Domestic abuse program focuses on counseling children

Saturday, December 25th 2004, 4:27 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A new program hopes to stamp out the cycle of domestic abuse by counseling the youngest victims _ children who witness the violence.

Domestic violence shelters in Oklahoma have primarily focused on crisis services for women, but children also need help recovering from the physical and emotional trauma.

Ten shelters across the state are hiring counselors to work directly with children, thanks to a $500,000 program funded last year by the Legislature.

Children who see or experience abuse or neglect in the home are more likely to have mental illness and become abusers or victims themselves.

``That's what they know,'' said Rand Baker, state deputy director of mental health services. ``That's what they repeat as they move on with their lives.''

``Abuse is learned behavior,'' said Mary Rayner, executive director of a Clinton shelter. ``We see it in 2- and 3- year-olds that are so angry and so violent.''

Suzi Powell, women's services director of an Enid shelter, said she still is haunted by the image of a 2-year-old girl who came to her shelter in 1979.

The girl sat in a corner pulling her hair out.

``She'd coax you to come closer to her, and as soon as you did, she'd slap your face. She also hit the smaller kids and babies.''

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that children who are not helped can suffer delayed brain development, depression, substance abuse, learning difficulties and juvenile delinquency.

``Our children are so damaged by what they've seen and heard, and have also received abuse,'' Powell said. ``They need ongoing professional help.''

Counselors also will teach parenting skills to families.