During Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we’d like to highlight the vital role early childhood professionals have in supporting children and families who are experiencing or are at risk of experiencing domestic violence. Creating trauma-sensitive classrooms and partnering with families to support their strengths is key. Many educators will work with young children who have experienced or witnessed trauma, which can manifest as difficulties in learning, playing, communicating, interacting, and creating relationships. Healthy and consistent interactions with early childhood educators can positively influence children’s brain development and their ability to engage.
Protective factors for children who have been exposed to domestic violence are conditions that can mitigate the negative impact of such traumatic experiences on a child’s well-being and development. These factors can include a supportive and stable caregiving environment, access to positive role models, effective coping skills, and a sense of belonging and safety. One valuable framework to guide these efforts is the Strengthening Families™ Protective Factors Framework, which outlines five key protective factors that help children thrive:
- Parental Resilience: Managing stress and functioning well when faced with challenges, adversity, and trauma.
- Social Connection: Positive relationships that provide emotional, informational, instrumental, and spiritual support.
- Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development: Understanding child development and parenting strategies that support physical, cognitive, language, social and emotional development.
- Concrete Support in Times of Need: Access to concrete support and services that address a family’s needs and help minimize stress caused by challenges.
- Social and Emotional Competence of Children: Family and child interactions help children develop the ability to communicate clearly, recognize and regulate their emotions, and establish and maintain relationships.
Early child care programs can play a pivotal role in aiding families in the development of protective factors and in cultivating a trauma-sensitive classroom environment. To accomplish this, several strategies can be employed. Firstly, a fundamental shift in the organizational culture is essential, focusing on the recognition and enhancement of the strengths and capabilities that each family brings to the table. Additionally, it’s crucial to engage and involve families within the program in a compassionate, nonjudgmental manner, fostering trust and cooperation. This can be further reinforced by instituting policy changes that align with changes in worker practice, encompassing training and approach adjustments. Incorporating everyday actions that actively support families in building protective factors is vital, whether through the sharing of information, offering a listening ear, or connecting families with community resources. Ultimately, providing families with relevant information and facilitating connections to others within the community contributes to a holistic and effective approach to promoting protective factors within the family dynamic and the early child care program.
This support from early child care programs should extend to children in their care as well. This can include maintaining consistent daily routines, which are essential in offering a stable sense of safety to the children. Furthermore, it involves proactively warning children when unexpected events, such as a guest in the classroom, are about to occur, helping them anticipate transitions and reducing anxiety. Additionally, these programs can go the extra mile by offering additional support during these transition periods. Moreover, teaching techniques for self-regulation equips children with valuable skills for managing their emotions effectively. By incorporating these practices, early child care programs contribute to creating a secure and nurturing environment that not only empowers children but also reinforces the protective factors that are crucial for their well-being.
The collaboration between early child care programs and families is paramount in promoting healthy child development. By creating a culture of collaboration, trust, and respect between caregivers and program staff, we can provide a supportive and nurturing environment for children and families affected by domestic violence. Through these efforts, we can lay the foundation for a brighter and more secure future for these young ones.
Here are more resources related to domestic violence prevention/response and early childhood:
- NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence
- NYS Domestic Violence Hotline: 24/7, call 800-942-6906, text 844-997-2121
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 24/7, most languages available, call 800-799-7233
- Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center
- Sesame Street: A Child’s Perspective of a Traumatic Experience