What to do if you think a child is living in a violent home

Published 9:15 am Monday, March 29, 2010

QUESTION: Is there anything I can do to help if I believe that a child I know is living in a home with domestic violence?

ANSWER: Children living with domestic violence are often the forgotten victims; the effects are both short and long term. Here are examples of a violent partner’s behaviors that terrorize children:

1) intentionally injuring the children as a way of threatening and controlling a partner,

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2) unintentionally injuring the children during an attack on a partner,

3) claiming the children’s bad behavior is the reason for the assault on a partner,

4) isolating the children as well as the abused parent by not allowing the children to participate in peer activities or friendships,

5) forcing the children to watch the violence,

6) threatening violence against the children, pets or other loved objects,

7) interrogating the children about the abused parent’s activities,

8) forcing the abused parent to always be accompanied by the children,

9) taking the children away after each violent episode to ensure the adult victim will not flee the perpetrator,

10) holding the children hostage or abducting them to punish the victim or gain compliance.

In the face of overwhelming odds, battered partners who feel too trapped to leave their situation often do many things to try to protect their children from perpetrators. They intervene in the perpetrator’s violence directed at the children. They send the children to others when they are in danger. They remind children they are not responsible for domestic violence.

We all need to know that it is considered child endangerment if a child is being directly abused, if there is a loaded gun in the home, or if physical violence of a partner increases. If you know a parent who is living in an aggressive or violent home, stop for a moment and say, “I’m sorry this is happening to you.” Tell her that she doesn’t deserve to be abused. Part of supporting a battered parent is helping her connect with the Crime Victims Resource Center who will help her develop a safety plan. Helping a child trapped in family domestic violence may mean calling Child Protection at the Department of Human Services.

To talk with a parenting specialist about the challenges in raising children, call the Parent WarmLine at 1-888-584-2204.

Maryanne Law is the executive director of the Parenting Resource Center in Austin.