Ever have one of those weeks where the same challenging issue keeps coming up? For me, the question of how to best help children exposed to domestic violence came up in three different meetings this week. Unfortunately, I did not have a helpful to answer to offer the folks asking me this question.
Are there best practices and programs to help children who witness domestic violence in their families? Unfortunately, little research exists to help guide programs and practices to address this important need.
Why are programs and practices to help children exposed to domestic violence so important? Research shows that 1.3 million women in the U.S. experience physical violence from a partner each year. Much of this partner violence is occurring in families where there are children who are exposed violence. Children who witness their parents/caregivers violence perpetration and victimization are more likely (than children who have not had this experience) to have problems with their emotions, in their peer relationships, as well as problems at school. Specifically, other research shows that for children who are exposed to domestic violence nearly 63% fared worse in behavioral, academic, and social functioning than the average child who has not been exposed to such violence. So we need evidence about works to help keep children safe from domestic violence.
Though there isn't much research on this topic and though robust, evidence-based practices to help children exposed to domestic violence don't exist, there are programs and agencies across the U.S. offering innovative and promising programs to children and their families.
I had the terrific opportunity to collaborate with one these programs. In Wake County, North Carolina three agencies joined in a collaborative effort to provide services to children whose families have been affected by domestic violence. The three agencies are Interact, SAFEchild, and Triangle Family Services. These three agencies joined in a collaborative effort to provide services to children whose families are burdened with the problem of domestic violence. The three agencies shared a vision that children in Wake County could have access to a coordinated and comprehensive continuum of age-appropriate services to help them overcome the negative psychological, social, and emotional health effects that are caused by exposure to domestic violence. The agencies named this program Hope for Children.
I collaborated with these agencies to evaluate this innovative program. I've posted the full evaluation report on the web. I've also developed two short briefs based on the findings from this research. One brief highlights the practice and service findings from this research, and the other highlights the program development findings.
This research takes a step in the right direction. But much more work needs to be done before we have a good idea about what works to make a difference in the lives of children exposed to domestic violence.
Are there innovative, promising programs to address the needs of children in your community?