Is Saying Victim Failed to Protect Children Another Form of Victim Blaming

A mother finds herself in a domestically violent relationship and she has children. Child Protective Services (CPS) becomes involved and discover that the children are either being abused directly or are witnessing the abuse. CPS turns to the mother and tells her that she has a responsibility to protect the children from the abuse despite being a victim feeling powerless to help herself. This is a challenging place for a woman to find herself.

Consider what her options may look like. She can leave the abuser which might immediately place her in search of a place to live with children. Emergency shelters are often full. Friends or family may be available but a feature of abusive relationships is that the woman is cut off from those support systems. Thus, where is she to go?

domestic-violence_man-behind_voices-for-dignityWhat about money? Many women in these situations have become financially dependent upon their abusers. Bank accounts are not under their control and, if they do work out of the home, their pay has been deposited in ways that the abuser can manage – assuming there is any money left over in between paychecks.

What about risk? The research tells us that the risks for women and their children go up when she tries to leave an abusive relationship. Abusers become angry and seek revenge. They may stalk and hunt out the woman increasing the violence rather than reducing it. The risks to the children go up in such a circumstance. However, if she stays because she is dependent and /or has nowhere to go, then she risks losing her children. It’s a form of double jeopardy.

What this raises is the need for child protection and the agencies that support CPS really understand domestic violence. They really need to get how much there is a need for safety planning that includes housing, finances, privacy, shifts in schools, day cares – even family doctors. The changes are complicated and require planning. It just doesn’t work to arrive and tell a mother that she either protects her children or lose her children.

As many who have done child protection work can speak about the mere arrival of child protection in the family increases risks for children and the mother. Abusive partners are highly suspicious of the presence of authority figures. It can get even more complicated if police have also attended.

Except in cases of extreme violence and imminent danger, it may be possible to move with intention – creating a time line and a carefully developed plan. This might include the creation of safe places or events that allow the mother to begin creating connections that are away from the violence. Even doing this is risky if the abuser finds out but such approaches give the mother time to reflect and to build confidence in what she might be able to do.

There will also be cases where it is possible to engage the abuser but it requires good knowledge of the risks that the abuser presents. Mothers want their children to be safe, but in cases like these they can be caught in a web they don’t know how to get out of. Telling them that they are failing to protect their children is an unlikely pathway out.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of gbtimes

Bullying Lasts a Lifetime

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Amanda Todd before she committed suicide

There have been several high profile suicides that have been related to bullying. Perhaps one of the most famous in recent times has been Amanda Todd. Her death was preceded by a dramatic video on YouTube which, as of this writing, has had over 26 million views in its two versions. The video showed her placing small placards outlining the significant impact the bullying was having on her. It is perhaps timely to recall her death as an individual has been arrested in Holland related to the online harassment that she experienced.

This reminds us that bullying occurs in quite a variety of forms than just the schoolyard version that is the one many think of when they hear bullying. There is a tremendous vulnerability through social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, texting and other forms of instant communication.

There have been many other high profile cases such as Megan Meier in Missouri, Rebecca Sedwick in Florida, Rehtaeh Parsons in Nova Scotia, Devon Brown in Georgia – and the list could go on.

These are cases where the judicial system often becomes aware of the bullying too late to intervene. Increasingly, schools, social workers and police are becoming aware of the cost of bullying to the victims.  They are trying to reduce the frequency and intensity of the activity,

Some new information from the United Kingdom adds further urgency to society’s efforts. Dr. Ryu Takizawa is the lead author of a paper just published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. The study includes data on over 7700 children whose parents provided details on the bullying their children experienced during the ages 7 – 11. These children have been followed for many years with the current data seeing them through to age 50.

The research concludes that those who were bullied in childhood had poorer physical and psychological health as they went through life. They also experienced greater rates of mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety and suicidality. The bullying also affected educational attainment and employment. They also tended to have less success in relationships and overall, they felt a poorer quality of life over the long term.

This data, along with the ever increasing public awareness of severe bullying and suicide, should cause us to reflect that this issue is a major public health concern. People suffer both in the immediate term but also over the course of their life. The conversation on bullying must change from one where we might see it as an inevitable part of life experience to a harmful behavior that requires intervention.

Domestic Violence is Witnessed by Children Far More Than We Know

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Imagine a child watching domestic violence between their parents. It’s not a stretch to think of how scary that must be for her – the people who are supposed to love and protect her are showing just the opposite. One would hope that external forces would come to play that would help change that. But a new piece of research about to be published in the journal Psychology of Violence tells us that the chances of intervention are far less than most of us would hope for.

Researcher Sherry Hamby from The University of the South comes out with some powerful statistics. In more than a third of the cases that her team researched, the physical injury occurred yet only one in four cases resulted in a police report. Children were hurt in about one in 75 cases. As Dr. Hamby notes, there is a link between witnessing domestic violence and childhood mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, becoming a victim in teenage dating, and diminished success at school. There is also a link between domestic violence and bullying.

As I read this material, I was reminded of a 9-1-1 tape that I heard some years ago while undergoing some training. The tape is chilling. You hear a young girl desperately seeking the help of the police while her mother’s partner is assaulting her mother. At one point the child screams out to her mother that the police are coming. Her mother tells her essentially to shut up invalidating the efforts that the child is making to get help. The mother was right at one level as the threat of imminent arrival by the police may have caused the assailant to be even more violent. But the desperation in the child’s voice is one of those moments that stick with you.

In the world of child protection, we must recall that we tend to see only the more significant cases or the ones where the child has either managed the courage to disclose or, more often, does so accidentally. In reality, a disclosure will rarely be evidence that a single event of domestic violence occurred. The child has likely witnessed far more.

Hamby’s research goes further. It tells us that we must let go of the notion that domestic violence is a curse of the lower incomes and rooted in poverty. Her research found that 28% occurred in households with annual incomes under $20,000; 30% in households earning $20,000-50,000; 18% in the $50,000-75,000 bracket and 24% with incomes about $75,000. Domestic violence is an equal opportunity curse it would seem.

In my own work, I have seen frightened children scared to tell what goes on in their households. Worse, however, are the children who feel that there is nothing to report because it is so normal. Either way, when child protection becomes involved, we must remember that involving the criminal justice system is important as a way to hold the assailant accountable. But that does not make the journey better.

The victims – the other caregiver or parent and the children all need to learn how to create a new normal over time that includes health, safety, and respect along with a different set of problem solving skills. Just getting the assailant out of the house does not make it better. Supports are needed long term – remember that most women need between 8-12 times before they will leave a domestically violent relationship for good. Imagine the impact on the children.

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