October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and while there is no typical personality for an abuser, there are some signs to be aware of when working with vulnerable populations, like youth who’ve witnessed domestic violence in the past, to keep the cycle from continuing. In Coconino County children are removed from their unsafe living environment due to domestic violence and a Court Appointed Special Advocate can serve as a role model to help break the cycle of violence.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) states, “Violence in relationships occurs when one person feels entitled to power and control over their partner and chooses to use abuse to gain and maintain that control… Every relationship differs, but what is most common within all abusive relationships is the varying tactics used by abusers to gain and maintain power and control over the victim.”
Some common red flags are: Any controlling behavior like taking charge of all finances or choosing what the partner should be wearing; a bad temper, possessiveness and extreme jealousy; cruelty to animals or children; and blaming the victim. An abuser may seem nice to those outside the relationship and often denies the existence of or seriousness of the violence.
Abusers often put unrelenting focus on the victim and use guilt, threats and manipulation to convince a victim to stay in the relationship. Children can be witnesses to domestic violence by seeing it, hearing it in another room, or even witnessing the aftermath like injuries or ripped clothing. All will have lasting impacts on the children and should not be discredited.
The Centers for Disease Control said witnessing violence in the home and a history of trauma are both risk factors for dating violence among teens. A 2013 national survey found 10 percent of high school students reported physical victimization from a dating partner in the 12 months before they were surveyed. Often, this information goes unreported because victims may feel isolated, depressed and helpless. They may still love the abuser and hope for change in the future or they may not know where to turn for help.
The effects of domestic violence are far-reaching, not just for the partners involved but also for the children who may witness it. Witnessing violence by seeing, hearing or observing the aftermath can leave children feeling anxious, fearful and angry. Often these situations become so volatile the children must be removed from their homes and put into the care of the state, exacerbating those feelings.
Children coming from domestic violence situations need caring, consistent adults to listen to them and help navigate their feelings. When a child comes into the foster care system that person is often the Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA.
CASA advocates are every day community members who volunteer their time to get to know a child in the foster care system. They visit the child monthly, develop a relationship with them and research the reasons the child was brought into care. The CASA is the eyes and ears of the judge out in the community, collecting information, interviewing interested parties, and making recommendations that are in the best interest of the child. CASA advocates work as part of the court team to help identify the best solution for that child. Because a CASA advocate typically focuses on one case at a time, they are often the most consistent person in the child’s life while in care. Recently one CASA reflected, “There’s something really momentous to have been monitoring a case and to have created relationships with people in all aspects of the case, then to have the judge in the courtroom saying, ‘What does the CASA recommend?’ I mean, just the idea that you could actually make a difference in a child’s life, how important is that?”
Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October is the perfect time to learn the warning signs of domestic abuse and find a way to help a survivor in your community. CASA of Coconino County is always in need of volunteers to advocate for kids with this kind of history. There are currently 1,079 CASA volunteers in Arizona serving 1,873 dependent children and only one out of eight foster children in Arizona has a CASA volunteer. The need for more CASA volunteers is critical. FBN
By Cindy Payne
Court Appointed Special Advocate volunteers must be 21 years of age or older, pass a thorough background check and complete 30 hours of pre-service training. Advocates usually spend 10-12 hours per month working on their case and are asked to stick with the case for its duration. For more information on these programs or to speak with a current volunteer visit CASAofCoconinoCounty.org or contact Cindy Payne @ 928-226-5433 or LPayne@courts.az.gov. The CASA volunteer application is easy to complete @ http://www.azcourts.gov/casaofcoconinocounty/Apply-Now.
In regard to Domestic Violence, anonymous, confidential help is available 24/7, through the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). For more information on the dynamics of domestic violence visit ncadv.org.