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‘It’s Not Your Fault’
How to deal when there’s violence at home
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Q: If your parent is in a violent relationship, what can you do about it?

A: First of all, young people need to know that they are not to blame for a parent’s situation. Domestic violence is never the fault of children or teens.

If your parent is in a violent or abusive relationship it’s important for you to keep yourself safe. That means staying out of the room if a fight is happening instead of getting into the middle of it to protect your parent. You should avoid rooms where you can be trapped or where there are weapons. You can go to a neighbor’s house to get help or even call the police. The last thing a parent who is being abused wants is for their child to be injured.

It may be possible to talk with your parent about the abuse when the abuser is not around, and share how you feel about the violence. But remember that violent relationships are very complicated. You can’t expect that the relationship will end just because of this conversation.

Finally, you can find someone outside the family to talk with about the abuse going on at home. You can always call the national 24-hour domestic violence hotline 1-800-621-HOPE (4673) and talk to someone anonymously. The people who answer the hotline are trained in dealing with violent relationships and can help young people and adults figure out what they can do and how to stay safe.

Q: If you tell someone that domestic violence is going on in your home, will they put you in foster care?

A: ACS, the child welfare system in New York, has guidelines about what to do when a parent is in a violent relationship. Workers need to make what are called “reasonable efforts” to help the parent and youth get what they need to stay safe and to stay together. This can include helping the parent get an order of protection to keep the abuser away from the family, helping the parent move to a domestic violence shelter in order to be safe, and/or connecting the parent, the young person, and even the abuser to services that can help them all address and recover from the abuse.

If the violence is so severe that it poses an immediate danger to the life or health of the young person, ACS may have to place the youth in foster care. But cases that dangerous are fairly rare.

Q: How does witnessing domestic violence affect children and teens?

image by Gamal Jones

A: Every young person is affected in a different way when they witness domestic violence. You should know that whatever you’re feeling is normal.

Some common things that young people experience are feelings of sadness, not wanting to go to school, not wanting to be away from your parent, feeling like you can’t sleep or that you want to sleep all the time, having memories of the violence pop into your head at any time, feeling angry, getting into fights or not wanting to hang out with friends. Sometimes young people feel so badly about the violence that they want to hurt or kill themselves.

Q: How can you recover from living in a violent home?

A: Again, the first thing to remember is that the violence is not your fault and that you are not alone. Many people have been through this and there are a lot of people who can help.

Again, a good way to find these people is to call the 24-hour domestic violence hotline 1-800-621-HOPE (4673). They can give you information about where to go to talk to someone in person.

It’s important not to keep your feelings inside because over time those feelings can make you feel depressed or angry. You deserve to get the support you need so that you aren’t affected by the violence forever.

Q: How can you help your parent recover?

A: It is not your responsibility to help your parent recover, but you can offer them love and support. This doesn’t mean that you have to pretend that you don’t have your own feelings about the abuse. What’s important is to have the chance to share your feelings about what happened.

You may love or feel angry with both parents, or you may side with one against the other. It can be really difficult to have those feelings. The best thing to do is to find a safe adult to speak to.

Heather McLain, MSW, is the Community Coordinator for Domestic Violence Policy and Planning at ACS.

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(FCYU-2007-07-07)

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