October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and while the profile of these types of crimes is at an all-time high, people often forget the children trapped in the middle of these acts. Many children can become victims as they are forced to leave their homes with the emotional and psychological scars of witnessing violence done by and to their loved ones.
With the release of the Ray Rice video, domestic violence awareness is at an all-time high. Whether its sports radio, cable news or co-workers gathered at the water cooler, everyone is talking about the devastating social problem that is domestic violence.
But while the conversation is focused on harsher penalties for the perpetrator or help for the wounded, no one is talking about the hidden victims: children.
Between 3.3 million to 10 million children a year are at risk to being exposed to domestic violence, according to ChildWelfare.gov. Some of these children, through no fault of their own, are inevitably forced to leave their homes. They are placed in the foster care system because they are no longer safe.
What they take with them into resource homes are the scars and damage of witnessing violence up-close.
A large body of research shows that children who have been exposed to domestic violence are more likely to experience behavioral, social and emotional problems as well as cognitive and attitudinal problems.
“Children in families experiencing domestic violence are more likely than other children to exhibit aggressive and antisocial behavior or to be depressed and anxious,” according to a 2003 report titled Violence in the Lives of Children.
According to the report, children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to have trouble in school and score lower on testing.
As a foster parent, it’s important to recognize these symptoms. Recognizing the early signs can help in breaking a dangerous cycle as the kids become adults.
Research indicates that males exposed to domestic violence as children are more likely to engage in domestic violence as adults, according to the same 2003 report. Females are more likely to be victims.
However, the past isn’t destiny.
As a foster parent, you can help break the pattern by being supportive, loving and providing a strong example.
According to a 2004 report by J.L. Edleson, factors such as intelligence, high self-esteem and strong peer and sibling relationships can help protect children from the negative effects of exposure to domestic violence. A supportive relationship with an adult, such as a foster parent, goes a long way to improving the child’s chances.
There are also measures in place to address domestic violence and child abuse. In many cases, social workers meet with the adult victims to establish a safety plan for the adult and her children.
However, foster parents can only control how they respond to the kids in their care. By recognizing the symptoms, notifying child protective services and referring children to community-based services, foster parents can help truly change the future of children in their care.
“Children’s risk levels and reactions to domestic violence exist on a continuum; some children demonstrate enormous resiliency,” according to Edleson.
Lloyd Nelson is the Digital Media Manager of Foster and Adoptive Family Services. He can be reached at email@example.com.