What to ask and how to ask it?
If you sense that a child is having problems at home and you want to find out more then there are ways of asking questions that could facilitate a child to feel that they can open up to you about what is going on for them. Some general questions that you might ask include:
- It is common for families to have problems at home and I’m wondering if there is anything difficult going on at home for you that you would like to talk about it.
- I’ve noticed that you haven’t been arriving at school/college on time / your school grades haven’t been as good as they used to be, and I’m wondering if everything is alright at home?
In terms of trying to get a bit more detail about what is going on, then there are core areas that you should try to ask about. This includes:
- nature of the abuse
- perpetrator risk to children
- risks of lethality
- pattern of the assault and other associated behaviours
- impact of abuse on women
- impact of abuse on children
- impact of abuse on parenting roles and relationships
- protective factors
- outcomes of previous help-seeking by the mother
(these areas of risk assessment have been identified in a model developed by Barnardos in Northern Ireland, originally developed in Canada).
The list below gives, in quite a bit more detail, ideas of the type of information that you may need to try to collect. Taking time to gathering this information from a child will give the child the chance to tell you everything that is going on, and for you to get as clear a picture as possible about what is going on. It will also allow you to assess what might need to happen next, and to balance this with what the child’s needs are, and the extent to which your professional role allows you to be involved.
If you are a specialist professional then you may have access to guidelines that are more specific to your profession and your country.
Domestic Violence Questions for a Child
In order to obtain accurate and reliable information from a child regarding a domestic violence situation, it is critical that the language and questions are appropriate for the child's age and developmental stage.
1. Types and frequency of exposure to domestic violence
• What kinds of things do mum and dad (or their girlfriend or boyfriend) fight about?
• What happens when they argue?
• Do they shout at each other or call each other bad names?
• Does anyone break or smash things when they get angry? Who?
• Do they hit one another? What do they hit with?
• How does the hitting usually start?
• How often do your mum and dad argue or hit?
• Have the police ever come to your home? Why?
• Have you ever seen your mum or dad get hurt? What happened?
2. Risks posed by the domestic violence
• Have you ever been hit or hurt when mum and dad (or their girlfriend or boyfriend) are fighting?
• Has your brother or sister ever been hit or hurt during a fight?
• What do you do when they start arguing or when someone starts hitting?
• Has either your mum or dad hurt your pet?
3. Impact of exposure to domestic violence
• Do you think about mum and dad (or their girlfriend or boyfriend) fighting a lot?
• Do you think about it when you are at school, while you're playing, when you're by yourself?
• How does the fighting make you feel?
• Do you ever have trouble sleeping at night? Why? Do you have nightmares? If so, what are they about?
• Why do you think they fight so much?
• What would you like them to do to make it better?
• Are you afraid to be at home? To leave home?
• What or who makes you afraid?
• Do you think it's okay to hit when you're angry? When is it okay to hit someone?
• How would you describe your mum? How would you describe your dad? (or their girlfriend or boyfriend)
4. Protective factors
• What do you do when mum and dad (or their girlfriend or boyfriend) are fighting?
• If the child has difficulty responding to an open-ended question, the worker can ask if the child has:
o Stayed in the room
o Left of hidden his/herself
o Gone for help
o Cone to an older sibling
o Asked their parents/girlfriend/boyfriend to stop
o Tried to stop the fighting
• Have you ever called the police when your parents (or their girlfriend or boyfriend) are fighting?
• Have you ever talked to anyone about your parent's (or their girlfriend or boyfriend) fighting?
• Is there an adult you can talk to about what's happening at home?
• What makes you feel better when you think about your parent's (or their girlfriend or boyfriend) fighting?
Source: London Child Protection Committee (2006). Safeguarding Children Abused through Domestic Violence: Draft Guidelines for Consultation. London Child Protection Committee. Appendix Two. Whilst specific to domestic violence, adapted versions of these questions could be applied to children living with other problems such as parental alcohol misuse.