Last week our community came together to honour the 14 women killed during the Montreal Massacre 26 years ago. This yearly memorial is a reminder that gender based violence continues to be an issue in our society and impacts all of us. Having been an adult when this event happened, I can already see in my lifetime how far we’ve come and hopefully we will continue to make strides forward for many years yet because we’re not quite there yet.
One of the things we’ve learned a lot more about over these years is the impact domestic violence and the resulting trauma has for kids. The old way of thinking was that the kids weren’t really impacted because they either didn’t witness the event or were not the ones being hit. As we continue to learn more about trauma, we realize this is not true and see just how important it is to intervene early and assist the kids right from the start. They don’t get out of these relationships unharmed but that doesn’t mean they have to be permanently ‘damaged’. How we – the adults – choose to help the kids around us is the biggest predictor of how well kids will do in the long run.
We started a series of blog posts about kids for kids and this is a continuation of that. The following information is the ‘what happens next’ piece and is written for kids should it be shared with them. Please pass along and / or use this information as you see fit.
In Ontario Canada, the police are mandated to tell the Children’s Aid Society about domestic occurrences. This is due to the recognition that living in a domestic violent home is frequently damaging to a child’s development. It is also a source of fear for many kids as most have all heard the stories about how Children’s Aid will come in and take the kids away if someone calls.
The government has an agency called the Children’s Aid Society, which is there to protect children and teenagers from harm. It gives advice about, and in some cases gets involved to protect people under 16 years old who are not safe at home. Being exposed to abuse or domestic violence between your parents can also be considered an unsafe situation.
Anyone can call the Children’s Aid Society (Family and Children’s Services of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville) and talk to one of their workers. You can contact them yourself it you’re worried about things that are happening in your family (you don’t have to give your name if you don’t want to). They’re there to protect you from living with abuse and to help you get safer.
If a child protection worker is contacted by you, or by someone else, it’s possible that they’ll investigate what’s happening to see if you’re safe in your family, and to see if there’s anything that should be done to protect you from abuse. They look at whether or not your parents can protect you from violence and abuse and may ask your parents to do certain things to keep you safe. If this doesn’t happen, they might have to take further steps to protect you. If they believe your home is not a safe place for you, they may do something to remove the abusive person, or remove you from the abusive person. This could mean getting the police to charge the abusive person with a criminal offence, removing the abusive person from your home, or getting you to stay somewhere else (like with other family members or friends, or with another family).
What might happen if I or someone else calls the police?
If you are in danger or if you think someone else is about to get hurt, you can call 911. The police can come to you any time, day or night. Police have the authority to stop the abuse. They might talk to the person who is abusive. They could warn them or ask them to leave the house. If there’s enough evidence, they could arrest the person and charge them with a crime. The person probably would then be released on bail, with conditions that they don’t contact family members.
There are also court orders that can protect family members who are being abused. For example, if one parent is being abused by their partner, the police may suggest that the parent should apply to court for a restraining order or a peace bond. Or the police may request conditions on behalf of the person who is being abused, stating that the abuser has to stay away for a while. The order can say, for example, that the abusive person must not be abusive again, and/or that they must not come near family members for a period of time. If the abusive person disobeys the order, they’re said to be in ‘breach’ of the order and they can be charged with a crime.
You can contact the police to report abuse that has been happening to you at any time; even if it happened some time ago. Abuse and violence (including sexual abuse) is against the law. It might be a good idea to take a trusted adult with you when you talk to the police, because they can help you when you make a report. The police may investigate what happened, and if it’s a criminal offense they could charge the person who abused you.
If the police are worried about your safety or believe that members of your family can’t protect you from the abuse, they’ll also report your situation to the Children’s Aid Society.
“My mom is being abused by my dad. Sometimes I lie awake listening to them argue and if I think he will hit her, I go and try to get between them. What can I do to help her?”
It’s important to remember that it’s not your responsibility to protect your parent from abuse. Don’t get hurt by trying to protect your mother – don’t put yourself in any danger. Think about your own safety.
If you are worried about your mom or a family member getting hurt, you can call the police at 911. They will ask what is happening and find out your address. Or you could get a neighbour, a friend or someone else to call them for you. Then the police will come to your house to stop your mom getting hurt.
When you can, it might be worth talking to your mom about the abuse and how you feel about it. She might think you don’t know about what’s happening. She might not want to talk about it because she doesn’t want to worry you. But it can help for your mom to know how you feel and to have a chance to talk about it.
There are domestic violence services that your mom can contact. They can support her, talk about her feelings, and give her ideas about what she can do. She can also get legal help – she could apply for a court order that says that your dad has to stay away from her. There are even places where your mom and your family can stay (these are called ‘shelters’) if she needs to be somewhere safe where your dad can’t hurt her (or you).
There are also services to help men to stop being abusive too. Your dad could call these services if he wants help to stop his abusive behaviour.
What is a shelter like?
It is just like a big house with lots of rooms. Interval House of Leeds and Grenville is a secure building which means that you will be safe there. There are workers there who can talk to your mom and help her to stay safe and to help her with the decisions she needs to make. There are also children’s workers and programs for children who have witnessed abuse to help you work through what has been happening. You might get your own room or you might have to share a room with your mom and your siblings. There might also be other families who are staying there too, who also need a safe place to stay.
Should I still see my dad?
“My parents have split up. I still love my dad even though he treated my mom bad – he’s still my father and he has never been nasty to me or my sister. But it’s hard because my mom makes me feel guilty for seeing him. My dad loves seeing us, but sometimes he criticizes my mom and he will never admit to how he treated her, and that upsets me. Should I still see my dad?”
Often kids feel confused after their parents have separated and they worry about being ‘disloyal’ to one or both of their parents. You have a right to have your own feelings about your parents. It’s understandable that you are upset and angry about the way he has treated your mom, and for what he put you through.
It’s okay to still love your dad, even though you don’t love the way he treated your mom. Maybe you can talk to your mom about this and she might start to understand that you still want a relationship with your dad.
Also, if you can, perhaps you could tell your dad that it upsets you when he criticizes your mother and you don’t want him to talk to you like that.