More and more children each year are exposed and live in domestic abuse situations and substance abuse. More often then not substance abuse co-occurs in domestic abuse situations. The domestic abuse can be between parents or parent and child or both. Adults use substances to escape and feel numb. This is why it is important to help children safety plan because their parents might not be able to protect them. You may be saying that is too adult and they shouldn’t have to worry about that stuff but the truth is many children do. Children will often blame themselves for family violence and even substance abuse. Children often have no power in those types of family dynamics so by giving them knowledge you are giving them power. It also lets children know they are not all alone and they might not feel as isolated.
What does a safety plan look like for children? The first skill to teach and talk about is the importance of 911. Talk the child/children through what will happen when they call 911 and what types of questions they will be asked. Even the youngest of children understand 911 and are capable of calling. You hear all the time about a young child calling 911 and saving a parent or relative.
The second piece of the safety plan needs to be an escape route. Let the child know if mom or dad is drinking and an assault is in progress where they need to go and how to get out of the house. Let the child/children know this is what they need to do if there an emergency and that it is okay not to listen to mom/dad in those types of situations.
A third piece of the safety plan should be a family or friend (if this is possible) that a child/children could call if something was going on and needed support. This could also be an agency number if you do not know of any family or friends who want/can help.
Sometime families and friends are not ready to discuss safety planning or they want to know what to do the ‘rest’ of the time. The most important thing to do as a caring adult is listen to the child and believe them. Reassure the child that domestic abuse and/or substance abuse it NOT their fault. Children often blame themselves when things at home are not going well. Let the child know it is okay to talk about what is going on at home; if you try to silence a child they feel shame. Provide opportunities for the child or children to just have fun! Sometimes when children are forced to grow-up they forget how to be kids. If possible also help the child/children have a consistent structure and/or schedule. This will help provide them with some normalcy.
As adults if you feel a child/children are being abused call your local police. The above suggestions should never be used in replace of alerting the police. Calling the police can be challenging to do sometimes but remember the child’s safety comes first.