The mass media constantly bombards us with stories such as that of a 4-year old girl found beaten and tortured in Smithfield NC; or Marchella Pierce ; starved and drugged by her own mother? What about all of the children that do not make headline news? What about the children who continue living in a home where domestic violence exists? Recent articles published by the Joyful Heart Foundation illustrate the affects that just witnessing inter-personal violence has on children.
According to the Joyful Heart Foundation, children who are chronically exposed to domestic violence can develop many significant long term effects. The scale ranges from academic and behavioral problems in adolescence all the way to having changes in their brain physiology and function. When children live in a hostile environment, they create strategies and behavioral patterns that will allow them to avoid the violence.
Often children will go to extreme measures in order to please the violent parent. One 8-year-old girl wrote about trying to be nice, staying out of trouble, and getting home early so she could stay out of her father’s way. Other children will attempt to side with the abusive parent in the hope of not being the next target. While even more children resort to creating their own world inside of their head in order to escape reality.
While these children find temporary safety in their routines and patterns, the long term affects of these practices are highly detrimental. These patterns become ingrained as habits. Spacing out in school can lead to poor performance, and being in a state of constant anxiety can lead to serious mental problems such as post traumatic stress disorder. Also, according to the Joyful Heart Foundation, when children are constantly in a state of emotional turmoil, reaching developmental milestones such as differentiation from one’s parents, very difficult and painful.
According to a recent op-ed featured in The New York Times, the annual cost of childhood maltreatment is $103.8 billion. Currently only about $40 million has been invested in the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. This organization has treated over 300,000 children in the time span of just seven years.
Many domestic violence programs offer a limited number of services geared towards children. At the Family Violence Prevention Center, we do not take individual children as clients, but we do have a coping skills group for children as well as community education programming in the Chapel Hill Carrboro City Schools. Let’s help ensure that National Child Traumatic Stress Network has a strong future, helping to ensure that traumatized children have a place to get help. For more information please visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network website.