David's Story: Child Witness to Domestic Violence
David was only 11 years old, but he knew that his father had a drinking problem. For as long as David could remember, his father would verbally and physically abuse his mother whenever he drank. After months of trying, his mother was able to get his father to leave for good, but David was still worried. He worried that his father would come back to the house, that he would see his father on the street, that his father would get custody of him, that the yelling and punching and crying weren’t really over.
All of this worrying was taking a toll on David’s mood, behavior and schoolwork, but he soon found someone he could trust with his concerns—Belinda, the young, but experienced, social worker who ran Safe Horizon’s School Program down the hall from his homeroom. Safe Horizon’s School Programs help middle and high school students understand the impact of violence and abuse in their own lives while at the same time working to prevent violence by addressing its underlying causes and offering students concrete alternatives.
David began to meet privately with Belinda, discussing his worries and working on articulating his feelings and fears. They spoke about the abuse he witnessed, how it made him feel—and how it wasn’t his fault. Belinda helped David think of ways he could feel safe even though he didn’t know where and when his father might appear—they identified people he could call, friends he could walk home with, public places where he could get help if he encountered his father suddenly.
At David’s request, Belinda met with his mother as well, explaining Safe Horizon’s comprehensive domestic violence services, including free legal assistance, counseling, and even free, confidential shelter if she and David ever needed it. “I don’t know how my son came to talk to you,” David’s mother told Belinda a few weeks later, “But I’m just so grateful he did. He’s so much happier and calmer since then. I’m so grateful for you and that you’re in this school.”
David’s father didn’t show up for the first custody hearing, and the restraining order against him seems to be keeping him away. For the time being, David and his mother feel secure in their home and their lives. If the situation changes, they know that Belinda is there to help with the full scope of services that Safe Horizon can provide.