Children are a major focus within our shelters.
What happens to children when they move into a shelter?
Do they have to change schools?
Do they see their fathers?
Many children whose mothers have been abused have themselves suffered from the violence of their fathers. In this case, children who move into a shelter may have to change schools to remain safe from the batterer. Safe Horizon' shelters have arrangements with neighborhood schools to help keep the children safe. Their files are often restricted, and their new address kept confidential. This way, the abusive father will not be able to harm the children or their mother.
In other cases, when the father has not harmed the children, the courts may arrange for visits between them. It may be an informal agreement where the mother drops off her children for the day or weekend, or a formal program of visitation supervised by court personnel. The focus is on keeping the children safe, while attending to their emotional need for healthy contact with both parents.
Children who have witnessed violence between their parents or felt the brunt of that violence themselves may experience emotional and psychological turmoil provoked by the anxiety of living in such a household. For this reason, shelters may provide counseling services to the children to help them understand and cope with their fears and confusion. In other cases, the children may be referred to services available outside the shelter. Staff at the Safe Horizon' shelters, particularly the childcare workers, are aware of the traumas the children have faced and are trained to respond appropriately. Some children receive tutoring and some shelters have recreation counselors to provide activities for the children.
Child Case Study
Nina is a 13-year-old girl who lives in a shelter with her mother, Laura, and two siblings. After they moved into a shelter, her father discovered their location and requested visitation with his children. Laura agreed, since his violence had always been directed exclusively at her and never at her children. However, when Laura left town for a vacation and the children were staying with their aunt, Nina's father accosted her near the aunt's house and demanded to know Laura's whereabouts. When Nina refused to tell him, he slapped her face and began to beat her on the head.
When Laura returned, she reported Nina's father to Child Welfare and the family moved to a different shelter. There, Nina began group counseling and individual sessions with a therapist. Laura was concerned that her daughter had been traumatized by the violence, and worried because Nina would not discuss the incident. Nina was very reluctant to speak to a therapist, stating that she did not see the point in "telling all that stuff again." However, she became more comfortable and began to talk once the therapist assured her that she would not have to talk about anything she did not want to and that everything she did say would be held in confidence. By using creative techniques such as play and art therapy, the therapist was able to involve Nina in enjoyable activities that helped her to process her experiences.
Nina has since become closer to her mother and the family is learning to communicate even when their opinions differ, as they tend to do about her father. Through counseling, Nina will continue to recover from being both a victim of and witness to violence.