WINNIPEG – Louise recalls how physical violence between her mother and father would escalate to the point where police were called to the family’s homes in Winnipeg and in the First Nations community where they lived for some of her childhood.
Now a young adult, she says officers failed to acknowledge her and she was scared of being taken from her parents.
Her parents never received the help they needed for anger management and addictions and Louise says it wasn’t until she went into the child welfare system that she received mental health support to cope with the violence she witnessed.
Louise’s story is one of those featured in a report released Wednesday by the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth on how intimate partner violence affects children who witness it. To protect their privacy, the report used pseudonyms for the young people who shared their stories.
The research suggests that every two hours, a child in the province witnesses a police-reported case of intimate partner violence.
“The numbers should really be a wake-up call for all of us,” says Ainsley Krone, Manitoba’s acting child and youth advocate.
“The numbers are very clear that it is a significant issue that needs significant examination and investments to change the course of some of those families.”
Growing up around violence can shatter feelings of safety and lead to mental health and other challenges, says Krone.
The report examines data from a one-month period in 2019. It found there were nearly 2,000 police-reported cases of intimate partner violence involving more than 650 children. The report says this is likely an undercount as many incidents go unreported.
The report sets out to better understand children’s contact with public systems and the responses from police and other agencies after they have witnessed violence in the home.
The infrastructure to provide trauma support for youth doesn’t exist, says Krone. The majority of services are focused on adults.
“If we’re wanting the stories of families to change in a good way we have to make sure we’re including children in those responses as well,” says Krone.
“It’s not a zero-sum game. Just because we’re providing services to the adults it doesn’t take away from that if we also now build up the infrastructure.”
Of the cases examined, about 60 per cent of children did not receive any direct services.
Exposure to intimate partner violence in early childhood has been associated with mental health issues in adolescence and adulthood, including symptoms of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
It can also lead to poorer school performance and a greater likelihood of dropping out of school. The report says children who witness violence in the home are more likely to attempt suicide and to misuse drugs and alcohol.
The report found Indigenous children and youth were overrepresented, making up 82 per cent of the cases where children and youth were exposed to intimate partner violence.
It is the most common form of violence experienced by Indigenous women at a rate 2.5 times higher than the national average, the report says.
Young people who shared their stories for the report say intimate partner violence passed from generation to generation and was often tied to relatives’ experiences in residential schools.
Trevor Merasty is part of the youth ambassador advisory squad, which helps guide the advocate’s work.
Merasty, 23, said witnessing violence in his home was life changing.
“You become really insecure and it’s hard to trust people.”
Merasty was surprised the numbers documented in the report weren’t higher. Growing up, he would often hear stories from friends with similar experiences.
He said there weren’t many resources available at the time, but there has been some progress and he hopes the report will help push that forward.
Krone’s recommendations include the creation of specialized therapeutic and culturally safe supports for children, education in schools and increased funding to family violence shelters for a child-focused trauma specialist.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 22, 2022.
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Trauma supports lacking for children who witness intimate partner violence: report