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Parenting and Domestic Violence

Experiencing domestic violence can have significant negative impacts on parent and child survivors, and on their relationships with each other.

Experiencing domestic violence (DV) can have significant negative impacts on parent and child survivors, and on their relationships with each other. Supporting survivors as individuals and in their role as a parent can increase opportunities for healing for all family members. Building protective factors that help to mitigate the impacts of domestic violence both adult and child survivors is a critical strategy to creating conditions and experiences that help them both to heal and to sustain nurturing and loving relationships in face of violence and abuse. 

Strategies to Support Parent Survivors

Abusive partners use a variety of tactics to undermine their partners’ parenting and relationships with their children, from direct violence and threats to substance abuse and mental health coercion to economic abuse to use of systems like child protection and family courts. Survivors of domestic violence love their children and worry about their physical and emotional safety from their partner’s violence and abuse, but often feel blamed and judged by ‘helping’ professionals in those systems. Low-income survivors, who are disproportionately Black, Indigenous and Latinx, experience a more intensive degree of surveillance of their parenting as they navigate public assistance programs, child support and child welfare — starting with a vast array of mandated reporters. 

Efforts by survivors to protect their children may be difficult for an observer to see or understand – for example, harsh discipline may be a survivor’s effort to avoid more harm to the child at the hands of the abusive partner. In addition, parents who experience domestic violence may be reluctant to explain themselves to outsiders, fearing that their partner may retaliate or that others will take action against them – such as filing a child abuse or neglect report.  

Please note – Domestic violence is a complex dynamic in families that requires thoughtful consideration and consultation with others when deciding whether a child abuse report is warranted. Filing a child abuse or neglect report often has harmful impacts that the reporters do not see. Mitigating unnecessary harm to families and preserving the provider’s role as an authentic source of help is as important as the mandate to report.

Partnering with Survivors Who are Parents

Invest time in building relationships and trust with survivors who are parents. Listen actively to understand each survivor’s unique situation. Start with authentic, supportive and re-affirming messages: 

  • I know you want the best for your children.  

  • Children and adults who live with violence can recover and heal from their experiences. A close and loving relationship between you and your child helps you both to heal. 

  • Experiencing violence is never your fault. You and your children deserve to be safe and treated with respect. 

  • I know we come from different backgrounds, and I’m looking forward to us getting to know what that means for how we each parent our children. 

  • Parenting is hard and can be lonely – everyone deserves someone to talk to about parenting and relationships. It’s ok to ask for help! 

Ask survivors who are parents what they need, and collaborate with partners to provide it.

  • Find an educational advocate to help a survivor of color whose child is experiencing racism in their school, if that’s what she wants. 

  • Provide funding or vouchers for recreational facilities and opportunities if a parent is looking for ways to have fun with their child.

  • Host a game night for survivors and their children.

  • Locate a musician in the community to provide voice lessons to an adult or child survivor so they can feel accomplished and achieve a personal goal.  

  • Create a resource center where any survivor can come to find a ride share, pick up baby formula or find clothes for a job interview or court hearing.  

  • Start a GoFundMe to help survivors with emergency expenses like a car repair or gap between payday and when bills are due. 

  • Offer support groups or peer supports, without assuming that all survivors need or want such services.  

Help survivors build their confidence in their own parenting and decisions.

  • Ask how survivors have tried protect their children and what they have done to stay safe themselves. Reaffirm their attempts to protect their children or to seek help, even if they weren’t effective.

  • Establish a parenting group in which survivors can share stories and provide mutual emotional support for the challenges of day-to-day care of children.  

  • Explore and support activities that the parent and children enjoy doing together as ways to strengthen their relationship. 

  • Ask a survivor who supports them as a parent, and brainstorm with the survivor how they can ‘give back’ to that person to build their connection and feelings of mutuality in the relationship. 

  • Offer culturally relevant resources for supporting parent survivors to strengthen their capacities and relationships with their children. Download a brochure for caregivers or order printed copies.

Strengthen your own practice.

  • Begin with the assumption that the survivor’s choices make sense, and that anyone might make the same choices in their circumstances. 

  • Ask survivors open questions about their experiences and needs: all individuals experiencing violence deserve support that addresses their unique experiences and that affirms their intersecting identities.  

  • Respect survivor confidentiality and decisions and be clear about any limits to confidentiality you may have. 

  • Help survivors to navigate systems, and offer to advocate for them or practice strategies to help them advocate for themselves.  

  • Help survivors identify their own and their childrens needs, and connect them with social supports and services that can help them with physical, financial, legal and emotional needs.

  • Reflect on how working with parent and child survivors of violence can impact you. Seek support from your colleagues and or your supervisor. Develop strategies that support your resilience and sustain you in this work.