Where Fear and Hope Collide – Domestic Violence and Children

 In Abusive Behaviors, Domestic Violence in Indian Country, Family Violence, Native centered advocacy

In Indigenous communities, the Seventh Generation (meaning our children and our children’s children) is more than just an idea and protecting our children is a sacred duty. But what happens when our desire to protect children from domestic violence overpowers our desire to protect ourselves? Are children not then placed at an additional risk?

The answer is complicated. Many of those in our communities, including advocates, victims, judges and attorneys, tribal leaders and elders, have grappled with this issue intimately – many on a personal level.

At StrongHearts, we understand that a family is more than the sum of its problems. When children are involved, it is often hard for many people to understand why someone would stay with an abusive partner. Most people assume that the presence of children in an abusive home makes a parent’s decision to leave easier.

However, we know that having children often makes those decisions more difficult. Oftentimes the presence of children removes the choice to leave all together. We also understand the desire to protect one’s children from being exposed to violence, even when faced with harm to yourself. However, when creating a safety plan to keep everyone safe, it is critical to be informed and know the risks.

What survivors need to know:

  1. Understand that you are not alone. As a survivor, having children does not further stigmatize you. It simply adds another protective element to your situation because it means you have someone in addition to yourself to look out for. Your immediate safety and that of your children is our primary concern. Please know you can reach out to a StrongHearts advocate (1-844-7NATIVE) to help you find ways to stay safe for both you and your children. The StrongHearts Native Helpline is anonymous* and confidential.
  2. Know your rights. Abusive partners may misquote or misstate the law as a way of maintaining power and control over you and your children. Each state has a family code and some tribal codes have provisions relating to civil matters (such as divorce) between partners. Included in these codes are custody/child protective services laws that relate to your children. Try to identify what these codes are and what they say. If you are having a difficult time understanding these codes, which can be difficult, it may be helpful to call an attorney or other legal support service. Depending on your location, StrongHearts advocates can assist you with finding legal resources. While our advocates are not legal advocates and cannot offer legal advice, they can help point you in the right direction.
  3. Be aware of the risks of staying in an abusive relationship when children are in the home. We understand that it’s far more complicated than it seems to leave one’s abusive partner and believe survivors are in the best position to make decisions regarding their own safety. If children are in a home where domestic violence is present, consider the effects that exposure to violence may have on your children. Abuse in the home may be grounds for removal of children in certain states by Child Protective Services. This may include both witnessing abuse and failure to protect. Another important consideration is the effect that abuse can have on a child’s overall well-being. The presence of intimate partner violence increases the risk of child abuse within the same home. Children who witness abuse, particularly Native children, are prone to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and related health effects of trauma.
  4. Build upon your child’s resiliency. Advocates and social workers often speak of a child’s resiliency and protective factors when there is violence in the home. What does this look like? Here are some key things rooted in restoring our tribal cultures and communities that you can do to support your child’s resiliency:
    • Maintain a strong relationship with your child, and support appropriate relationships with other significant individuals in their life: Having a relationship with a significant adult could mean building strong ties with an elder.
    • Provide opportunities for your child away from the home to instill a sense of hope.
    • Encourage your child’s curiosity, especially in learning new skills: Learning a new skill could mean learning your tribal language, which has been shown to increase resiliency in Native children.
    • Support opportunities for your child to get involved in the community.
    • Build your child’s confidence in their own internal ability to succeed.

Domestic violence effects everyone, including our sacred children. Ignoring the effects of violence within the home can have on your children can create distrust, fear, and can have a negative impact on a child’s health, safety and overall well-being.

Remember that both yours and your children’s needs are important. Whatever the situation may be, domestic violence is never the survivor’s fault.


*The StrongHearts Native Helpline is an anonymous and confidential service, though advocates are mandatory reporters in situations where a child’s welfare is concerned. If you disclose personally identifying information and share details that may constitute child abuse or neglect in your state, please note that advocates are required to report the abuse to child protective services or law enforcement. 

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