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Seven Ways to Support Children Exposed to Domestic Violence

Elizabeth Whitney BarnesElizabeth Whitney Barnes, JD, Assistant Director, Permanency Planning for Children Department, NCJFCJ

Summary: The author provides information that CASA volunteers should consider when working with families affected by domestic violence.  


Domestic violence puts millions of women and their families at risk each year and is one of the single greatest social ills impacting the nation (see the family violence publications section of Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors that can manifest not only as physical abuse but also as intimidation, threats, economic control and even rape. Most commonly, men commit acts of family violence against women, although some women do commit such acts against men.

Research indicates that up to 17 million children each year in the United States are exposed to domestic violence in the home.[1] Therefore, it is very possible that many of the children CASA volunteers are assigned to have been exposed to domestic violence. CASA volunteers need to be aware of characteristics of family violence and the local services available to address it. A CASA volunteer can help the children to whom he or she is assigned by remembering the following:

1. Be very careful not to blame the victim for the abuse.

Only the batterer is responsible for engaging in abusive behavior.[2] Domestic violence is about a pattern of control and domination of the victim by the abuser as shown by the “Power and Control Wheel” available from the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project.

2. The abuser can be very charming and seem more confident and truthful than the victim.

In contrast, the victim can seem angry and uncooperative. To put these behaviors in perspective, understand that when a victim is leaving an abusive relationship, it can be the most dangerous time for the victim and children.

3. If you see or suspect abuse or an abusive relationship, seek out a domestic violence advocacy center.

Or ask a local domestic violence resource for guidance on appropriate services to help keep the victim and child safe.

4. Be aware of signals of domestic violence.

Domestic violence can take place in a “conspiracy of silence”—talking about the violence may open victims to further abuse, fear or threats.

If the victim does not implicate the spouse, be alert to unexplained injuries. The child may allude to incidents of violence, but depending on the age of the child, discussions may range from fully informed knowledge of an incidence of abuse to vague stories of “daddy hurting mommy.” The latter will require further exploration. It is important to distinguish domestic violence from a single incident of anger and to appropriately tailor your advocacy and service recommendations.

5. If you suspect or know of a domestic violence history, you may want to suggest to the court and stakeholders that precautions be in place in the courthouse so that the victim can safely attend his or her child’s hearing.

Safeguards may include heightening courtroom security, making arrangements for separate and secure entry and exit options for the victim, providing separate seating in the courtroom, and avoiding situations where the victim and the abuser are face-to-face.

6. Be aware of any current protective orders and other pending court cases involving the family, including actions related to divorce, paternity, custody, visitation and child support.

These case types are frequently public record in many jurisdictions and would require you to go to the clerk’s office to review the files. Where files are not public record, you may need to request the court’s permission to view them. Consult with your volunteer supervisor about how to do that and under what circumstances. The purpose of obtaining this information is to tailor appropriately your advocacy and service recommendations.

7. Review the National CASA Volunteer Manual (2007 revision) section on domestic violence(chapter 4, unit 6) for more information.

You can also contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE. Court-based materials related to domestic violence can be found on the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges website,

[1] Kristen Kracke, Hilary Hahn, The Nature and Extent of Childhood Exposure to Violence: What We Know, Why We Don’t Know More, and Why It Matters, 8 ½ J. Emotional Abuse 29, 30 (2008).

[2] K.J. Wilson,  When Violence Begins at Home: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Ending Domestic Abuse, (Hunter House Books, 1997)


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