The program focuses on promoting resilience and improving behavior for children who have witnessed intimate partner violence in their homes. The goal of the child-training component is to help the children cope with their exposure to violence and change their attitudes and beliefs about violence, particularly family violence.
The program also aims to improve emotional adjustment and social behavior among children. Since being exposed to violence affects children’s ability to have positive social interactions, this program seeks to help them adjust in a social environment. It works to reduce both behavioral (externalizing) problems and emotional (internalizing) problems in these at-risk children.
An additional component of the program is designed to enhance the mother’s social and emotional adjustment. The parenting component allows the mother to obtain support, manage issues related to domestic violence, and feel empowered. This component seeks to improve the mother’s emotional state and her parenting skills, with the goal of improving her child’s behavior.
The program is targeted at children who have been exposed to intimate partner violence and their mothers, who have been abused. Children do not have to be diagnosed with clinical levels of behavioral or mental issues to be eligible. They can be identified as having subclinical levels of behavioral issues or merely be at risk for these problems.
In the child-training portion of the program, a supportive group environment is provided for children to share their experiences, including group activities and group therapy. By participating in group activities, children are able to learn that they are not alone in their exposure to violence and learn social skills. Many of the group activities address family violence through displacement by using drawings, puppets, and movies.
Early therapy sessions focus on providing the children with a sense of safety and to help them make sense of emotions related to violence exposure, while later sessions focus on managing emotions, conflict resolution, and strengthening family relationships.
In the parenting-training component of the program, called the Mom’s Empowerment Program, mothers meet together to share their experiences and gain support from each other. Through group therapy, they discuss past experiences, share worries and concerns, and build connections. During therapy, they are encouraged to discuss the impact the violence has had on their child, and how they can improve their parenting competence. They are also taught parenting and disciplinary skills to help their children adjust better.
Specially trained therapists implement this program.
This program is based on the theory that exposure to intimate partner violence causes distress and anxiety in children. As a result of observing violence, they learn destructive patterns of behavior, attitudes, and beliefs. Children are then more likely to engage in violence and believe that it is acceptable, and are also placed at a high risk for future delinquent behavior. This program combats these negative attitudes by promoting the idea that violence is not acceptable.
Another aspect that underlies this program is that the mother’s parenting and overall emotional state has a strong impact on children’s beliefs toward violence and their behavior. When the mother is stressed from being involved in violence, it is harder to be a competent parent to her child. Therefore, if the mother’s emotional state is improved and she is able to feel empowered, she will be a better parent and role model for her child.
6 to 12
Graham–Bermann and colleagues (2007) found that children in the “child plus mother” group (CM) showed the greatest improvement over time in externalizing problems. The percentage of CM children who showed clinical levels of externalizing behavior began at 34 percent at baseline, declined to 21 percent following the treatment, and declined substantially to 7 percent at follow up. Of those children who were in the “child only” category (CO), 47 percent showed clinical levels of externalizing behavior at baseline; this declined to 34 percent following the treatment, then increased to 37 percent at follow up. The percentage of control group children (CG) who showed clinical levels of externalizing behavior was 33 percent at baseline and declined to 28 percent following the treatment.
All groups saw decreases in internalizing problems over the course of the study. The baseline percentage of CM children who showed clinical levels of internalizing behavior was 31 percent; this declined to 11 percent following the treatment, and declined further to 7 percent at follow up. Of CO children, 52 percent showed clinical levels of internalizing behavior at baseline. This percentage declined to 34 percent following the treatment and decreased to 26 percent at follow up. For the CG group, 41 percent of the children showed clinical levels of internalizing behavior at baseline; this declined to 31 percent following the treatment.
Attitudes Toward Violence
The CM and CO groups saw a decrease in mean Attitudes About Family Violence (AAFV) scores over the course of the study, meaning that the children in these groups became less accepting of violence. The CM group’s mean score on the AAFV score was 30.60 at baseline, declined to 27.71 after the program ended, and remained stable at 27.91 at follow up. In the CO group, the mean score was 30.52 at baseline, decreased to 27.61 at the end of the program, and increased slightly to 28.58 at follow up. The CG group’s mean score increased slightly from a baseline score of 29.14 to 30.06 after the program ended.