Bringing Mothers and Children Together
For some children, their home can be the most violent place during their childhood. If not the direct victims of domestic violence, children are often the witnesses. When threatened, we naturally run away from the source of the threat, toward safety; young children will run towards their source of protection and attachment – their mother (Levine, 1997). In the case of domestic violence, the dilemma exists for children when those who are supposed to love and protect them are the ones hurting them (e.g. father figure) or the ones being hurt (e.g. mother). It is our hope that women and children leaving their source of threat will come to us for safety. WCSWR makes it a priority to bring mothers and children together in their shared journey forward, beyond violence.
Without a doubt, mothers are better able to protect their children when basic needs such as safety, shelter, and food are met. Our Residential Support Workers address these immediate crises the moment a mother and her child(ren) enter our shelters. Each family is provided with their own bedroom, giving them privacy and opportunity to spend time together. Our Food and Nutrition Specialists provide nutritious meals daily in a community kitchen – another inviting space for mothers and children to sit together as a family.
Once basic needs are met, mothers and children are offered other services from our Clinical and Child and Youth Teams. Positive parental support can have a powerful influence on a child’s trauma recovery (Cohen, Mannarino, and Deblinger, 2006). And because the capacity to heal is innate, it is the role of adults to help children access this capacity (Levine and Kline, 2007). As such, our Child and Family Therapists bring mothers and children together for play based therapy and parent-child counselling to help children process the domestic violence they’ve experienced. This can be an eye-opening experience for mothers as this may be the first time they become aware of the impact that domestic violence has had on their children, despite their best efforts to protect them. Likewise, mothers are invited to join their children’s playgroups, which are run daily by our Child and Youth Workers.
Other special events and programs are offered to mothers and children during their stay. Field Trips are great opportunities for mothers and children to bond outside of the shelter. Storytime provides an opportunity for mothers and children to practice bedtime routines and share their favourite stories with other families – some families have used this time to write their own family story, including a chapter for their future – free from violence. Meditation is another opportunity for mothers and children to practice new routines, providing quiet and comforting space to practice mindfulness and learn how to be present in the moment, not dwelling on the past, nor worrying about the future.
For many traumatized children, an important source of emotional struggles is a real or perceived loss of safety (Cohen, Mannarino, and Deblinger, 2006). As such, safety is at the forefront of the services we provide to families. Safety Plans are developed with mothers and children upon their arrival to shelter; mothers complete individual Safety Plans with Residential Support Workers and children complete theirs with Child and Youth Workers. Safety continues to be important as we help families move forward. Mothers are integrally involved in Safety Planning for their child(ren); prior to leaving shelter, mothers and children are brought together to complete a shared Family Safety Plan that is updated and reviewed based on the details of their new home.
Once families settle into their new home, they receive an assessment and invitation from our Clinical Support Worker to attend our Safe Steps program, which is another opportunity to bring mothers and children together. This program involves a shared dinner among families and facilitators followed by family activities and age-specific psycho-educational support groups that help mothers and children continue their shared journey forward, beyond violence
Cohen, J. A., Mannarino, A. P., Deblinger, E. (2006). Treating Trauma and Traumatic Grief in Children and Adolescents. The Guilford Press.
Levine, P. (1997). Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Levine, P.A., Kline, M. (2007). Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes: Infancy through Adolescence. Awakening the Ordinary Miracle of Healing. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.