Domestic violence is one of the most pervasive and dangerous public health threats facing our state today. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigations reports 236,329 individuals abused at the hands of an intimate partner in Tennessee between 2012-2014, and these are just the reported cases. This translates into an even larger number of children being exposed to violence in the home each year. There is more awareness about the impact of early exposure to domestic violence on children than ever before, and this is real progress. A mere 20 years ago, domestic violence wasn’t something that was discussed as openly as it is now.
Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee conducts numerous trainings around the state of Tennessee on the Impact of Domestic Violence on the Developing Child, and one question arises frequently: How do I help a child I know is being exposed to domestic violence in the home? This is a complicated issue because oftentimes, there isn’t enough evidence to prove the child is at risk for direct harm, and the presence of domestic violence in the home isn’t a reason in and of itself to open a child abuse investigation.
Though there isn’t an easy answer to this question, there are very specific things you can do to help a child who may be living in a home where violence is present. The most important thing is to support the non-offending parent. Though it may be hard for someone who has never experienced domestic violence to understand, a victim knows his or her situation best, and may choose to remain in the home because it is the safest choice at the time. By not blaming the non-offending parent, he or she can feel more supported to care for the child.
If you are able to connect with children who are living in a home where domestic violence is present, talking with them about violence is the best way to help. Allowing children to express themselves freely, telling them it’s okay to feel the way they do, and validating them, will help them feel that someone is listening, that someone cares, and most importantly, will keep them from thinking that the violence is normal.
Most individuals who witness domestic violence early in life do not grow up to abuse; statistics show, however, that domestic violence is cyclical, and that children who are exposed to it are more likely to become perpetrators or victims themselves later in life. Early intervention is critical, and the support and love of a stable, nurturing adult the child trusts can have a tremendously positive impact on children exposed to violence.
And remember that help is available. The Tennessee Statewide Domestic Violence Helpline, 1-800-356-6767, is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to connect you with resources in your area.