Ending abuse of children

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, October 12, 2010

As a child protection worker, foster parent and executive director of Group Support Services at different times in her life, Albert Lean Jeannie Jackson has dedicated her life to helping children who have lived in homes affected by domestic violence.

Especially during the month of October — National Domestic Violence Awareness Month — she wants people to know that domestic violence is everybody’s business.

“A lot of times when we talk about domestic violence, we forget about how it affects children,” Jackson said. “Ultimately they’re the victims with no voice.”

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She said children need to feel protected and safe, and they need to know that they can trust their parents. When they start to feel afraid or that they’re not safe, it creates “a broken contract.”

Children who witness domestic violence can experience post-traumatic stress disorder, develop behavior problems at school and have problems developing trust with other adults, among other problems, she said.

Jackson noted she became a foster parent because she wanted to work more directly with the children in these kinds of situations.

She said she’s had foster children ranging in age from 12 to 18. She and her husband’s home is considered a therapeutic foster home, which means it can take kids who are angry or who have mental health issues. Some have witnessed abuse and some have actually been abused as well.

Jackson noted that the children who have lived in these lifestyles often begin thinking that all families are like their families. They grow up and look for relationships that are familiar to them.

Younger children who have been affected by domestic violence often have bedwetting problems, cognitive problems and have a hard time concentrating in school. Many are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

She said the children she has worked with love their parents — both the offender and the victim — and they struggle with guilt, shame and loyalties.

“They feel like they should be able to stop the abuse,” she added.

About three years ago, she helped organize a local children’s safety center, which offers an exchange program for one parent to drop off their child in a safe environment and then have the other parent pick up that child. The parents do not have to interact, and the service is available 24 hours a day.

She said this has been a success.

Since 2002, she has also been organizing classes for people to learn the alternatives to domestic violence at the Group Support Center. Many of the people who attend the class are referred there by the courts, but there are also people who choose to come there on their own. Every week, there is somewhere between 28 and 35 people being taught, she said.

While there are these and other programs available for domestic violence prevention, she encouraged the whole community to get involved in the prevention of this abuse, too.

“It’s not a private family matter,” Jackson said. “It affects our homes, our schools, our communities, and we have a responsibility to step in.”

Stepping in includes calling law enforcement and reporting things that are questionable.

“It’s not always just about the physical violence,” she said. “It’s the power and control tactics as well.”