Domestic violence is usually a secret. At times, professionals are not aware that a child is experiencing domestic and family violence in their family or household. The younger a child is, the less able they are to talk about the violence or seek help. If professionals don’t ask about their experiences, the child will feel isolated and hopeless.
Some professionals worry that talking about the abuse may traumatise or alarm the children, but it’s more frightening for children if nobody talks to them about the violence.
It’s important to remember that children know the violence exists. They live with it. They already have their beliefs and feelings about it. When you connect with them you help share this burden, giving them the chance to feel supported, listened to and seen.
Safety must always come first. If you are worried that speaking to a child could put them at direct risk of violence, focus on creating safety first. Always return to speak with the child when it is safe to do so.
Listen to any ideas the child may have about how to keep themselves safe from the violence.
Respond to a child thoughtfully
Be thoughtful, patient and open minded in your work with children. Make sure children feel safe, important and validated. Be patient and give children every opportunity to open up to you in their own time. Use some of the tips below to get started.
- Provide a safe place to talk.
- Give them space to tell you their worries — they may fear that speaking to you could cause ramifications.
- Speak to other people to understand immediate dangers.
- Identify safe people they can contact and let them know how they can contact you.
- Check in with them regularly and ask about what else can you be doing to help them feel safe.
- Read the part on safety assessment and planning to get you started.
Be mindful of the power you hold as an adult
- Move and speak in a gentle and tentative way.
- Remember that the child has likely been scared by the man's use of their body and voice.
- Don't assume sitting on the ground will make them feel equal.
- Help them find their own voice and power by asking questions like 'What does it mean when I ask you a question and you don't want to answer?' and 'How can I help you say no to me?'
Respond to feelings of shame and distrust
- Remember they have likely been told that they must keep violence a secret.
- Choose a location and time away from their friends and peers.
- Children who live with domestic violence report fear and shame about their peers finding out and being bullied as a result so try not to reinforce any belief that they are different.
Be patient and open
- Engage them in ways that acknowledge that they may be unable to use words to describe their experience. They may prefer art or play.
- Accept that they may not be willing or able to talk right away — but do not give up! Return to speak with them again.
- Give them the opportunity to contact you when they are ready.
- Remember to let them know the best time for them to call you and emphasise that they should call police in an emergency.
- Get them involved in fun activities that have nothing to do with violence. Children need to feel that you are interested in all aspects of their life.
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