Today’s blog post comes to us from our Children’s Counselor, Jennifer King:
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. In the children’s counseling program at Safe Passage we provide therapy and counseling for children who witness domestic violence and whose parents are victims of domestic violence, but we also provide services to children who are themselves victims of violence. Did you know that according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) 1 in 15 children in the United States were exposed to intimate partner violence, a total of more than 5 million children, in just one year? Research has shown that witnessing domestic violence can be a traumatic event for children. In the landmark Adverse Childhood Experiences Survey (ACES) done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to domestic violence was found to be one of the 10 childhood experiences that can be a precursor to negative health outcomes in the future.
Another hard truth is that, in addition to the trauma of witnessing intimate partner violence, it is in many cases associated with other forms of violence. 1 in 3 children who witnessed domestic violence are also child abuse victims (according to the NCADV). Safe Passage counselors know this from our work with child clients. Often children are referred to us for counseling who are displaying behaviors that are concerning to their parents and teachers, such as aggression, nightmares, excessive crying, or clinging to parents. It can be helpful for parents to know that many of these behaviors are common among children who have experienced trauma. It is even more helpful to know that the effects of child abuse and other childhood trauma can be alleviated through developing a trusting relationship with a counselor. Children’s counselors at Safe Passage are Master’s-level counselors who are certified in trauma treatment. Talk therapies can be used with some children and adolescents, but more often expressive therapies are used to meet children at their level and make therapy as non-threatening and enjoyable as possible. Our counselors use play therapy techniques to assist children with expressing their feelings, experiencing healthy boundaries and limits and making choices about therapy activities in order to increase their sense of safety and control. Play is the natural language of children and while playing children can explore feelings that they are unable to describe using only words.
In our trauma training and working with clients we have learned that the most important part of any therapy is the relationship between the client and the therapist. Children’s counselors at Safe Passage work very hard to create an environment for children where they can have fun while always feeling safe and valued. As one of the foremost experts on trauma treatment, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk said, “being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.” At Safe Passage our goal is to provide these safe connections in order to help children heal from trauma and abuse.
If you suspect a child you know is being abused, you can report that abuse in Illinois by calling 1-800-25ABUSE. Let parents, families, and children know that there is help and support available at Safe Passage by calling 815-756-5228 or call us yourself to learn more about our services. Together, we CAN end child abuse for good.