Vital People: Help for children who have witnessed domestic abuse

Vital People: Help for children who have witnessed domestic abuse
The PEACE program has a variety of tools to help connect with children who have witnessed abuse.

At Victoria Women’s Transition House, the cheerful playroom is a cozy and inviting space where children have a safe place to share.

“That’s actually the biggest part of the job—being able to create a space where it’s so safe, where it feels safe for a kid, where they know that they’re heard, and they’re listened to, where they’re unconditionally accepted,” explains PEACE program counsellor Nate Demetrius.

The PEACE program, which stands for Prevention, Education, Advocacy, Counselling & Empowerment, supports children between the ages of three and 18 who’ve witnessed domestic violence or verbal and emotional abuse.

“What you learn, and what you’re around at home, dictates how you walk in the world,” Demetrius says. “We help teach kids healthy ways to communicate.”

“Simply by having the chance to talk and say things out loud, it allows our brains to really process and organize information in a way that makes a lot more sense,” adds PEACE program counsellor Paulina Hakkarainen.

Children are given tools to cope with their experiences and learn how to identify and constructively express their emotions.

“The problem isn’t the emotion,” Hakkarainen explains. “The problem is when people don’t know how to express those emotions without harming somebody else and so that’s really what our work is about.”

“Talking about emotional regulation, talking about how to stay safe, understanding what is abuse and what isn’t abuse, because at the end of the day, the purpose is to break that cycle of abuse,” Hakkarainen adds.

Unfortunately, since the COVID pandemic, domestic abuse has been on the rise.

“Due to pandemic stressors, I think the issue—which has not gone away—of this violence and abuse in the home, has increased and so we have more clients, we have more need, and we sadly, we are also looking for more funding,” says Susan Howard of Victoria Women’s Transition House.

Programs like this wouldn’t be possible without community support and the PEACE program hopes to stop the cycle of inter-generational abuse.

To that end, counsellors also do violence prevention workshops in schools for all grade levels from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

“By talking about it and bringing the stigma down about talking about it, the hope is once again to break that cycle of abuse,” Nate says.

If you’re a domestic abuse survivor and need help, you can call the 24-Hour Crisis Line at 250-385-6611.

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