Families where there has been a history of domestic violence rarely offer the children of the family their best or in many occasions good enough care. Children who have witnessed, or suffered domestic violence, or who live in an undercurrent of fear and violence will not thrive.
The impact on children of Domestic Violence has been well researched. Being a victim of physical abuse in a situation of Domestic Violence and/or being exposed to aggressive conflicts are increasingly grounds for determining significant harm.
Victims of domestic violence tend to become isolated by their partner, suffer loss of self-esteem, be constantly criticized by their partner and belittled. Commonly they will be told it is their fault that the partner is hitting them, e.g. ‘you wind me up’. Eventually many women will avoid any confrontation and become completely compliant.
One of the key areas of ‘good enough’ parenting is having a capacity to set boundaries. This is what underpins day-to-day routines, keeps children safe, both physically and emotionally. Setting down boundaries requires: assertiveness, an ability to negotiate and be flexible, an ability to prioritise in terms of the trivial versus the significant, an ability to show love and patience, to allow the child to feel heard but to act in their best interests even if they are resistant.
Whilst both men and women are adult victims of Domestic Violence, statistically the majority of adult victims are women. Many women coming to Jamma Umoja have lost children in earlier proceedings through failing to protect them.
Often men coming to the centre have lost children because of their history of unmanaged anger, resulting in actual physical abuse and threats of abuse. Their children have learned to live in fear and have seen their parents being beaten, threatened and humiliated.
The purpose of an assessment of the effects on the care of a child who lives in a family where domestic violence is a strong feature is not usually to determine if violence is present, that is nearly always been established first. Rather we are asked to assess if the situation can be changed following the assessment.
This requires some direct interventions to test out the validity or otherwise of the parent’s desire, commitment and ability to change. It requires looking at practical, supportive and therapeutic solutions, which produce results of benefit to the child/ren.
This requires some direct interventions, which could be used in the longer term to promote beneficial changes.
Women who are victims are best protected and most likely to make significant changes by engaging in all female groups in addition to the normal individual assessment sessions. We therefore use both individual and group assessing sessions, as this is the usual format for dealing with longer tem issues of domestic violence.
At Jamma Umoja we have also successfully worked with men who are both perpetrators and victims of domestic violence through individual work and also within a separate men’s group. Both groups also focus on other areas of parenting.