children have been affected by domestic abuse. The child support worker will meet with women who are living in the community whose children may need support, this may be helping a mother understand her child’s behaviour, it may be liaising with other agencies on the mother’s behalf to ensure that the children are receiving adequate support, or it could be meeting with a child or young person to help them gain an understanding of their experiences of domestic abuse.