Teachers Can Help Student Victims of Domestic Abuse, with Resources

School is often the only safe place for young children who live with domestic violence. Witnessing or being exposed to physical abuse can have a significant impact on the well-being of a child. Whether it is sexual, verbal, or physical abuse, when a child witnesses this type of abuse between their parents or caregivers, the effects can be far-reaching. Many children who are exposed to violence are fearful and anxious. They may also have difficulty forming relationships in school or performing academically. A teacher can be the first person to recognize these signs in a student. Although teachers, educators, and educational psychologists (EPs) receive extensive training to arm them with the tools necessary to address these issues in their students, it is unclear how this type of disclosure affects these professionals.

Gemma Ellis of the Luton Burough Council at Unity House in the UK recently led a study to gain the educators’ perspectives on domestic violence revelations from their students. Ellis wanted to find out if the professionals felt capable of identifying a child experiencing domestic abuse, and if they were comfortable receiving that information and responding to it. She also wanted to know how they felt about training, what fears they had, and what changes they would make to the current procedures in place.

Ellis interviewed a group of elementary school educators and found that one important need was that of more time for the teacher to emotionally process what the child revealed. Many teachers explained that they were overwhelmed and struggled with having to send the children back to a potentially abusive home. Ellis believes this finding is in line with secondary trauma theories, which suggest that confidants of abuse victims may themselves experience trauma. The teachers and EPs in this study benefited from the procedures in their schools. In an uncontrollable and emotionally taxing situation, having a protocol to follow helped them contain their own emotions so that they could best serve their students.

They did, however, have fears related to family retaliation. In particular, the teachers relied heavily on parent participation for the success of the child. They worried that accusations against the family would decrease participation. They also feared that the abusers would turn their abuse toward the teachers. Ellis believes these findings provide insight into the concerns teachers and EPs have with regard to supporting abuse victims and that this study will serve as a preliminary step in future discussions. “It is hoped and expected that through the dissemination process the topic of domestic abuse will be elevated in both teachers’ and EPs’ consciousness,” Ellis said.

Ellis, Gemma. The impact on reachers of supporting children exposed to domestic abuse. Education & Child Psychology 29.4 (2012): 109-20. Print.

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  • jane

    January 14th, 2013 at 11:41 PM

    a psychologist’s job is no easy one.it must be emotionally taxing as one can imagine!and handling multiple such children with issues could become too much.

    so one way of tackling this is to have more professionals at schools and have a good children:psychologist ratio.we could even have norms on the ratio to enforce it.

  • Lila g

    January 15th, 2013 at 3:41 AM

    I hope that these findings encourage more classroom teachers to pay more attention to what is going on at home in the lives of their students. I find that a lot of times many teachers are afraid to say anything for fear that the child will feel diminished or that they are scared to get involved. But we have to get past that and think of the hell that the child is living in and ways that we can help to get them out of that. Being in this kind of home where they see this day in and day out is not going to lead to an academic success story. But if a teacher gets involved and tries to not only get this student help but also reaches out to the whole familiy, that could lead to something very positive for all involved. It is at least a little food for thought as many of us head back into the classroom this morning.

  • patrick

    January 15th, 2013 at 12:53 PM

    if the parent himself is the abuser how do they expect to solve things through parental involvement?and fear of retaliation from a parent must be weighing heavy on the minds of teachers.its important that they have legal protection whenever a child discloses incidence of abuse to a teacher or any member of the staff at school.

  • Roger

    January 15th, 2013 at 12:59 PM

    Wow, from the male point of view, I think that if my wife encountered this in her class I would have to encourage her to just stay out of it. I would be the one afraid of what some crazed husband might do if he felt like she was sticking her nose in some business where she did not belong.

  • Frannie

    January 16th, 2013 at 4:06 AM

    I think that you hit the nail on the ehad when you stated that their needs to be a plan in place for the teachers and administrators to follow. Yes you want them to help, but give them some guidelines to work within so that they don’t feel as if they are being thrown to the sharks with nothing to help save them. We all need to establish some parameters when it comes to getting involved with a family like this who is obviously struggling. We need to be able to deal with keeping the child safe but at the same time gently encouraging the family to seek out help together. The rules that are put in place help us to keep our own feelings and raw emotions in check while also giving us a way to feel helpful.

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