Each year, millions of children witness the abuse of a parent or adult caregiver. What they see and hear in a home with domestic violence can affect them in a profound way.
Workers at domestic violence centers across the Tampa Bay area say these children can become withdrawn and attached to the abused parent when they arrive at the shelters for help.
“They cry often and express emotions like anger on an increased level,” says Rosa Contreras of the Sunrise domestic and sexual violence center in Pasco County. “Our children’s counselor works with the mothers and children to work together to be assertive at the same time with their needs. Our advocates work on a daily basis to help the mothers talk with the children about their feelings regarding this new environment and how to cope with this. The children’s counselor sets up children’s activities on a weekly basis to get the families to interact positively.”
CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse) in Pinellas County offers support groups and a summer camp to children at the shelter to help them cope with the traumas they have experienced at home. “By the time they leave, they have made new friends and often do not want to leave,” says CASA Executive Director Linda Osmundson.
Domestic violence shelters provide basic needs to children, such as toothpaste, soap and shampoo. The Salvation Army of Pasco County also provides tutoring and assistance with school work.
“They have activities and groups that assist them in healing from the violence that they have witnessed and the abuse they have faced,” says Salvation Army Domestic Violence Program Director Lynn Needs.
Erica Wiedemann, the director of the Haven of RCS in Pinellas County says they have had nearly 150 children come through their program in the past year.
She says monetary donations help provide items for support groups for children who have lived in abusive homes.
Comfort items also are in high demand at the shelters. “Soft blankets and pillows are a welcome surprise for children who are scared and have very little,” says Shannon Sokolowski, executive director of the Dawn Center in Pasco County. “We collect these items for children to keep as their own and also indoor and outdoor play toys and bikes for all children to use together.”
Now we can all help the Tampa Bay area shelters provide healing services for children. Through an online effort called Get2Zero, you can make a donation to your local domestic violence shelter. Monetary donations can help children by providing hygiene products, clothes, school supplies and items for support groups and shelter programs.
Here’s how Get2Zero works. Go to abcactionnews.com/dv. Click on the donate button. This will link you to the Get2Zero site, where you can donate to the domestic violence shelter of your choice. ABC Action News will be hosting a telethon beginning at noon on October 22nd to raise money for local domestic violence shelters with a special one-hour presentation at 7 p.m.
Lissette Campos is director of community affairs and host of ABC Action News’ Positively Tampa Bay. Kristin Moore is special projects producer for ABC Action News.