Domestic violence often happens behind closed doors, but its repercussions are felt far beyond the home and are often seen in the classroom. The violence experienced in the home takes away one of the few places where a child can feel powerful. However, domestic violence impacts not just the child seeing and hearing abuse in their homes. When children of domestic violence go to school it affects their classmates as well.
For 11-year-old *Sam, home was a battlefield – a place filled with violence and pain. The domestic abuse he witnessed was severe and long-lasting. School was the one place where he was heard and got attention, but it was for all the wrong reasons. Instead of mastering geometry, Sam was disrupting his classroom by bullying his classmates and getting into fights. He had trouble paying attention in class and his grades suffered. Things were so bad that he attempted suicide several times, leading to multiple Baker Acts to protect Sam from himself.
Sam’s family sought safety at the Women In Distress emergency shelter, where his mother, *Debbie, received resources like family relocation and work opportunities. These critical, life-saving services alleviated stress on the family. Therapy sessions with Sam and his mom began to shine a light on the issues he was having in school. Sam’s therapist was able to partner with his school to have him evaluated and placed in a more appropriate classroom to meet his needs. He learned coping skills that helped him handle stress, and soon the bullying and fighting stopped. Sam’s social skills improved and the frequency of his outbursts lessened.
Although the trauma Sam experienced was severe, he was now equipped to handle day-to-day stressors and work on bigger issues through therapy. Today, Sam and his family continue to work with their therapist at Women In Distress. His situation has vastly improved from when he met his therapist two years ago. Sam’s mom now has a more stable living arrangement and a suitable job. All of Sam’s siblings are getting services through Women In Distress individual therapy programs and support groups.
Children of domestic violence can affect the culture of the entire classroom. In addition to getting lower grades, children who witness domestic violence are more likely to be disruptive in class and suffer behavioral problems, including aggression and bullying. This interferes with learning and diverts the teacher’s attention away from teaching, which can result in lower test scores and graduation rates for the entire classroom. According to researchers, this disruption has far-reaching consequences for classmates later in life, including lower wages.
Simply put – when a child feels safe, things get better at school for the child and their classmates. That’s why our Children’s Programs are so important. They help children find safe places in their homes, give them tools to deal with their anger and express their emotions.
As a new school year begins, more than 50% of those living in our shelter right now are the smallest victims of domestic violence – children. Because of your support, families can heal the deep wounds inflicted by domestic violence. Together we can break the cycle of violence and help all children thrive in the classroom and beyond.
*In an effort to protect the privacy of our families, names were changed and stock images used.