The first societal responses to domestic violence were the creation of shelters for abused women and training other professionals in the justice system to treat this violence as a crime. After more services became available for victims and perpetrators, an increasing focus became the children living with violence. Awareness of the plight of children and development of services grew to the point that expectations began to be placed on schools as an ideal location for early intervention and prevention programs. Since educators have almost universal access to children, schools are seen as a foundation for preventing domestic violence.
The school’s role can be defined under the concepts of early identification, intervention, and prevention. Early identification of children living with violence is possible by raising teachers’ awareness of the impact of domestic violence on children and potential symptoms that may be seen within a school setting. Many children suffer from emotional and behavioral problems related to exposure to violence. These children may experience specific problems related to school attendance, adjustment, and achievement.
Teacher professional development regarding the impact of domestic violence on students at different ages may result in these students being identified and offered assistance. Critical skills for educators have to include handling disclosures of violence from students. Students may disclose directly by what they recount or indirectly in their play, drawings, attitudes, and/or behavior. In some cases, parents may make a disclosure during a parent–teacher meeting and seek understanding about their children’s problems or assistance from school staff for referrals to other professionals. The assistance may involve counselors within the school system or community service providers. Some school districts have partnerships with domestic violence agencies and provide in school groups or education programs.
One emerging issue that is the source of considerable debate is the appropriateness of referrals to the child protection system from schools in cases of domestic violence. School districts have developed a wide variety of policies and practices for handling disclosure and determining the extent to which mandatory reporting is triggered by incidents of children disclosing domestic violence in their home.
A more recent development in the field is the creation of school programs and curricula that address domestic violence at every grade. These developments include programs on social skills, interpersonal problem solving, gender stereotypes and equality, healthy relationships in adolescence, and dating violence. These programs are intended to be universal programs directed at all students rather than just those students experiencing domestic violence. The thinking behind these programs is that every student can benefit from this knowledge irrespective of any potential future role as a victim or perpetrator. This knowledge may assist these students in the future, as well as their friends, family members, coworkers, and neighbors, in the event they have to confront domestic violence in their environment. Ultimately, these programs may promote the shift in societal attitudes and behavior that no longer tolerates this behavior.
- Baker, L., Jaffe, P., Carter, S., & Ashbourne, L. (2002). Children exposed to domestic violence: A teacher’s handbook to increase understanding and improve community responses. London, ON: Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System.
- Jaffe, P., Wolfe, D. A., Crooks, C., Hughes, R., & Baker, L. (2004). The fourth R: Developing healthy relationships through school-based interventions. In P. Jaffe, L. Baker, & A. Cunningham (Eds.), Protecting children from domestic violence: Strategies for community intervention (pp. 200–218). New York: Guilford Press.
- Rosenbluth, B., & Bradford Garcia, R. (2004). Expect Respect curriculum. Austin, TX: SafePlace.
- Wolfe, D. A., Jaffe, P., & Crooks, C. (2006). Adolescent risk behaviors: Why teens experiment and strategies to keep them safe. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
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