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Ensuring Children’s Safety in a Home with Domestic Violence Present

October 18, 2022

This October, Dee Norton is highlighting Domestic Violence Awareness Month. While domestic violence often occurs as a pattern of controlling and coercive behavior, an initial incident of abuse is also a cause for concern. Tactics used in domestic violence can be physical, sexual, financial, verbal or emotional against a partner. For children, witnessing domestic violence is a form of child abuse.

At Dee Norton, we know that exposure to violence between adults in a child’s home is harmful to children. When children witness domestic violence, they may experience emotional consequences similar to those felt when being directly abused. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, approximately 26% of children under the age of 18 are exposed to domestic violence in their lifetime.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network notes, if a child witnesses domestic violence in the home, they may try to protect a parent who is being abused by refusing to leave the parent alone, getting in the middle of an abusive event, or drawing attention to themselves with new, disruptive behavior. Some children engage in behaviors that mirror the abusive adult and become aggressive or threatening to their nonviolent parent.

“Children are often the hidden or silent victims of domestic violence. Whether they are directly injured, or frightened witnesses,” says Beverly Hutchison, Executive Director of Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center, “we know that domestic violence is child abuse and is a public health issue, not a private family matter. If you are a parent experiencing domestic violence, there are resources and professionals in our community ready to help.”

There are steps you can take to ensure your child’s well-being if you are experiencing domestic violence by a partner:

  • Consider your and your children’s safety first and then talk to your child about your safety plan. Traumatic events often disrupt a child’s sense of safety. Develop a plan for keeping yourself and your children safe. Relay that safety plan to them if it is age appropriate.
    • Tell them: “I will do everything I can to keep you safe.”
  • Maintain an open conversation. Encourage your child to ask questions and be prepared to answer those questions directly. Avoiding the conversation can make the event even more threatening in your child’s mind. Listen carefully. You might not know all the answers and it is ok to say that.
    • Tell them: “I want you to tell me how you feel. It’s important, and I can handle it.” “It’s OK to have mixed feelings about either or both of your parents.” It isn’t your fault.”
  • Make time for your child. If you are being abused, it may be difficult, but spending time with your child is valuable in many ways. As a caring parent, you are the most important person in your child’s life, and you are the best advocate for them if you begin to see concerning changes in their behavior as a result of witnessing violence in the home.
  • Seek professional help. If you’re concerned about your child, call Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center at (843) 723-3600. If you are an adult experiencing domestic violence, there are resources available in the Lowcountry:
    • Call 911 for police assistance in the case of an emergency.
    • My Sister’s House – (843) 747-4069 or 1-800-273-4673
    • People Against Rape – (843) 577-9882 or (843) 745-0144
    • Thrive SC – (843) 442-2845

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