How domestic and family violence affects children in school

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Having to deal with domestic violence situations can hinder kids and teens learning in school. Central Indiana advocates say support is the biggest way to help them cope.

According to an annual report by the Domestic Violence Network, 13,487 crisis calls were made to six central Indiana shelters in 2020 during the pandemic compared to 15,180 calls before in 2019, and 13,180 in 2018. More than 30,000 calls were made to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department in 2020 compared to 18,677 in 2019, and 11,609 the year before. Children who grow up witnessing domestic violence have a higher chance than those who don’t to repeat the cycle of violence.

Stephanie Solomon is the youth programs counselor with the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and serves as an adult facilitator for ICADV’s Youth Advisory Council, a group of 14 young people who have committed themselves to changing the conditions of violence in the state. She said they have the solutions because they have lived the experiences that adults need to keep them safe. The council relaunched from the ICADV council earlier this year.

Her hope is that the coalition can be the type of environment that can meet young people where they are or keep violence from happening in the first place.

“School is a place that can either be a buffer, or protection for young people that are experiencing violence, or school is a place that is risky, that’s stressful, and adds restraint on a young persons life,” Solomon said. “I think there are incredible adults doing incredible work to advocate for safe conditions for young people, but when it comes to domestic and interpersonal violence, young people have expertise in their own lived experiences.”

This week was the coalition’s fall conference with the theme being centering equity in their work.

Celeste Evers is the well-being coordinator for Coburn Place Safe Haven, a non-profit that houses people and families. Last year, they served over 200 kids who participated in their student services programs.

They offer afterschool services, therapy groups, STEM camps, and other fieldtrips. They also collaborate with the schools that kids in their program attend.

“We work so when they go to school or go to these different places that they’re met with kindness and understanding, and they’re working through a process,” Evers said. “It can show up in many different ways for each child. They can be withdrawn, they can have some anger issues, and some issues can be perfectionists. It doesn’t always look like what we typically say is negative.”

Celeste also said that domestic violence responses in children can show up in them being hyper-vigilant, which can take away their focus in class, because they may always be in fear of violence.

She said for children who have not yet been removed from a domestic violence situation, the best thing that an adult can do is just be supportive, and that children need to be children.

If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence, you can call the national hotline at 800-799-7233.

Domestic violence, sexual assault resources