REBUILDING CONNECTION BETWEEN CHILDREN AND PARENTS WHO USED VIOLENCE
In the aftermath of family violence, it takes a great deal of work to ensure a child’s safety and...
The experiences of violence and oppression of Black families and children are unique. Impacted by the history and legacy of slavery, racism and oppression in the U.S., Black families and children experience intergenerational and historical trauma that can deeply affect their everyday lives. Along with this trauma, experiences of racism and oppression – including police brutality, oversurveillance by the child welfare system, and medical mistreatment and exploitation – negatively impact health outcomes, result in higher rates of maternal mortality, and create conditions that contribute to intimate partner and teen dating violence. Explore more about these issues below.
Black Joy, Love, and Resilience
Before delving into the ways that trauma, racism, and oppression affect Black families and bodies, it is important to also take a moment to revel in Black joy, love, and resilience, because the Black community is more than all the harm that they experience. As Kleaver Cruz of The Black Joy Project has said, “Black Joy is not dismissing or creating an ‘alternate’ black narrative that ignores the realities of our collective pain; rather, it is about holding the pain and injustice in tension with the joy we experience. It’s about using the joy as an entry into understanding the oppressive forces we navigate through as a means to imagine and create a world free of them.”
Black people have shown across time that they are able to overcome violence and trauma and still able to create art and music, break athletic records, feed each other, create non-traditional families, and connect to community. Black families are multi-faceted, with elders and aunties protecting and caring for each other’s children – when the birthing parents are not available grandparents or family will often step forward.
We know that the protective factors when experiencing domestic violence include: Safer and more stable conditions; Social, cultural, and spiritual connections; Resilience and a growth mindset; Nurturing parent-child interactions; and Social and emotional abilities. Many of these protective factors are found in Black communities and families, and reconnecting to the resilience and strength of the Black community can be a critical part of supporting Black survivors.
“Black joy is the heartbeat and pulse of our survival, our resiliency, our perseverance, our health and wellbeing.”
How do trauma, racism, and oppression show up as disparities for Black families and children, and what can we do to make meaningful change?
According to various national surveys and studies, Black families and children are at higher risk for intimate partner and sexual violence, IPV related homicides, and stalking. The following are some staggering statistics that are uplifted in Ujima’s Intimate Partner Violence in the Black Community Factsheet and their Teen Dating Violence in the Black Community Factsheet:
According to the 2010-2012 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 45% of Black women experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime (Smith et al., 2017).
The same survey found that 40% of Black men experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime (Smith et al., 2017).
According to the 2011 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, approximately 41% of Black women have experienced physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetime, compared to 31% of white women, 30% of Hispanic women, and 15% of Asian or Pacific Islander women (Breiding, 2014).
According to the CDC, Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women experienced the highest rates of homicide (4.4 and 4.3 per 100,000 population), and over half of all homicides (55%) were related to IPV.
Nationally, about 9% of Black women were raped by an intimate partner during their lifetime compared to 11% of multiracial women, 10% white women, and 6% Hispanic women (Breiding, 2014).
15% of Black men in the U.S. experience sexual violence other than rape by an intimate partner at some point during their lifetime compared to 18% multiracial men, 14% Hispanic men, and 8% white men (Breiding, 2014).
About 8% of Black youth reported experiences of physical dating violence and about 6% experienced sexual dating violence (Basile, et al., 2020).
Black youth are less likely to seek support for teen dating violence (TDV) from formal sources such as school counselors due to concerns about confidentiality and a preference for seeking trusted sources of support such as friends and family (Love & Richards, 2013).
African American female teens who have experienced dating violence are more likely to experience sexually transmitted infections, have non-monogamous sexual partners, and get pregnant (IDVAAC, 2014)
Importantly, Black families and children experience disparities in access to resources (Assan, 2017), and racism and institutional bias when seeking services (Nnawulezi & Sullivan, 2014) (Gonzalez et al., 2021). All of these contributing factors have only furthered the gap of positive health outcomes between Black families and other racial groups in the U.S (Radley et al., 2021). Black families and children are also impacted by racism and discrimination in seeking domestic violence services, leaving them with fewer options when looking to access resources or when attempting to leave an intimate partner (Martinson, 2001).
“By intentionally denying African Americans access to economic opportunities, healthcare, education, and a sense of support from government agencies, the risk factors of domestic violence are higher in these communities. This also leads to added barriers in reaching a safer place or getting support, due to the distrust in many government agencies.”
Use intersectional approaches in your work, understanding the complexities of racism and other intersecting identities and how they might affect survivors’ experiences with services.
Center survivor voices in your work. Invite survivors to provide feedback on your services, perhaps through a focus group, or through confidential surveys to better determine if you are meeting the unique needs of Black survivors.
Reach out to survivors in informal places such as salons or barbershops, or use non-traditional outreach strategies, like providing prevention education in athletic settings to open space for Black children to talk to trusted community members.
Since before the Jim Crow laws, Black families have been brutalized by police. The murder of George Floyd in 2020 awakened a broader awareness to the nature and prevalence of police brutality toward Black people. Mass protests quickly ensued and were later found to be the broadest in U.S. history. This momentum and global movement gave new life to the far–reaching grassroots organization Black Lives Matter. Unfortunately, many efforts to reform policing have made little impact on the rates of police killings by police.
Police violence has an impact on every area of life for Black people, including their mental health (Bor, 2018). Black parents have to have “the talk” to teach their children how best to behave to avoid police brutality. Racism and police brutality are inextricable from the experience of Black parents struggling with intimate partner violence (IPV). For example, Black parents are less likely to call the police or seek appropriate help services. This leads to vast underreporting of IPV and increased fatalities among Black women.
Black people are 2.9x more likely to be killed by police than white people in the U.S. (Mapping Police Violence).
Mounting evidence shows that deaths at the hands of the police disproportionately impact people of certain races and ethnicities, pointing to systemic racism in policing (GBD 2019 Police Violence US Subnational Collaborators).
Between 1980 and 2018, the age-standardized mortality rate due to police violence was highest in non-Hispanic Black people (GBD 2019 Police Violence US Subnational Collaborators).
Police killings of unarmed Black Americans have adverse effects on mental health among Black American adults in the general population (Bor, 2018).
“Black people are apparently responsible for calming the fears of violent cops in the way women are supposedly responsible for calming the sexual desires of male rapists. If we don’t, then we are blamed for our own assaults, our own deaths.”
In our work with Black families, it is critical to understand the intersectional nature of racism and police brutality in order to provide culturally competent and effective services. Because of a long history of police brutality and racism, understand that not all survivors will want to call the police or move forward with a criminal or legal case against the person who harmed them. If the survivor does not want to engage with these systems, find other ways to support them through community services, or, when appropriate and if requested, engage in restorative practices. Fighting police brutality can be an uphill battle against a very protected system. To learn more about what you can do, see the ACLU’s Fighting Police Abuse: A Community Action Manual.
Black families face discrimination and unequal outcomes at every stage of the child welfare system. Black children are more likely to be removed from their families than white children (Center for the Study of Social Policy, 2022). Many reports of neglect are often made due to implicit bias rather than evidence of neglect, which in effect, punishes poor people for living with the conditions of poverty. Once placed into foster care, Black children are moved more often, receive fewer appropriate services, and then are four times less likely to be reunified with their families than white children. Black youth also experience worse outcomes once they leave foster care – for example, 23 percent of Black youth who age out of foster care experience homelessness and 29 percent experience incarceration, far higher rates than for non-Black youth (White & Persson, 2022).
Often reports to child welfare at the intersection of intimate partner violence are problematic, as the survivor can be reported for “failure to protect” in many states. People who use violence often use the system to control survivors, making many survivors reluctant to ask for help (Mandel).
Break the cycle of child removal with a connectedness and anti-racist framework.
Bring implicit bias training to your team. Often, Black parents are reported for cases of neglect when in reality the family is struggling with poverty. Help your community discern between the two with education on the effects of implicit bias on reporting.
Talk to your team about Mandatory Reporting – each locale has different standards for reporting, but when possible, prevent the intervention of the child welfare system by thinking critically about who you report and why.
Support kinship foster care – grandparents, aunts or uncles, or siblings over 21 can take on a child removed from a home, and this can increase the likelihood that a child is reunified with their parents.
In the United States, Black women are 2 to 6 times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than white women, depending on where they live, with disparities increasing from 2007 to 2017 (Flanders-Stepans, 2000) (MacDorman et al., 2017). Factors related to systemic, institutional, and historical racism contribute to poor maternal health and birth outcomes for Black women. These factors include lack of access to quality and equitable health care, education and housing, rates of poverty, and lifelong experiences of bias and discrimination (Lu et al., 2010).
Experiencing racism was significantly associated with greater odds of preterm birth (adjusted odds ratio, 1.29; 95% CI, 1.04–1.59) (Bower et al., 2018).
These factors make Black women more susceptible to post-partum depression (Stepanikova et al., 2017; Heldreth et al,. 2016) having preterm birth and low birth weight babies, (Giurgescu et al., 2011; Chae et al., 2018; Slaughter-Acey et al., 2019) maternal mortality (Howell, 2018) and other poor health outcomes.
Black survivors are less likely to seek health care (behavioral/physical) for injuries resulting from IPV compared with white survivors and more likely to seek support from friends or family, highlighting the lingering legacies of racism and discrimination in health care systems and the importance of culturally responsive and specific support systems (Stockman et al., 2015).
Experiencing IPV is associated with a variety of poor health outcomes including: chronic pain, cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal disorders, injuries, asthma, cancer, depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, substance use disorder, traumatic brain injury, reproductive and sexual health problems, and much more (Black et al., 2011; Breiding et al., 2008).
According to the CDC, “Black women ages 25-29 are 11 times more likely as White women in that age group to be murdered while pregnant or in the first year after childbirth” (Sharps et al., 2007, as cited by Ujima, 2021).
Given the disparities in maternal health outcomes, IPV rates, and health outcomes of IPV survivors, it is crucial that we both listen to survivors and learn from the community-based, public health models that show promise in promoting maternal health for Black women and explore integrated opportunities for IPV prevention and response including: Black infant health programs; group prenatal care and peer support; supportive community health workers and Doulas; home visitation; Midwifery care and birthing centers; and community-based birth collectives/organizations. In addition to individual and relationship–level strategies to better support Black mothers, it is also critical to address structural racism and organizational barriers in healthcare that contribute to health disparities through approaches such as: implicit bias training; workforce equity development; patient-centered medical homes that are culturally responsive; collaboration with trusted community leaders and culturally relevant organizations; and work to eliminate barriers to reproductive and maternal health resources for Black people outside of the health system.
Black Maternal Health Content Provided by a Futures Without Violence resource: Black Women’s Maternal Health and IPV Statistics