The safety and needs of children are a critical issue for women escaping situations of violence, which often influences their help-seeking and related service decisions. Shelters which are not accessible to children create a barrier for women to obtain support and benefit from available services.
Children of women leaving situations of violence and entering shelters experience a range of vulnerabilities and challenges, including risk of re-victimization and the effects of trauma, all of which can have long-term consequences. Highlighting the importance of providing opportunities for children to benefit from their time in the shelter, the evidence shows that:
(Davis and Carlson, 1987; Dodge et al, 1990; Fantuzzo et al, 1997; Graham-Bermann, 1996; Jaffe et al, 1990; Kitzmann et al., 2003; Maclean, 2004; Mullender, 2000; Mullender et al., 2002; Statham, 2004; and Wolak and Finkelhor, 1998- all as cited in Byrne-MacNamee, 2009; Bott, Morrison and Ellsberg, 2005; Johnson, Holly, N.Ollus and S.Nevala. 2008).
Given these circumstances, shelters can provide important services to children that can reduce the long-term effects of violence and increase protective factors that prevent the perpetuation of intergenerational violence. Most services have been developed in the context of domestic violence cases and, as with the broader evidence, based heavily on the context in North America.
Practices for promoting shelter services for women with children include:
Assessing the impact of the child's experience with violence
Children's needs should be assessed separately from, as well as in partnership with their mother. The presence, input and perspectives of mothers is considered only one aspect of the assessment process, as the impact of children’s exposure to violence is best evaluated through independent interviewing.
An assessment framework should be used which:
Ages and Stages Questionnaire – 3rd edition (Bricker, Squires and Twombly, 2009). This tool is designed for developmental and social-emotional screening for children from one month to 5 ½ years. This tool is shown to have good reliability and validity. The questionnaire can be used to explore children’s strengths and trouble spots, educate parents about developmental milestones, and incorporate parents’ expert knowledge about their children into the assessment process. Available in English.
The Brief Infant-Toddler Social and Emotional Assessment: Screening for Social-Emotional Problems and Delays in Competence (BITSEA) (Briggs-Gowan and Carter). This tool is used to assess social-emotional and competency developmental delays in children ages 12 – 35 months. The tool uses a 42-item Parent Form which can be completed in the shelter. A Child Care Provider Form can be used to examine the child’s behaviour across settings. This tool is especially suited for settings with limited time, resources, and/or technical training. Available in English.
Pre-school Child Behaviour Checklist (CBCL1½ - 5) Nelson Education, 2000). Used with children ages 1.5 - 5 years, this tool is for measuring externalizing and internalizing problems. It covers parents' ratings of 99 problem items; descriptions of problems and disabilities; and information regarding parents’ concerns about their child, and the best things about the child. This assessment tool is designed to show indicators of whether a child’s vocabulary and work combination are delayed relative to norms for children ages 18-35 months. Parents' reports are used to assess children's expressive vocabularies and word combinations. Available in English.
Responding to children's needs to reduce the impact of violence
(Diener, Nievar, and Wright, 2003; Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000 and Egeland et al., 1993, Werner & Smith, 1992; Garmezy & Masten, 1994, all as cited in Gewirtz & Edleson, 2007; Wolfe et al., 1986; Mullender et al., 2002 and Holt et al, 2008, as cited in Byrne-MacNamee, 2009; and Holden et al. 1998)
Example: Safe from the Start (Australia) was an action research project initiated by The Salvation Army, with support from the Commonwealth Office for Women (FaHCSIA), in partnership with two universities and women’s refuges, addressing the impact of children aged 0-5 years who had witnessed domestic violence. Drawing upon research on the specific needs of children who witnessed family violence, the initiative aimed to identify best practice guidelines for domestic violence servce providers working with children affected by family violence. Through research and pilot programming for children, involving play therapy among other interventions, the initiative developed training for service providers in the implementation and effective evaluation of child programmes. A resource kit was developed through the initiative, with books, audio-visual materials, puppets and activity cards sourced from Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, and United States, which were used in a train the trainer programme throughout Australia.
See an evaluation (Safe from the start: education and therapy to assist children aged 0-5 who have witnessed domestic violence : final research report, Angela Spinney, 2008. Blackburn, VIC: Salvation Army, Australia Southern Territory) and update on the initiative.
Refuge for Babies in Crisis (The Royal Children’s Hospital Integrated Mental Health Program, Victoria, 2012): How crisis accommodation services can assist infants and their mothers affected by family violence. Available in English.
Honoring Children, Mending the Circle: Cultural Adaptation of Trauma-Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for American Indian and Alaska Native Children. (BigFoot and Schmidt, 2010). This resource provides guidance on blending AI/AN traditional teachings with cognitive-behavioural methods. Available in English.
Safe from the Start (Salvation Army, Australia). The Safe from the Start resource kits were developed through an intervention with women’s shelters addressing the impact of witnessing domestic violence among children aged 0-5. The Resource Kit includes books, DVD, CD, puppets and activity cards sourced from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada and Australia, with materials used throughout Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore and Maldives. A Train the Trainer programme is also available. Available in English. See also a report on the project.
Guiding Principles Safe Havens: Supervised Visitation and Safe Exchange Grant Program (Office on Violence Against Women, US Department of Justice, 2007). This resource is a guide for professionals working with abusive fathers in supervised visitation and safe haven programs. The guide includes six principles for visitation programs that work with abusive fathers and includes a narrative section, standards and practices for each section. Available in English.
Talking to My Mum: Developing Communication between Mothers and Children in the Aftermath of Domestic Violence (Humphreys, Thiara, Skamballis and Mullender, 2006). This resource provides a workbook for shelter practitioners to use with children, to support them in talking with their mothers about their experience in the shelter and in relation to their experiences with domestic violence. Available for purchase in English.
Living Alongside a Child’s Recovery: Therapeutic parenting with Traumatized Children. (Pughe and Philpot, 2006). This resource draws upon learnings from child development, attachment theory and understanding of child trauma and its effects to provide guidance for parents on how to design a therapeutic physical environment, the importance of routine and security for children, and how to approach issues of hygiene and organisorganising mealtimes. This resource can be used to support individual and group work practice. Available for purchase in English.
Violence against Children: Has it Happened to You? (Raising Voices, 2006). This booklet is for actors working with children and adolescents. The booklet provides examples of the various experiences children and adolescents may have with violence based on the context in Uganda. The material may be used to facilitate group discussions and plan activities to address violence against children and may be adapted to various contexts. Available in English.
The Kids Club Intervention Program (Graham-Bermann). This intervention programme is designed to provide a supportive environment for children ages 6 to 13 to share their experiences, learn that they are not alone in their exposure to violence, and identify sources of worry and concern. Training is available for professionals to learn to implement this programme. A Kids Club Program is also available for pre-school age children at Sandra Graham-Bermann. Available in English.
Youth relationships manual: A Group Approach with Adolescents for the Prevention of Woman Abuse and the Promotion of Healthy Relationships. (Sage Publications authored by Wolfe, D.A., Wekerle, C., Gough, R., et al.) This manual provides knowledge-raising and skill-building for social action to end violence through 18 sessions. The book is in English and can be previewed from Google books or can be purchased online from any book retailer.
Fourth R Curricula (Ministry of Education Ontario, Canada). The Fourth R consists of a comprehensive school-based programme designed to include students, teachers, parents, and the community in reducing violence and risk behaviours. It contends that relationship knowledge and skills can and should be taught in the same way as reading, writing, and arithmetic, and therefore the classroom-based curriculum is referred to as the Fourth R (for Relationships) core programme. This curriculum consists of lessons that meet the Ontario Ministry of Education’s learning expectations for Grade eight and nine health education and Grade 9-12 English, and the outcomes for other courses in other provinces. The programme is taught in the classroom, using a thematic approach to reduce risk behaviours including: violence/bullying; unsafe sexual behaviour and substance use. All of the curricula are available for purchase in English.
Working with Young Children and Their Families: Recommendations for Domestic Violence Agencies and Batterer Intervention Programs (Abigail Gewirtz and Resma Menakem, 2004). This protocol is for professionals working with perpetrators of violence. The report is part of series of papers on mobilizing community and programmatic resources to provide responsive assistance to children and families affected by both domestic violence and poverty. This particular paper addresses methods of providing support and safety for children while maintaining safety, autonomy and choice for battered women. Available in English.
Model Protocol on Working with Battered Women and their Teenage Boys in Shelter (Washington State Coalition against Domestic Violence, 2003). This tool provides a sample guide for organizations supporting survivors with adolescent boys, based on the context in the United States. Available in English.