From Perceptions by The Urban Child Institute:

Trick or treat means little to Memphis children being raised in families with domestic violence. A cruel trick of birth has placed them in home environments where they must face the effects of anger, violence, and toxic stress.

Every child has the right to grow up in a safe, nurturing, and stable home environment.

The youngest children are powerless to understand the rage in their families. They come to see it as normal and too often they grow up to replicate the behaviors in their own lives. Unable to defend their abused parent, feelings of helplessness and anxiety hang like dark shadows over their daily lives.

Domestic violence knows no boundaries – racial, economic, or geographic – although its presence is greater in the stressful lives of families in deep poverty. National statistics indicate that one in four women has been a victim of domestic violence in her lifetime and about half of reported domestic violence incidents occur in the presence of children, which, in Shelby County, translates into about 25,000 young people a year.

Domestic violence is an attack on the entire family.

Domestic violence is not just an attack on a spouse. It is in truth an attack on the entire family, because the effects are felt by everyone in it, particularly the youngest children. Research shows that children younger than six years old are more likely to witness domestic violence than older children. Exposure to violence affects children directly through the stress and trauma of seeing a caregiver victimized. It can also affect them indirectly by reducing the quality of parenting they receive.

For many years, it was thought that infants and young children were less affected than older children, but that is not the case. We now know that the first three years of a child’s life are pivotal in optimal brain development and social and emotional development. We also know that positive development is grounded in nurturing parenting that endows children with positive self-image, curiosity, motivation, persistence, and self-control.

This kind of positive home environment in the early years of life is clearly linked to long-term positive outcomes, such as high school graduation, college attendance, steady employment and higher earnings. And yet, the potential for this kind of positive development is shaken to its foundation in families beset by domestic violence, because it so often results in unresponsive and uncaring parenting.

The impact of family violence can last a lifetime.

There is not a harsher lesson for young children than learning that their homes are not safe. Children who witness domestic violence – even overhearing threats and name calling and not seeing physical attack – are at increased risk for lingering feelings of abandonment, isolation, self-blame, anger, depression, and shame. The more frequent and more violent the conflicts, the greater the risks to children. The consequences can last a lifetime.

One-year-olds exposed to domestic violence are more distressed than other babies when they hear adults arguing. Children under three are at greater risk for psychological problems. Children exposed to high levels of domestic violence have IQs that are up to eight points lower than those of other children and they have higher risks for youth violence. As adults, they are more likely to have relationship problems and emotional issues.

Now is the time for investing more in prevention and treatment of domestic violence.

Children exposed to domestic violence need to be able to turn to trusted adults in their neighborhoods, in their schools, in their churches, and in their afterschool activities, adults they can turn to for interventions. It has been shown that effective interventions do work, but we need more high-quality, accessible programs and we need to bring more of them to scale so more children can be helped.

Domestic violence, which has long been an invisible crime, has now been forced into the open and become high on our local agenda as a result of several high-profile national incidents and highly publicized local ones. There can be no argument that domestic violence is a crisis that our entire community must set as a priority, because every child has the right to grow up in a safe, nurturing, and stable home environment.