Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Helping a Child Cope With the Effects of Family Violence
When seven-year-old Macey first started meeting with a children’s advocate at SafeHouse Denver, she was scared that she would have to find another mother out on the street. She had overheard her father threaten to kill her mother and was certain he meant it.
Each week while her mom met with a women’s advocate at SafeHouse Denver, Macey and her advocate worked on a safety plan together. She identified safe neighbors she could go to for help, learned how to dial 911 and established a code word with her mother so Macey would know when to call if her family needed help.
During the summer months, Macey participated in a children’s group with other youth who have witnessed violence in their own homes. Together they explored the concept of non-violence and learned tangible tools to set healthy boundaries with other people.
At an early age, Macey is already learning to speak for herself and her own well-being. She has expressed that she would like to move in with her aunt until things get better for her mom. While those details are worked out, Macey still receives support from her advocate and continues to keep herself safe through the tools she is learning at SafeHouse Denver.
Therapeutic interventions are an integral part of the healing process for child survivors of domestic violence. Even if children have not witnessed abuse firsthand or been physically hurt, they are almost always impacted by what is going on at home. They may feel scared by the abuse, afraid that their behavior is the cause, and ashamed of what’s happening in their home. Witnessing domestic violence – physical or verbal – at a young age can also model an unhealthy picture of what love and relationships should look like. In fact, witnessing violence between one’s parents or caretakers is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next (www.breatkthecycle.org).
Established in 1977, SafeHouse Denver is the only agency in the City and County of Denver that provides both emergency shelter and nonresidential counseling and advocacy services to victims of domestic violence. As part of its mission to assist adults, children and youth in reclaiming their right to a life free of domestic violence, SafeHouse Denver also runs a 24-hour crisis line and offers community education throughout the Denver metro area to help empower communities to prevent, reduce and effectively respond to domestic violence.
In the first eight months of 2012, SafeHouse Denver handled 12,545 calls to its 24-hour crisis line; provided 6,129 nights of safe shelter to 103 women and 37 children; and served 640 victims through its non-residential Counseling and Advocacy Center. Yet the organization has been forced to refer a total of 1,975 women to other resources because its shelter is always full. By year-end, SafeHouse Denver expects to exceed the 2,470 referrals it made for all of 2011.
October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), and while agencies such as SafeHouse Denver continually strive to raise awareness of this often life-threatening cause, DVAM gives them the opportunity to collectively shine an even brighter light on the issue. To make a donation to support SafeHouse Denver’s shelter and counseling services or to learn about in-kind goods/services needed by the organization, go to www.safehouse-denver.org or visit the organization on Facebook.
*Note: Name and any identifying details of this story have been changed to protect child’s identity.