What about the Children?
Today, at Haven House, in Cambridge, there are 14 women and 11 children living in the shelter, 25 residents. At Anselma House in Kitchener, we have 18 women and 23 children, a total of 41 residents. At any time, about half of our residents are children. We see newborns to teenagers, so their needs are varied.
Children come with some very specific and special needs to our shelters. Often they are frightened and traumatized. They do not know what to expect and feel their whole world has been turned upside down. Depending, of course, on the individual, they will react different ways. Some act out with aggression or oppositional behaviour. Some withdraw or regress. Some do all of the above.
We have been working at creating a Child and Youth program that can respond to the varied needs of all the children who enter our shelter. We have excellent staff who provide programming and therapy. There are two child and youth workers. They open our playroom, as well as run groups there, so that the children have a chance to play. Often children feel responsible for what has happened in their home, thinking that if they had been “good”, or if they had protected their mom, the violence would not have happened. Our staff work with them to ease that burden and create an environment in which children can just be children—and play. Our workers develop safety plans with children as well.
Working with the child and youth workers are two Child and Family Therapists (CFT), who will meet with both mother and children to assess the level of trauma the child may have experienced and to put a plan in place to address this. The CFTs also provide therapy sessions to the children and work with their mothers to deal with behaviour that may be emerging and generally to support mom in her parenting. Referrals to community agencies and programs will bridge to other services once mom and children leave the shelters.
The creative and diligent work of our staff to serve the children in our shelters, is hoped to intervene in a child’s life at a crucial moment. If we are to stop the cycle of violence from generation to generation, then we must work to make a difference to the children. At Women’s Crisis Services, we are working every day, to help women, and also their children, move beyond violence.