“I remember this one little boy, I’ll call him Charlie,” reflects Angela Weikel, Center for Domestic Peace’s (C4DP) Bilingual Treatment Case Manager for the “In This Together” (ITT) program. “His abusive father used to break Charlie’s video games to scare him. One day, the little boy broke one by accident, and he was petrified. What came out later in group therapy was that he was frightened he was going to turn out like his dad.”
Charlie’s mother and brother first came to C4DP’s emergency shelter to escape physical and emotional abuse from Charlie’s father. Later, in the Second Step transitional housing program,they began attending the new ITT program for survivor parents and their children. In this program, families meet with clinical therapist in a group setting to explore, discover, heal, and thrive. They use art therapy, creative play, singing, talking, and much more. Since its first session in June of 2015, 66 parents and 88 children have participated in ITT groups.
For years, Charlie and his older brother carried a lot of guilt, especially for a particularly violent night when they were the ones to call the police in fear of their very own father. Their mom also had layers of guilt, anger, and sadness to work through. In ITT, the family finally found a safe place to address the trauma together.
What we know is that domestic violence can have a devastating impact on a
survivor parent, as well as children who witness the abuse.
The ITT program came out of C4DP’s desire to offer more in-depth help for children and
youth who witness domestic violence. To that end, in 2014 C4DP set out to build on the
strength of an existing jointly-funded, three-year partnership with Huckleberry Youth
Programs and applied for expanded funding from the Office on Violence Against Women.
The project was selected as one of 9 in the country that year to address the needs of children who have been exposed to domestic violence. This funding has set the stage for Marin to become a model for the rest of the nation. The project is creating a system-wide response for children, youth, and young adults impacted by domestic violence and dating abuse through prevention, intervention, and treatment services, which include:
1. Therapy groups (ITT program) for children and youth, 0-18 years old, who have
witnessed domestic violence, along with their survivor parents.
2. Specialized advocacy and support for youth victims, 11-24 years old (Marin Youth
3. Increased prevention efforts in Marin schools, as well as for youth and young
adults not currently in school, through a youth leadership committee (Marin
Against Youth Abuse).
4. Training for community providers and educators on strategies they can use
onsite and in the moment to prevent future abuse and increase safety.
5. Development of a network of comprehensive services for children, youth, and
young adults impacted by dating and domestic violence that will include the
establishment of screening and referral policies.
At one of the therapy sessions, Charlie drew a boat to represent himself and his family, a storm that represented his dad, and a lighthouse that represented C4DP. This metaphorical activity depicts families working through the storm of domestic violence.
“My family will be OK,” Charlie said at a recent group of mothers and children. Even though he had to testify in court against his father, he firmly stated, “We are going to be happy.” In June, Charlie and his family left Second Step and secured permanent housing in Marin County.