The Child’s Time project was implemented by the Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters between 1997 and 2001. The project focused on developing special working methods for helping children who have experienced domestic violence and raising awareness of the child’s perspective and making it the starting point for the help work. The project created and implemented a training programme and practical guidelines for people working in mother and child shelters and outpatient services. Today, work with children has become an integral part of help work offered to families suffering from domestic violence.
No-one questions the need for help among adults who have experienced domestic violence. Children with similar experiences, however, still too often go unnoticed despite the potential adverse impact the exposure to parental violence has on the child’s development. The new, more child-sensitive work practice also reinforces the child’s fundamental right to participate in decision making concerning him or herself.
The objective of the activities is to elevate children to the status of equal actors and to involve them in the work for ending domestic violence and mitigating its adverse effects. The principles of the children’s rights agreement, i.e. the child’s right to protection, resources and participation, form the basis for the activities.
Domestic violence is often associated with alcohol and drug use. According to Finnish statistics, 48% of those who commit domestic violence have a substance misuse problem and 22% are violent only when drunk. When working with children, a child’s life situations a whole must be dealt with comprehensively, in addition to domestic violence and the parents’ substance misuse problems.
The children are helped through supporting their individual coping abilities, making them and their needs visible to the parents and other significant adults and including them as equal actors and subjects in the work for stopping the violence and alleviating its effects. The work is conducted directly with children both individually and in groups. In order to make this possible, employees participating in domestic violence work are trained to have a child-oriented approach.
The work is done from the child’s perspective and directly with children, with the aim of capturing and taking into account children’s experiences and thoughts. Children are given a similar client status as adults. When the development project was evaluated, children who had been clients were interviewed and given the chance to provide feedback about the work.
Description of the Practice
The main target group is children who have experienced domestic violence and professionals working with them in shelters and outpatient services. In addition, the target audience includes other professionals who work with children in social and health services, daycare or education. Publications and material have been targeted at them in order to support their work with children and to enhance their child-oriented approach.
The process in children’s services is divided into three stages: initiation of the work, crisis work and conclusion of the work.
The objective is to have all children who become clients of the shelter or the outpatient services participate in an arrival or initiation meeting, where they are accompanied by a caregiver who has also entered treatment. The initiation routines of the shelter and the outpatient services differ slightly from each other.
At the shelter’s initiation meeting, the employees go through the child’s and the adult’s account of the events leading to their arrival at the shelter and where the child was at the time these events took place. The objective of the meeting is to reinforce the notion of physical safety.
The personnel’s task is to provide safety and to calm the child and his or her caregiver. In addition, the child is provided with all the basic information on the shelter so that the child knows where he or she is and how the place functions. The shelter’s employees also prepare a statement on the violence the child has experienced and refer him or her to a medical check-up, if necessary. The brochure entitled “You Deserve to Be Safe and Happy” is also given to the child.
During the interview with the outpatient service, the service’s employees introduce the place where the child and the parent have arrived, discuss why they have become clients, find out the child’s basic details (guardianship, with whom does the child live, other important people in the child’s life) and deal with practical matters relating to the help work (e.g. which adult will arrange the child’s visits). During the initial meeting, the employees also assess the child’s safety (definition of various forms of mistreatment) and explain the work they undertake and what the start of the work means.
A separate form has been prepared for interviews with young persons. When dealing with children from immigrant families, it should be remembered that the children may not be used as interpreters, because they themselves should have the opportunity to participate in the work.
Special consideration should be paid to babies in the help work. It is important to soothe them by holding them in your lap. The employee may, for example, hold the baby if the parent is unable to calm the child. Peaceful music and singing may also be used to calm babies. The mother should be instructed on how to find a daily rhythm and the importance of calming the baby. Making the baby visible is crucial: the mother should be instructed to notice her baby and taught to understand the baby’s place amid the domestic violence and how it reacts to a violent situation.
After the initial stage, crisis work with the child continues over 1–3 meetings. Various methods are employed in the meetings, including finding out and talking about the child’s social network, safety methods (refuge exercises, safety symbols, own limits etc.), dealing with a violent situation in different ways (incl. playing, drawing, pictures, stories etc.) and emotional exercises (emotional map, emotional game, playing etc.).
Furthermore, it is important to use different methods of calming the body (reading, sitting in someone’s lap, touching, relaxation, music, movement etc.). In addition to individual meetings, children can participate in group activities where similar methods are used.
Joint meetings with parents are held during the course of the work. The principle used is one of conditional confidentiality, in other words, the child must be aware of the fact that his or her affairs may have to be discussed with other adults. Usually it is agreed with the child on what issues can be discussed with the parents, and, for example, which drawings will be shown to the parents. The parents are informed of how the child has experienced the violence.
The help personnel will also, together with the parents, search for means of supporting the child in dealing with problems and bring up concerns about the child, construct a shared story for the child and the parent and support them in finding their common good.
The conclusion of the work is also an important stage, for which there are separate methods (incl. thinking of the future, reinforcing a symbol of safety, mapping hopes etc.).
The activities have involved professionals working with children in domestic violence services from different parts of Finland. The training has been completed by about 80 employees, all of whom have been professionally trained in social and health care. The majority of them have a diploma or polytechnic level degree, while some have a university degree.
The objective of the development project was to make children and their needs visible in domestic violence work. Currently there are about 1,000 children annually involved in individual work, and 20 to 25 children’s groups are set up each year. In other words, the practice of taking children into consideration has become standard. The working methods draw on information gained from trauma theory and trauma therapy, which have a solid research base.
The development project and the work model have resulted in several publications, both in Finnish and Swedish. The publications have been widely circulated among professionals working with children.
In this work model, children’s rights are fulfilled to a greater extent than before. The activities have been created and further developed over a period of 10 years and their importance and effectiveness have been tried and tested. The quality of the activities is maintained with a continuous training programme which is updated regularly.
The evaluation studies carried out on the project have shown that the work model which has been developed has produced activities in which the child feels that he or she can participate and influence his or her life. This is an extremely important result.
Description of the Organisation
The Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters in Finland is a non-governmental child protection organisation with some 580 staff all around Finland. The mission of the Federation is to safeguard the child’s right to favorable growing conditions and safe development, to provide support for parenthood and families and to prevent violence in the family.
Mr. Mikko Oranen
Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters
mikko.oranen [at] etu.inet.fi