Efforts to End Abuse Open Doors for Troubled Families Home Is Not a Haven for Millions of Children. Both Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Endanger Their Well-Being. Today Innovative Programs Are Seeking to Stabilize At-Risk Families by Supporting Each Member. Fathers Learn to Deal Constructively with Anger; Parents Get Breathing Room during Crises; Kids Find There Are Nonviolent Ways to Resolve Problems. but Sometimes Another Environment Is the Only Answer, and New Standards Are Making Children's Welfare the First Priority. Series: Out of Harm's Way: Countering Negative Influences. Part Four of Four. First of Four Articles Appearing Today

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Lucretia Silas always wanted her son and daughter to have what she didn't have as a child - a father. Even though her husband beat her regularly, she endured the abuse to keep her family together.

But that tenuous arrangement ended five years ago when Ms. Silas's husband threatened to kill her by putting a garbage bag over her head and tying a rope around her neck. She and her children, then ages 7 and 2, fled with only the clothes on their backs, seeking refuge in a shelter for battered women.

"Because of the children - that's why I stayed with my husband as long as I did," explains Silas, of Clearwater, Fla., noting that he never harmed the children. "As it turned out, that wasn't the best thing for me to do." Determining "the best thing to do" to protect children from family violence raises anguished questions not only for mothers, but also for concerned professionals. Even when children are not physically abused, they often become frightened observers of the violence inflicted on a battered parent, nearly always their mother. "Children witness a great deal of parental violence," says David Finkelhor, co-director of the Family Research Laboratory at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. Research suggests, he adds, that children exposed to domestic violence are more likely to be aggressive with schoolmates and grow up to be abusers or victims in their own relationships. Surveys also show that teenagers themselves say that young people learn violent behavior most often from what they see at home. The Family Research Laboratory estimates that violent episodes occur in 1 out of 8 marriages in a given year. Experts say that 95 percent of that violence is perpetrated by men. Children surrounded by domestic violence can be hurt in three ways, according to Janet Carter, managing associate director of the Family Violence Prevention Fund in San Francisco. "They can be physically injured if they get caught in the fray between the parents," she says. "They can be intentionally injured by the perpetrator in his attempt to control the adult victim. He'll say, 'If I can't get to you, I'll get to what you love most.' Finally, even if they're not physically injured, there's a lot of emotional effect." Silas knows that firsthand. After she left her husband, her son became very angry. His grades plummeted from A's and B's to D's and F's, and she had to seek counseling for him. Until recently, counselors and social workers have treated child abuse and domestic violence as separate problems, handled by completely different systems - one set up to protect children, the other to protect women. "Child abuse and neglect, when they are reported, are investigated by an official state agency," explains Susan Schechter, a professor at the University of Iowa School of Social Work in Iowa City. "Domestic violence has traditionally been dealt with in small, grass-roots services. Yet in 30 to 50 percent of child abuse cases, there's also domestic violence." (While government studies indicate child abuse and neglect cases doubled between 1986 and 1993 {to 2.8 million}, researchers say much of the increase likely results from increased reporting.) Calling the two forms of family violence "inextricably linked," Ms. Carter says, "Until we address both problems together, we're not really addressing the safety of the family." Adds Susan Kelly, director of family preservation services at the Michigan Family Independence Agency in Lansing, "Child-welfare and domestic-violence agencies have the same goals. The first goal is safety, then justice for children and justice for victims, and finally peace - safe homes, safe relationships." As first steps in collaboration, the Massachusetts Department of Social Services has hired 11 domestic-violence specialists to work alongside child protection workers. Michigan also has a statewide collaborative effort, called Families First. Two years ago, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges in Reno, Nev. …


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