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Impact of Violence on Children and Maternal Parenting June 30 2011 Dr Elspeth McInnes AM.

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Presentation on theme: "Impact of Violence on Children and Maternal Parenting June 30 2011 Dr Elspeth McInnes AM."— Presentation transcript:

1 Impact of Violence on Children and Maternal Parenting June 30 2011 Dr Elspeth McInnes AM

2 Gender and Violence Domestic violence/intimate partner violence is a gendered crime, as it most likely to perpetrated by men against women. In eight out of ten intimate partner homicides, women are the victims (Mouzos & Rushforth 2003). Men are most at risk of an assault by another man (ABS 2006). Intimate partner violence is the single biggest cause of premature death and injury amongst women aged 15-45 in Victoria (Heenan et al 2004).

3 The Features of DV Establish and maintain a climate of fear and control through: Threats to harm the target /their loved ones / their property. Physical assault Sexual assault Verbal & Emotional Abuse Financial abuse Social abuse Spiritual abuse = ISOLATION, FEAR, PAIN, DESPAIR, SHAME

4 Legal Constructs of DV Assaults are: ‘event based’ A mutual private relationship issue An outcome of ‘provocation’/ ‘dysfunction’ Individualised = Beliefs that men who assault the mothers of their children can be ‘good’ fathers.

5 Legal Constructs of Parental Violence to Children Australian parents are legally allowed to assault their children – using ‘reasonable force’ to discipline under common law. Family law requires that children are protected from violence but relies on state child protection systems to investigate and substantiate reports. Child protection systems only actively investigate ‘immediate risk of harm’ reports leaving a majority of notifications without active investigation. In some states Police attending domestic violence incidents where children are present are required to make a child protection notification, wherein mothers can be categorized as ‘emotionally abusive’ and pressured to end the relationship to keep care of their children.

6 Prevalence of DV in Australia Around 20% of Australian women identified at least one experience of physical or sexual violence by a current or former partner since the age of 15 (ABS 1996). 42% of single previously partnered women reported experiencing violence - ex-partners were the most common perpetrators (ABS 1996). 2.1% of women reported violence by a current partner and 15% of women reported violence by a previous partner since the age of 15 (ABS 2006).

7 Distribution of Violence ABS General Social Survey (2007) measured exposure to actual or threatened physical violence in the last 12 months. National 10.8% SA 11.4% Couples with dep children 9.5% Single with dep children 25.2% Jobless couples dep chn U15 11.2% Jobless single dep chn U 15 42.4%

8 Pregnancy and Violence Pregnancy is a key ‘risk’ time for the onset of domestic violence. This includes women who are pregnant and wish to terminate their pregnancy (Taft 2002). 15% of women with current violent partners reported violence during the pregnancy and half of these said violence had occurred for the first time during the pregnancy (ABS 2006). 35% of women with violent previous partners reported violence during the pregnancy and again half of these said violence had occurred for the first time during the pregnancy (ABS 2006).

9 Children are always harmed when their primary carer is assaulted They 1.Witness the attack/s 2.Are hurt if they ‘get in the way’. 3.Become direct target/s of attack 4.Experience the impact of abuse on their mum’s parenting. 5.Can be ‘recruited’ by perpetrator to join in 6.Can be used by perpetrator to distress mother. (Bancroft, and Silverman 2002)

10 Health consequences for women from DV (Taft 2003) Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Depression Anxiety Physical Injury Aggression/Mood Swings Substance Abuse as coping mechanism Social Withdrawal

11 How Women Survive DV Women use various approaches for coping with the violent behaviour of their partners. They Adapt behaviour to suit what partners’ demands. Physical, verbal or other forms of resistance to the abuser’s behaviour Activities to maintain their self-esteem Methods to ‘dull’ or ‘blunt’ the effects of the abuse - therapy, alcohol, drugs, creative pursuits, disassociation.

12 Mothering Issues Living in the Violent Relationship Increased risks of difficulty bonding, playing and engaging positively with their children especially if children have difficult behaviours such as persistent crying arising from living with DV. Post-natal depression – adversely affects infant attachment and maternal bonding (Buchanan 2008) Child neglect as an outcome of dissociated mothering Attempts to shield children from abuse. Difficulty sleeping and getting children to sleep Increased risks of heightened stress and aggression towards their children.

13 Mothering through DV cont. Increased risks of emotional withdrawal from children Being prevented by perpetrator from attending to their children Physical absence from children due to hospitalization Loss of care of children due to child protection action

14 Mothering Issues after Leaving the Violent Relationship Loss of housing, furniture and household goods, personal possessions, income, pets, social connections to school/childcare/ neighbourhood – dealing with upheaval leaves little time/energy for children. Family law requirements to provide children for contact with perpetrator. Loss of children to perpetrator under family law if mother resists contact. Can be ordered not to seek help for the child.

15 Children’s Exposure to DV 49% of people who experienced violence by a current partner had children in their care and 27% said the children had witnessed the violence (ABS 2006). 61% of people who experienced violence by a previous partner had children in their care and 36% said the children had witnessed the violence (ABS 2006). One in four Australian children has witnessed violence against their mother by a father or step-father (Indermaur 2001).

16 Brain Development Early infancy is the period of most rapid brain development The brain develops on a ‘use dependent’ basis in interaction with the child’s environment Brain development is sequential Optimal development requires attentive responsive care which supports the child’s social and emotional development and ensures adequate nutrition and hygiene.

17 Sequence of Brain Development Brain-stem – autonomic responses – breathing, heart-rate, digestion Mid-brain – limbic system - sensing pathways – perceiving the environment through the senses, storing memory and interpreting the meaning of the experience for the body. Frontal lobes or cerebral cortex – the presenting brain – language, cognition, rationality, imagination, empathy. The brain development will be attuned to the infant’s early environment.

18 Children’s Development & DV Trauma of DV impacts development Developmental delay Risk of chronic traumatization Behavioural problems Learning difficulties Exclusion from services Poor relationships

19 Stress Physiology The brain interprets sudden unpredictable changes in the environment as threatening and turns on special ‘stress’ response mechanisms in the whole body. Stress responses are aimed at supporting survival under threat. Stress hormones, including cortisol, shut down functions that are not necessary for immediate survival - including digestion, sexual behaviour, learning and rational thinking (Adam 2003, Gerhardt 2004, cited in Sims, Guilfoyle & Parry 2005), and sleep.cortisol The body normally resumes homeostatic patterns when the threat has passed.

20 Cognitive Development Speech and language, problem solving, impulse control, Academic and social development. If child is a victim of Domestic Violence this area may not develop. Stuck in theLimbic System Limbic System Motor Skills Post-traumatic stress disorder – Children re-experience traumatic situations so their adrenaline is at peak all the time. It is never safe so be alert. Can go from calm to rage immediately. Triggers are deep, responses disproportionate. To be seen and heard – display aggression. Carers must have routines and rituals that are followed. No fast changes to routines. No threats of violence. No yelling. No physical threats. Freeze/Surrender – Nor Adrenalin Tired, sleepy, Physical, blood flow changes, gastro-centric, thinking changes. Fight/Flight-Adrenalin Can’t eat, blood flow changes, Evacuate bladder/bowel, increased heart rate. Brain Stem Largely already formed at birth. Automatic actions – breathing, body able to digest food, heart works. What impact children suffer/experience when witness to domestic violence and how it may effect them for the rest of their lives

21 TRAUMA http://www.childtrauma.org/ctamaterials/Vio_child.asp http://www.childtrauma.org/ctamaterials/Vio_child.asp all humans process, store, retrieve and respond to the world in a state-dependent fashion. When a child is in a persisting state of low-level fear from exposure to violence, the parts of the brain that are processing information are different from those in a child from a safe environment. Chronically traumatized children are sensitized to stress

22 Alarm Reactions the sense of future is foreshortened. Immediate reward is most reinforcing. Delayed gratification is impossible. Consequences of behaviour are not cognitively available to the threatened child. Reflection on behaviour -including violent behaviour - is impossible for the child in an alarm state. Without internal regulating capabilities of the cortex, the brainstem acts reflexively, impulsively, and aggressively to any perceived threat.

23 The Physiology of Trauma The amygdala (in the limbic system) receives sensory inputs of danger and triggers physical response As the stress hormones are released the frontal lobes of the brain ‘shrink’ and physical responses overwhelm and shut down the language and thinking centre. Can include spontaneous excretion, feeling ‘frozen’, huge burst of energy.

24 Dissociation Dissociation is a trauma reaction where the infant/child cannot escape or stop the traumatizing event. Social withdrawal, emotional numbing, blank face, frozen posture, daydreaming, ‘out of body’ sensation, rocking, head- banging, fainting.

25 Hyperarousal Hypervigilant children from chronic violence settings see threats everywhere and often misinterpret non-verbal cues; eye contact means threat, a touch can be interpreted as a sexual advance. Triggers for alarm reactions can include colours, smells, sounds, locations, objects, people associated with traumatizing events. Cerebral cortex activity shuts down in favour of immediate physical reflexivity.

26 Learning Disabled or Traumatized? a traumatized child - in a persisting state of arousal - can sit in a classroom and not learn as different parts of the brain are in charge of brain functioning than a child who is calm. The capacity to internalize new verbal cognitive information requires a state of attentive calm – a state traumatized children rarely achieve.

27 Chronic childhood trauma ‘Chronic childhood trauma interferes with the capacity to integrate sensory, emotional and cognitive information into a cohesive whole and sets the stage for unfocused and irrelevant responses to subsequent stress’ (Streeck-Fischer & Van der Kolk 2000)

28 Descriptions of Chronic Traumatization ‘They are out of touch with their feelings and have no way to describe their internal states’ ‘They have poor impulse control with aggression against the self and others’ ‘They have little insight into the relationship between what they feel, what they do and what has happened to them.’ ‘They tend to be withdrawn or to bully other children and many have severe learning problems’(Streeck-Fischer & Van der Kolk 2000).

29 Some behaviour effects of domestic violence on children Poor physical and mental health Incontinence Excessive crying and screaming Traumatized children find it hard to tolerate uncertainty and tend to avoid novel experiences and social contact. Aggression Headaches and stomach aches In place of the creativity, imagination and free-flow of normal play, traumatized children often rigidly re-enact and repeat responses drawn from their trauma context or barely respond at all to environmental stimuli.

30 Emotional effects of domestic violence on children Beliefs that they are bad, useless, naughty A sense of despair, hopelessness Constant fear and night terrors Anxiety and depression Learn that violence and aggression get needs met Lack of ability to concentrate Blame themselves for the violence against their mum

31 Poverty Risks Mothers and their children who have to flee their home, experience: Loss of housing/ possessions/neighbourhood supports/paid work Disrupted education/childcare arrangements for children Additional health and legal costs Children experience significant grief, loss and trauma, as do their mothers.

32 Why don’t they leave? Most women who are living in domestic violence eventually leave the relationship. This does not necessarily stop her being targeted- the perpetrator just changes his methods and tactics for access to her. This will often involve the children e.g. using contact visits to gain access to the mother. Women face serious economic consequences upon becoming a homeless, single parent. Public housing stocks are fast diminishing. Of the small percentage of women who do attempt to access a shelter, 50% are turned away. Many shelters will not accept children over 12 years old.

33 Supporting the Mother-Child Bond Mothers and children who have lived with domestic violence often benefit from individual and family-based supports. A strong supportive mother-child bond assists children’s recovery. Therapists aim to decrease the intensity and duration of alarm triggers and to create structure, predictability and nurturance for traumatized children. Mothers need to understand post-traumatic responses in themselves and their children and get treatment which complements the work with the child. Mothers and children often need to (re)learn different ways of relating and playing.

34 References Australian Bureau of Statistics, (2006) Personal Safety Survey, Catalogue Number 4906.0, Canberra, AGPS. Australian Bureau of Statistics, (2007) General Social Survey Australia, Catalogue Number 4155.0, Canberra, AGPS. Bancroft, L. and Silverman J. (2002) ‘The Batterer as Parent: Addressing the Impact of Domestic Violence on Family Dynamics’ London, Sage. Buchanan F. 2008 Mother and Infant Attachment Theory and Domestic Violence: Crossing the Divide, Australian Domestic Violence Clearinghouse Stakeholder Paper 5, September, UNSW.

35 References cont. Heenan, M., Astbury, J. Vos, T., Magnus, A. and Piers, L. (2004), The Health Costs of Violence: Measuring the Burden if disease caused by Intimate Partner Violence, VicHealth, Victoria Department of Human Services, Melbourne. McInnes, E. 2004 ‘The Impact of Violence on Mothers and Children’s Needs during and after Parental Separation’ Early Childhood Development and Care, Vol 174, No. 4 pp.357-368. Mouzos, J. and Rushforth, C., (2003) ‘Family Homicide in Australia’, Trends and Issues Paper Number 255, Australian Institute of Criminology, Canberra. http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/tandi2/tandi255.pdf Radford, L. and Hester M. 2006 Mothering Through Domestic Violence, London Philadelphia PA, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

36 References Streeck-Fischer, Andrew., and Van der Kolk, Bessell. (2000). Down will come baby, cradle and all: Diagnostic and Therapeutic Implications of trauma on child development. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 34 (6): 903-18. Taft, A. (2002) Violence against Women in Pregnancy and after Childbirth, Issues Paper No. 6, Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse, Sydney, UNSW. Taft, A. (2003) Promoting Women’s Mental Health: The Challenges of Intimate/Domestic Violence Against Women, Issues Paper No. 8, Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse, Sydney, UNSW.


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