Children have been the invisible victims of violence within family. This violence which is often called ”family violence” has been seen as a problem affecting only adults in the family. However, the abuse of the mother and the violence of the father does often have a great effect on children. The exposure to viloence within family is a severe development risk factor.
Children are usually very well aware of the violence: from 40 up to 80 % of the children in violent families have witnessed violent incidents. Parents very often underestimate children’s awareness. There is also an overlap between wife abuse and child abuse. It is estimated that from 45 up to 70 % of exposed children are also victims of abuse. There is an elevated risk for child’s sexual abuse if the father or mother’s new partner is violent. Being exposed to violence within the most important and intimate relationship is a trauma experience. The child is helpless, unable to control the situation and fears that somebody might get killed. Many of these children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or related symptoms. There are also long term effects. If an infant is repeatedly exposed to trauma experience it will affect the development of his/her brain system. For older children the effects can be seen in child’s behaviour, memory functions, attention abilities, social relationships and belief systems. Social and health services for the victims of domestic violence have traditionally been adult centred. The needs of the children have not been recognised. There has been lack of awareness and skills to help these children.
In 1997 The Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters in Finland started the first national project which aims at developing services for children traumatized by domestic violence. The Child’s Time project operates in 11 locations in Finland mostly in shelters but also in Mother and baby homes and Community work centres. The project will end in 2001.
Child’s Time aims at giving the children a voice. This objective is pursued by individual crises work with children who enter shelters with their mothers. The project has been developing a special crises intervention model for shelter children. If the woman decides to return home or want’s a divorce she and the children can get support from the shelter. There are also services for the fathers. Another forum for children to speak out are groups for children exposed to violence. The group work is based on psycho educational framework. However, a whole variation of creative methods are used in the groups. There is always a mother’s group simultaneously with the children’s group. Child’s Time includes a three and half year training program for professionals working in shelters. The project offers also consultation and training services to other professionals working with children and families. The Staff The staff of the project itself is currently 1 psychologist (project manager), 1 developmental psychologist, 1 social worker, 2 psychiatric nurses and 2 social counsellors. Each of them works in different shelters. Project organisation Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters in Finland is a non profit charity NGO. It has 25 independent member associations around the country. These local associations run shelters, mother and child homes and drop in centres and offer wide range of services to families in need. The Federation supports it s member associations by organising development programs (e.g. Child’s Time), producing training, publishing reports and materials, seeking funding and lobbying. Child’s Time project is funded by the Finnish Slot Machine Association (RAY).
Contact info Mikko Oranen, Project Manager, Clinical Psychologist, Mikko.Oranen@etl.inet