Protection and Support for Children Exposed to Domestic Violence


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Children’s safety and well-being are integrally linked with the safety of the mother. Children can be exposed to their mother’s abuse in many ways, including when they see their mother assaulted and demeaned, hear loud conflict and violence or see the aftermath. Children might also be used by an abusive partner to perpetuate the abuse, for example, threatening violence against the children, talking inappropriately to children about their mother’s behaviour and holding the children hostage or abducting them. Two-thirds of women admitted to women’s shelters in Alberta are accompanied by children (estimated 5,000 per year) and almost half of these are pre-schoolers. Domestic violence has a profound impact on the lives of children. Exposure to domestic violence impacts the brain development of children, and increases the likelihood that children will experience or perpetrate abuse over the course of their lifespan.

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Promising Practices

✓ Provides trauma-informed, affordable, developmentally and gender appropriate care based on knowledge of childhood attachment and behavioural disorders;

✓ Provides programming specifically focusing on pre-school children, including, in particular attachment-based activities or programs for mothers together with their children;

✓ Has access to accredited safe visitation centres that put a child’s best interest and safety at the forefront;

✓ Because of complexity of the complexity of children’s issues, child care options use an enhanced staff to child ratio, to ensure that children can have one on one attention when needed;

✓ Provides training for staff in age-appropriate and culturally competent intervention approaches and materials;

✓ Advocates that court decisions of family law cases that involve violence against women take in to account the impact of those decisions on children;

✓ Assists children and adolescents through counselling to receive information and tools to break the cycle of abuse; children are provided with a safe and nurturing environment in which they are free to tell their story, share their experiences and work through the traumas associated with being exposed to family violence;

✓ Refers to and coordinates with external service providers as needed to address the needs of children/youth;

✓ Provides care for children to allow mothers time to meet their individual needs, as well as to support the healthy development of children;

✓ Works with mothers to assess and support achievement of their personal goals related to parenting, and to understand parent’s perspectives and need for parenting support

✓ At the mother’s request and consent and/or to ensure child’s safety, provides support and information to police and/or Children’s Service authorities, when these systems become involved in custody and parenting issues; 

✓ Provides programming to fathers to enhance their understanding, compassion and empathy for their children.

See References

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Story: Just Blow Out Your Flower

Key Elements:

  • Care is child-focused and is based on trauma-informed practices and knowledge of the complexity of children’s issues.
  • Care is accessible to all, regardless of ability to pay for services. 


Joy Johnson-Green

Sonshine Centre

Finding the right care for a traumatized child is a daunting experience.  I made a long list of possible daycare options. But I crossed them off my list one by one as I heard them say “we cannot take her if she has aggressive behaviours.”

In desperation, I contemplated “minimizing” her behaviors to them but in my heart, I knew it would only be a matter of time before she would fail the placement.

Then Sonshine figuratively “shone” hope upon us.  Our 4-year-old granddaughter was one of the first children to enroll in the program. She attended for just over a year.

Sonshine specialize in children like our granddaughter – those who have been exposed to domestic violence. They offer care which is trauma-informed and they know that the child has the potential to grow and to overcome her early life experiences.

Before entering Sonshine our granddaughter was impulsive, aggressive and unpredictable. It was not uncommon for her to lash out physically at another child, unprovoked.  She did not have coping skills to deal with her internal world. Sonshine taught her to give language to her feelings: such as sad, mad, happy, or scared. She got so good at these skills she began to teach other children (and us too). Even the family dog got a lesson!

One day I must have been stressed about something.  I recall her telling me, “Grandma, just blow out your flower!” At first I didn’t understand what she was talking about.  But then she explained that I should pretend to be blowing out a dandelion bloom. Breathe in deeply…breathe out!  Brilliant. It certainly helped me calm down.

When you see a precious child transform before your eyes you know that the work Sonshine child care is doing is truly life saving. We often wonder how we can truly express the gratitude we feel to have had our sweet granddaughter receive their love and care? All we can say is thank you.


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Organizations Providing Tools / Resources





Providing Assistance Counselling & Education


Sexual Assault and Trauma Centre

Grande Prairie

Jacquie Aitken

Executive Director


Guide for Battering

Intervention Referral Assessment Matrix

Interview Summary

Discovery House


Mariela Araya

Team Lead, Child & Youth Case Management


Ages and Stages Questionnaires

Kids Club Mom's Empowerment

Triple P - Positive Parenting Program



Sonshine Children's Centre


Joy Johnson-Greene

Executive Director



Interview Summary

YWCA Lethbridge


Lorrie Wittke

Youth Services Manager


Project Child Recovery

Comfort Box Example

Interview Summary


See References

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