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Section 3
Children and Domestic Violence

Questions 3 | Test | Table of Contents

Advocacy for battered women must include the children within their care, because the children must be protected. Once again, understanding a battered woman’s risk analysis for her children is the starting point for a review. Concerns about children often figure prominently for battered women because of their genuine concern for and commitment to the children, and because batterers frequently use threats or actions about the children to continue their control. Battered mothers’ risk analyses for their children may include a range of concerns, such as physical violence, the children’s financial security, their emotional security, and their future well-being. Battered mothers may worry about the effects of growing up in a “broken home” or without a father in the home, or living in poverty. The “stay/leave” factor will also affect battered mothers’ analyses of their children’s risks.

Protecting children from being hit and from the effects of witnessing domestic violence is justified and compelling. Yet, like a battered mother, a child’s risks are not limited to physical violence and its effects. The battered mother’s risk analysis will provide information about both the child’s risks and the mother’s risks and decision-making. If the mother’s decision-making is faulty and does not adequately address the children’s risks, the advocate may have to take action to protect the children. When significant risks for children are identified, enhanced advocacy is called for. Mothers leaving their relationship will not necessarily remove the risks for the children, and for some children, leaving may even increase their risks.

Although most battered women carefully and accurately analyze the risks to their children, some battered women do not; some women’s analyses are incomplete or inaccurate; and some battered women are a threat to their children. Physical abuse of children is common in households where the mother is being beaten. For example, in Bowker et al.’s (1988) study, the batterer abused both the mother and the children in 70% of the cases in which there were children in the household. The children were more likely to be abused when the battering was worse (it was more frequent, more severe, and more frequently included rape) and when there were larger numbers of children. Research still cannot tell us definitively which men who batter women are also most likely to abuse their children, however.

Studies have found that battered women sometimes abuse their children as well, although they do so at significantly lower rates than battering men do. For example, Stark and Flitcraft (1988) found that half of the batterers also abused the children, compared to 35% of the battered women. Straus (1983) reports that his first national survey found that batterers were twice as likely as battered women to abuse their children more than two times a year. Battered women were twice as likely as nonbattered women to abuse their children more than two times a year.

Although women often make decisions about safety and the future of their relationship based on their concerns about their children, systematic data on women’s perceptions of their children’s risks have not been collected. Studies do suggest that as the abuse women experience becomes more frequent and severe, more of women’s energy becomes focused on their own survival. Unfortunately, these are precisely the circumstances when children are more likely to be abused as well. This means that the worse the woman’s abuse, the more concerns and questions the advocates should have about any children in the household.

Review of risks to children is complex and requires a thorough understanding of the battered mother’s risk analysis. In reviewing mothers’ analyses for their children, the advocate must distinguish among mothers who have little or no options and therefore have taken little action to address their children’s risks; mothers who have tried to take action but have not successfully reduced the risk; and mothers who have not tried to respond at all. The distinction will help determine when advocates must take action unilaterally—without the mother’s involvement—to protect the children.

Unilateral action typically means making a report to state child protective services. When reports must be made to child protective services, advocates have urged that interventions be planned and coordinated so that women are not inaccurately blamed or their relationships with their children jeopardized, and that women’s safety needs are considered as child protection service workers interview family members and plan services. As Peled (1996) notes, “Child protective services should support and collaborate with the efforts of battered women’s advocates to protect battered women and their children from further abuse. The perpetrator of violence must be held accountable not only for the abuse of his partner but also for the emotional abuse of the witnessing children.”

The figure on the next page summarizes several types of battered mothers’ risk analyses and plans for their children and the suggested advocate responses, including when unilateral action is necessary.

Figure 1: Considerations for Action by Advocates to Respond to Children at Risk

- Davies, Jill and Eleanor Lyon, Safety Planning With Battered Women, SAGE Publications: London, 1998.

Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence &
Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice

- Schechter, S. and Edleson, J. L. (1999). Effective Intervention in Domestic Violence &
Child Maltreatment Cases: Guidelines for Policy and Practice. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

Personal Reflection Exercise Explanation
The Goal of this Home Study Course is to create a learning experience that enhances your clinical skills. We encourage you to discuss the Personal Reflection Journaling Activities, found at the end of each Section, with your colleagues. Thus, you are provided with an opportunity for a Group Discussion experience. Case Study examples might include: family background, socio-economic status, education, occupation, social/emotional issues, legal/financial issues, death/dying/health, home management, parenting, etc. as you deem appropriate. A Case Study is to be approximately 150 words in length. However, since the content of these “Personal Reflection” Journaling Exercises is intended for your future reference, they may contain confidential information and are to be applied as a “work in progress.” You will not be required to provide us with these Journaling Activities.

Personal Reflection Exercise #1
The preceding section contained information about the risks for children in domestic violence situations. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Lived Experiences of Domestic Violence in Women
and Their Children: A Phenomenological Study

- Lee, P. Y., & Lee, B. O. (2022). Lived Experiences of Domestic Violence in Women and Their Children: A Phenomenological Study. Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland), 10(8), 1556.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Hall, J. G. (2019). Child-centered play therapy as a means of healing children exposed to domestic violence. International Journal of Play Therapy, 28(2), 98–106.

Riina, E. M. (2021). Intimate partner violence and child and adolescent adjustment: The protective roles of neighborhood social processes. Journal of Family Psychology, 35(6), 756–766.

Thomas, K. A., Mederos, F., & Rodriguez, G. (2019). “It shakes you for the rest of your life”: Low-income fathers’ understanding of domestic violence and its impact on children. Psychology of Violence, 9(5), 564–573.

What is the advocate response to a battered woman who is not committed to protecting her children? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 4
Table of Contents