Under the Umbrella: How Domestic Violence Affects Children

Training: How Domestic Violence Affects ChildrenCases of domestic violence have been at the forefront of news lately. A lot of
attention has been given to the situation involving football star Ray Rice, but the truth is that domestic violence is prevalent in every community. It is believed that more than three million children witness domestic violence in their homes every year. These children are not only at greater risk for abuse, neglect, and health problems like headaches and stomachaches; the effects of domestic violence can also affect children later in life. As adults, individuals who witnessed domestic violence as children are:
  • Six times more likely to commit suicide
  • 50 times more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol
  • 74 times more likely to commit violent crimes against another
There is no doubt that exposure to domestic violence can have a drastic effect on children. The question that many of us want to know is – what can I do about this? Keep in mind that most children are resilient IF they are given proper help and support following traumatic events like domestic violence. This support is often best provided by the child’s family, but even a brief relationship with one caring adult can make a difference. That person may be the child’s teacher, day care provider, neighbor, social worker, or even YOU!
Having a positive caring adult in their lives can make all the difference for a child affected by domestic violence. Of course, some children need or would benefit from additional services or support. Many shelters and domestic violence organizations offer support groups for youth. These groups can provide children with coping strategies and help them see that they are not alone.
If domestic violence is affecting you or someone you know, reach out for help. You can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233) or Safe Horizon’s hotline at 800-621-HOPE (4673).
We also invite you to attend our upcoming training, How Domestic Violence Affects Children, on Tuesday, October 13, 2015. You can attend in person at our office in Milwaukee or from anywhere via webinar. Click the link above to learn more about this event and register online.
Please keep in mind that we are here to support you and your family. Reach out anytime – our Resource Specialists are here to help.

Tales From the Road

by Sue Badeau

Have you ever taken a road trip? With children?

Two boys in the car using a tablet PC, younger boy sitting in the child safety seat

If so, you understand the importance of packing a well-stocked tool kit so you’ll be
prepared in the event of a flat tire, dead battery, or other roadside challenge. The right tool kit may have life or death implications. Traveling in hot, dry climates with long stretches of road between rest stops requires different tools and supplies (extra water!) than traveling in the blistering cold and ice of the northern regions of Wisconsin in winter (blankets please!).

In a similar way, families fostering or adopting children, as well as the professionals
who work with them, need to have the right tools to make their journey safe and
healing for all. My husband and I have parented over 75 children – through birth,
adoption, foster care, refugee hosting, and kinship care. Many have complex trauma
and/or medical special needs. Along with shorter road trips, we’ve taken coast-to-coast camping trips with our children half a dozen times! We learned many life lessons on these trips, and drew from those experiences to write our book, “Are We There Yet: The Ultimate Road Trip Adopting and Raising 22 Kids.”
It has been a scary, challenging, thrilling, joyous, confusing, frustrating, and rewarding journey from the first day until today – one that we would definitely repeat if we had the opportunity – and yet one that we were not always prepared for. When we set out to become parents, my husband and I thought we had a pretty complete tool kit. I had a college degree in early childhood education; he had experience as a youth counselor and coach. We had friends who were parents. We had attended conferences, read books, babysat, and observed. We were ready to rock and roll on this journey of parenthood. Quickly we learned that parenting children whose lives have been challenged by abuse, neglect, medical conditions, community violence, separation, loss, and a depth of grief we had never experienced would take more than the usual spare tires, jumper cables, and maps required for most road trips.

Today I’ll share a few thoughts about road trips – and a few lessons we’ve learned along the way. When I speak at the A Place in My Heart conference, I’ll share a bit about what we’ve learned to pack in our own parenting tool kit to help you think about what you might need for yours, or for the families you work with.

“Let’s go.” The most important lesson about successful road trips is that they require
action. One of the best moments of any road trip, is getting everyone loaded into the
vehicles and pulling out of the driveway. We may not know what lies ahead, but we’re on our way.

In my role as a consultant, parents or workers often describe a challenging situation related to a child. Their question goes something like this, “Is this a normal developmental thing, or is it adoption-related, or should we have her tested for other issues?”

Sometimes it’s hard to tease out the root cause underlying the words, feelings, and behaviors children present. We can get stuck in the mud of confusion. Paralyzed by the fear of doing the wrong thing, we do nothing. Children are further traumatized as a result. While it is important to do our best to understand what is going on with our children, we cannot be afraid to act. We must forge ahead, applying parenting
strategies designed to foster attachment, nurture healing, and support healthy development, even when plagued with unknowns and uncertainties.

“I will go before you.” The best sources of information for planning a road trip are not always found in travel guides, but rather by talking to others who have been down that road before us. We need others as mentors, guides, and companions. We need their leadership, expertise, experience, and fellowship. Throughout our journey as foster and adoptive parents, such travelling companions have helped us learn how to cope with a child on a feeding tube, a pregnant teen, a son in prison, and a dying child. What a precious gift to have such companions to go before us and travel with us. Foster, kin, and adoptive families need these connections. Support groups, both in-person and online, buddy-families, respite providers, mentors. Families will have a more successful journey when they are able to learn from and share in the experiences of others.

“Slow down!” We live in a fast-paced world; we’re used to everything being instant, from the news to text messages – we never want to wait. Yet, sometimes, the best advice we can heed is the voice inside that is urging us to “slow down, go at the pace of the children . . .”

In our journey, we’ve learned that there are two ways to travel: to focus on the destination, or to enjoy the journey on its own terms. Each road trip will be filled with delays and detours. But when we focus on the journey, these detours can become “teachable moments,” not simply hassles to be endured. Sometimes we discover that what we thought was a detour is actually the best way after all.

Our children may not achieve developmental milestones at the same pace as other children. Healing from trauma takes time. Do not rush the process. Give children time, give parents time – time to attach, to heal, and to thrive.

Let me illustrate these life lessons with a couple of stories from our own family journey.

Father and son walking during the hiking activities in autumn forest at sunset

On one trip, when the kids were small, we hiked in the Appalachian Mountains. We covered a short distance on an easy walking trail.

I noticed many hikers passing us equipped with everything needed to make it to the top of the mountain. I grew envious. As I looked over my motley crew, my eyes fixed on my small son with cerebral palsy – a child who was predicted to never walk – picking his way along the mountain path.

My eyes filled with tears. I realized that he was every bit as successful as the pros with their fancy equipment. I learned an important lesson that day: it’s not about getting to the top, it’s about putting one foot in front of the other, and continuing the climb.

Sometimes, while on our journey, we get into accidents. The second story I’ll share involves a road trip with one of my daughters and her infant son. At three in the morning, I was getting sleepy and fighting my eyelids as they threatened to close.

The next thing I knew, I was in a ditch, upside down, pinned between the steering wheel and door. My grandson was crying and my daughter was unconscious. I was terrified that we’d never get out. Who would see us at this hour? From time to time, I’d see the glimmer of headlights on the road above. No one stopped.

Finally, a trucker stopped. He couldn’t fix us, but he stayed with us until an ambulance came. We all survived, although some scars remain.

What touched me so deeply was that the trucker stopped and stayed – not knowing if we could be fixed. It cost him time and set him back on his route. I think of him often when I get discouraged that I can’t always “fix” everything for my children, or when I don’t see complete healing from the damage and injuries they sustained by all kinds of brutal early life experiences. I’m reminded to look beyond the “wreck” – to see hope and possibilities for healing, just as the trucker did for us. I am reminded of the value of being the one who stops and stays even in the midst of seemingly
impossible circumstances.

These are just two of the lessons we’ve learned from taking road trips with our family. The precious memories have endured. We’ve also learned that, when travelling, you better take along a really good tool kit because, inevitably, you’ll
experience flat tires, get lost, the brakes will quit, etc. I hope you can join me at the A Place in My Heart conference on November 7 in Wisconsin Dells. I’ll share a bit more about our tool kit to help you think about what goes into yours.

World Wide Wednesday: September 30, 2015

iStock_000003621765_LargeIt’s World Wide Wednesday! Here’s what’s news in the world of foster care and adoption around the web:

  • A community built around older adults caring for adoptive families
    Families who adopt foster kids need a lot of support. In Rantoul, Illinois, families get help in a neighborhood called Hope Meadows from older adults who’ve moved there just for that purpose. The Gossett family has definitely benefited from this arrangement. Whitney Gossett adopted four siblings from foster care: brothers Patrick, 13, Andrew, 12, Jeremiah, 7, and sister Bella, who’s 10.
  • 12 things adopted/foster children wish you knewDo you have an adopted or foster child? If not, have you considered fostering a child or adopting a child? What is stopping you? What inspired you to do it? Whatever the case, adopting and fostering a child is one of the most difficult, intimidating, and humbling experiences for many families. It’s also quite admirable. Adopting or fostering a child (or teenager) will take a great deal of support from your “village” and knowledge about attachment, trauma and patience. Sadly, for many eager adoptive and foster parents, the idea of adopting or fostering a child often outweighs the potential downsides and challenges that come with raising an adopted or fostered child.
  • Student Debt Forgiveness for Former Foster Youth: Everyone knows that the student loan debt crisis has gotten out of control in this country but not many people are aware of the impact this problem has on the most vulnerable population in our society.

    Foster youth often have to overcome significant obstacles just to function in society, let alone pursue a higher education. Many grew up in poverty even before abuse or neglect impacted them, and bureaucratic bungling began over placing them in a stable home.

    It shouldn’t surprise anyone that most former foster youth don’t go to college and of the few who do, most of them don’t graduate at all. (Continue reading by clicking the link above.)

  • Adoption Disruption: An Open Letter to My Teenage Son (Although he may never read it…)

    “Dear Marcus,

    Being adopted must have been the hardest struggle for you. Harder than I can imagine. How could you know how to handle that at age 17? After having been in the system for 4 years, in and out of placements, “forever” must have seemed like a foreign concept. I want you to know that it is ok that you were scared.”
    (Continue reading by clicking the link above.)

Have news you’d like to share? Please post in our comments!

Inclusion in this post does not imply an endorsement by the Coalition for Children, Youth & Families. The Coalition is not responsible for the content of these resources.

Tip Sheet Tuesday: Planning Ahead – Working Together for Successful Interactions

Think of the last hard day you had—at work or at home. One of those times when you didn’t want to talk about your day, but your partner asked anyway. Or the opposite—you really needed someone to listen, but your support person or partner was unengaged or absent.

Planning Ahead: Working Together for Successful InteractionsAt times, kids in care will experience those same feelings you have—especially after they return to your home after spending time with their family. It can seem like no matter what you do, it’s the wrong thing.

So what can you do to help make the transitions to and from families run more smoothly? It may seem somewhat obvious in hindsight, but one thing you may want to do is make sure you’ve prepared before children spend time with their family.

Preparing for Family Interactions
If you and the birth family don’t already have some guidelines in place for shared parenting, preparing for visits is a great place to start. This can include ideas such as maintaining similar schedules, rules, and discipline as much as possible, as well as information about food and medications and any health concerns. (Also see our tip sheet on Shared Parenting.)

You’re not always going to agree on everything and that’s okay too.

Other suggestions include:

Names. Talk with your child’s birth parents about what name you are called. Some children in foster care call their foster parents “Mom” and “Dad,” which can come as a surprise to birth parents. This is an important topic of discussion that foster parents and the child’s birth parents should have in order to avoid hurt feelings or confusion for everyone.

Family Interaction Form. The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families has a helpful resource you can use regarding family visits called The Family Interaction Plan. (Your social worker might have a form that he or she uses from his or her agency.) The DCF plan is a short, simple form that helps everyone stay on the same page in regards to transportation, times, places, who can have contact, proposed activities, what each party’s responsibility is, and a section for comments.

Well Stocked Homes. Having clothes, toys and toothbrushes at both houses greatly reduces the stress of packing and potential complaints if something isn’t sent to one home or brought back to another. Pharmacies will also put meds in separate containers so that both sets of caregivers can have medication on hand.

Continue reading on our website.

NEW Training: How Domestic Violence Affects Children

Training: How Domestic Violence Affects ChildrenDomestic violence exists in every community. In order to understand why domestic violence occurs and why some victims remain in abusive relationships, it is essential to first understand the dynamics of power and control. In this training, we will look at not only how domestic violence affects adults, but also the impact it can have on children who witness this violence. Debra will also discuss warning signs to look for, how to help a survivor of domestic violence, and what resources exist for families experiencing domestic violence in our community.  

About the Trainer
Debra Fields
is the Community Education and Prevention Coordinator for Sojourner Family Peace Center. She is a co-partner with the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, educating W2 Case Managers on domestic violence and how to assist W2 recipients who are living with abuse. In addition to working in Community Education for Sojourner Family Peace Center, Debra co-facilitates the Beyond Abuse program, a 23- week batterer intervention program serving both male and female offenders.

Debra’s mission is to raise awareness about domestic abuse and intimate partner violence through education in order to break the cycle of violence.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015
6:00-8:00 p.m.
Coalition for Children, Youth & Families
6682 W. Greenfield Avenue, Suite 310
Milwaukee, WI 53214

or attend via webinar

$20 per person     $80 per agency group

Register online, email us, or call 414-475-1246