Domestic violence affects everyone in a household including children. Children may suffer physical injury or threats, but also experience emotional distress when they witness violence between their parents or other adults in the home.
If a child is not safe at home because of domestic violence, the adult victim should be supported. Victims of violence may be able to leave the abuser and remove the children from danger, if they are able to secure emergency shelter, financial assistance, food and other basic necessities. When a child is injured, some victims need help getting the child to a doctor, hospital, or prescribed medical treatment. In any life threatening situation, always call 9-1-1 for help.
Many children who witness violence experience immediate and long term effects on their well- being. Young children may experience problems sleeping, nightmares, and bedwetting. Older children may be aggressive toward other children or the parent they live with. Some children don’t feel hopeful about the future while other children experience learning and behavior problems. Parents and caregivers should let others involved in the child’s life know about the violence - if it’s safe to do so. Then, teachers, coaches, and friends will understand the negative changes in behavior.
Long-term effects of domestic violence may cause children to experience shock, fear, guilt and anger. These are normal feelings for children under the circumstances. But, the feelings can be difficult to cope with, both for the child and the adult. Often professional support and counseling is needed to manage a child’s normal reactions to witnessing violence.
Sometimes it is necessary to engage the legal system to assist children who experience domestic violence. Parents may file a complaint to determine custody in Juvenile Court (if the parties are not married) or the Domestic Relations Court (if the parties were or are married). Additionally, parents may file a motion to obtain a Civil Protection Order that also covers the children in order to stop future violence. These petitions, complaints, or motions should be supported by an affidavit (a written statement that a person signs, swearing it’s the truth) to explain why a court order is needed to protect the children. Forms to make these filings to protect children are available online at here and here.
Domestic violence affects the well being of children. If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the resources listed in this newsletter for immediate help. Legal Aid provides representation in some cases. Call 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.
This article was written by Legal Aid Managing Attorney Davida Dodson and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!