We work with many children who have experienced domestic violence or abuse. Home Office statistics claim that least 750,000 children a year 'witness' domestic violence and about half the number of children living with domestic violence have themselves suffered physical abuse. All children and young people witnessing domestic violence are being emotionally abused. Understandably, children and young people who have or are experiencing domestic violence will feel many different emotions. They will respond differently to the trauma and some may be more resilient than others. It is not unusual for children and young people to feel angry, guilty, insecure, alone, frightened, powerless or confused and they may have ambivalent feelings towards both the abuser and the non-abusing parent.
Jayne aged 8 years was referred to the Society by her school. They were concerned because she was very withdrawn, easily startled and was always complaining of physical symptoms such as tummy aches. Sometimes at the end of school she hid behind the desk and did not want to go home. We were told by her school that she had recently moved in to the area and there was a background of domestic violence, although it was not known how much Jayne had witnessed. It took a long time to establish a relationship with Jayne but gradually she began to talk.
The violence had begun when her Mother began a relationship with a new partner about two years ago. Jayne vividly recalled being shouted at 'close to my face' and spat at. Jayne was encouraged to talk about these distressing experiences. One day, she drew a picture of her mother lying on the floor and a male figure standing over her with his arm raised. Jayne was on the other side of the picture with the phone in her hand. She explained that her mother was unconscious and she was phoning the police.
Following this and after liaising with Statutory Authorities, Jayne and her mother were moved to a woman's refuge and were then re-homed to where they are now living. She missed her friends and extended family and worried about her mother. Our worker worked with Jayne, initially to assess the psychological impact and her specific needs and views, as well as understanding what she had witnessed. Encouraging her to talk about, draw and use puppets and figures to deal with the past and feel safe in her present environment, was the main aim of the work with Jayne. The social worker also met with Jayne's mother to improve communication between Jayne and her mother as Jayne felt responsibility for protecting her mother. Discussion also took place on building healthy relationships.
After six months, Jayne is now a lively, bright outgoing child with a new set of friends. She still misses her extended family but has been encouraged to write to them without letting them know her address just yet.
Not all cases are as serious as this one. Many are less serious but some are worse.