Blog post Covers CY

[Blog post in French]

Moncton, March 30, 2021 - Our Child and Youth support workers provide education and intervention to children exposed to violence. They also work with workers from the Transition House to provide programming for mothers. Each child and family presents new challenges, needs and successes, so programs are tailored to the needs of each child and mother.


In 2020, we welcomed 91 children to our shelter. Half of the children who live in our shelter are under 5 years old. In addition, almost 75% of the children we welcome are admitted to a shelter for the first time.

Children can exhibit physical and mental health problems, cognitive or concentration problems, and problems with social functioning1. Difficulties can be expressed differently depending on the age of the child, in the majority of cases they are anxiety, depression, conduct disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder2.


Context


Exposure to domestic violence affects a significant number of children. In Canada, 20% to 29% of women living or having lived with a spouse reported having been physically or sexually assaulted at least once in their lifetime3. In addition, 80 to 90% of children living in a home where domestic violence takes place are at risk4. Therefore, some authors estimate that 11 to 23% of Canadian children have witnessed violence against their mother5.


Children can be exposed to violence in many ways, including when they see their mother humiliated, hear and see violent conflict, or see the after-effects of violence (eg injuries). Children can also be used by an abusive partner to perpetuate violence. For example, the abuser may threaten to harm the children or may inappropriately talk about their mother's behavior to the children. This is why it is essential for shelters to have the capacity to support children who have been exposed to violence.


Since children stay with us for varying lengths of time, the workers live in the present moment with the children and mothers, supporting them in their short and medium-term needs, and giving them the tools for a long-term journey. This blogue post will present five strategies that we have implemented in our Transition House: a therapeutic environment, play therapy, a trauma-based approach, support for mothers and empowering the mother-child relationship.

Therapeutic environment


With 41 beds, our Transition House is very busy and fast-paced. For example, we constantly welcome new residents, we continually intervene with people in difficulty, we respond to crisis calls all the time, and we offer daily programming. Basically, we operate in a living environment where women and children have immediate needs related to their well-being and their safety and we had to find a formula that meets their needs and that contributes to their healing process, while remaining available for crises and unforeseen events.


Without a specific worker to support the children, it would be difficult to meet the children's needs. Mothers themselves often admit that they are only able to meet the survival needs of their children (eg feed them, put them to bed and change their diapers). In order to intervene with them, we have noticed the importance that they have access to a place of their own inside the house.


As soon as a new family arrives, the Child and Youth support worker introduces themselves to the whole family - to the mother and children - to present their role. They mention that they will support each member of the family as they arrive in this new living environment (the Transition House) and on their journey during their stay with us. They then talk only with the children to introduce them to the children's room. They mention that it is a safe place and that they are available to offer support. They also mention the various programming offered to children.


Play therapy


Play therapy allows the Child and Youth support workers to enter the world of children by using children's games and toys as a common language. Unlike adults, young children are limited in their ability to use abstract verbalization as their primary means of communication6. Through play therapy, children emotionally detach from past experiences that cause anxiety as they use toys to explore and drive away their emotional fears and tensions. They are thus able to communicate feelings associated with traumatic life experiences, such as domestic violence.


Play also allows them to master fictitious situations and gain autonomy. As feelings of control become part of children's sense of self, their self-image and self-esteem are enriched7. The Child and Youth support workers can also use play to help children learn to identify and express their emotions in socially appropriate ways. Additionally, play can help reduce feelings of guilt by providing a safe place to overcome feelings of shame and guilt8.

Support for mothers

It is necessary that the actions carried out to help mothers in their role of parent be supplemented by support on a personal level. Women, trans and non-binary people who are victims of domestic violence often suffer from negative impacts on their physical and mental health (eg depression, post-traumatic stress). Mothers who present few physical health problems and little psychological distress, despite the violence suffered, are the most successful in maintaining a good quality relationship with their child9. It is therefore essential to provide support to mothers on a personal level in order to promote a quality mother-child relationship.


The support provided to mothers on a personal level allows them to better understand the dynamics of domestic violence and its impacts. To achieve this, we offer group programming and individual interventions to mothers. Some of these programs are offered by workers at the Transition House and others are offered by the Child and Youth support worker. We present resources such as the cycle of violence, the wheels of equality and violence, protection and survival strategies (e.g. denial, withdrawal, negotiation) and rationalization techniques to excuse violence (e.g. trivialization, minimization, disempowerment of the aggressor). Individual counseling is also offered to specifically address the needs of mothers.


Crisis intervenors are also available at all times to support women during a crisis. Their interventions are part of a trauma-based and feminist approach. Thus, they address the violence experienced by these women at the individual level (how these women experienced it personally) and structural (by presenting the concepts of patriarchy, sexism, control and power).

Mother-child relationship

Along with personal support, it is essential to support women in their role as mothers.


The climate of uncertainty and terror induced by domestic violence can hinder the adoption of maternal behaviors of support and warmth, essential to the quality of the mother-child relationship. The mother becomes less sensitive to the needs and requests of the child when the child may experience great difficulties that would call for more support from his mother. [...] Intimate partner violence can also have an impact on the mother's ability to discipline the child and to exercise, in a positive and constant manner, her role of educator [translated by the author of the blog]10.


In light of this reality, we discuss the effects of violence on children and ways to mitigate these effects. We provide resources to support mothers in establishing routines and rules that maintain family life and provide a sense of security for their children.


We also offer tools and workshops for mothers (and mothers-to-be) to help them learn more about child development, behavioral intervention and discipline. We emphasize that no matter the age of the child and their ability to express themselves in words, children will benefit from a positive relationship with their mother. They can therefore practice new techniques in a safe environment and can ask questions to the Child and Youth support worker without fear of being judged.

Feminist and trauma-based approach

Our trauma-based programs for children and mothers incorporate an understanding of the pervasiveness and impact of trauma. Informed by a feminist approach, these programs are designed to reduce re-traumatization, support healing and resilience, and address the root causes of abuse and violence. Experiencing domestic violence is traumatic for women and their children. We recognize the pervasive influence of trauma and its consequences on children's ability to cope with a variety of situations and to feel safe in a new environment.


We pay particular attention to the difficulties unique to each child in order to support them in the different ways of expressing their distress, depending on their age and level of development, also taking into account the risk factors involved. Our programs promote children's self-esteem and, more generally, their resilience capacities. We also take the opportunity to discuss the place of violence, power and control in our community and in society.


We also support mothers so that they can talk about violence with their children. Indeed, the silence that surrounds domestic violence is an additional element that can undermine the mother-child relationship. Many mothers do not talk about violence with their children. They dread their questions and fear being blamed11. To accomplish this, we use books, videos and scenarios to approach the issue of violence in a safe manner and with language appropriate for the age of their child. Our Child and Youth support workers are also available to facilitate these kinds of discussions. By putting into practice the tools shared by the workers (eg talking about your emotions, listening before reacting, not forgetting to breathe), these discussions can take place more easily.

Conclusion

We have noticed that some resources for children only address the child's adjustment difficulties that appear as direct consequences of exposure to domestic violence. For our part, we favor strategies that promote children's skills and their self-esteem, and that take into account the analysis of violence by children. The strategies we have presented also build on the strength of the mother-child relationship, while taking into account the importance of supporting mothers on a personal level so that they can then be present for their child.

To access our services...

Please contact our Child and Youth support worker at 1-844-853-0811 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information about our Child and Youth Support Program.


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Crossroads for Women’s mandate is to empower domestic violence and sexual assault victims and their families break the cycle of abuse by providing shelter and on-going support services, as well as public awareness and prevention programs.


Information on the author of this blog post:

Geneviève L. Latour, Program Development officer

Crossroads for Women

(506) 377-5152

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

1 WOLFE, David A., et collab. (2003). « The effects of children’s exposure to domestic violence : A meta-analysis and critique », Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, p. 171-187.

2 FORTIN, Andrée (2009). « L'enfant exposé à la violence conjugale : quelles difficultés et quels besoins d'aide ? »,  Empan, Vol. 73, No 1, p. 123. doi:10.3917/empa.073.0119

3 FORTIN, Andrée (2009). p. 119. ET Les enfants exposés à la violence conjugale AND familiale : Guide à l’intention des éducateurs et des intervenants en santé et en services sociaux. (1999) Ministre des Travaux publics et Services gouvernementaux Canada, p.3.

4 FORTIN, Andrée (2009). p. 119.

5 Les enfants exposés à la violence conjugale et familiale(1999), p.3.

6 THOMPSON, E. Heather et Shannon TRICE-BLACK (2012). « School-Based Group Interventions for Children Exposed to Domestic Violence », Journal of Family Violence, Vol. 27, No 3, p. 236. https://doi-org.proxy.cm.umoncton.ca/10.1007/s10896-012-9416-6

7 Idem, p. 237
8 Ibid.
9 FORTIN, Andrée (2009). p. 122.
10 FORTIN, Andrée (2009). p. 121.
11 FORTIN, Andrée (2009). p. 121.