As I think about domestic violence awareness month, I thought it would be good to share some ideas about the impact of domestic violence on children. For a long time we have known that children raised in homes with domestic violence are at increased risk for substance abuse, behavior problems, poor school performance, running away, teen pregnancy, gang involvement, health issues and delinquency. We have known that they have an increased likelihood of becoming abusers or victims themselves. Being exposed to domestic violence has serious consequences for children. While many women may stay with their partners initially because of the children, many will also leave because of the children when they see the impact that the violence is having on them.
Learning about the science of brain development and trauma has opened up an even larger discussion about the impact on the child’s developing brain. Even before a child is aware of what is actually happening, the violence can start to shape the pathways of the brain. Frequent exposure to the hormones released under stress and fear can reduce the brain’s capacity over time. A violent home is a toxic environment just as being exposed to damaging chemicals at home is toxic. It is no wonder that children living under the daily stress of domestic violence are at risk of health and behavioral problems.
But there is good news. Research is also showing that there are ways to compensate for this rocky start for some children. The presence of a strong, constant and supportive adult in a child’s life makes a huge difference in a child’s ability to overcome the violence. Additionally, we are finding that the brain has much more plasticity than originally thought, and that once the stressors and damaging hormones are removed, the brain can develop new pathways and begin to heal.
Our children need us. At FVRC we believe that one of the best ways we can help children exposed to domestic violence is to help their mothers take the steps to protect them and to build violence-free lives. This is one of the goals we work toward each day.
Kathy Hodges, MSW
FVRC Co-Executive Director
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