You can’t stop where you come from because it’s in your blood, it’s in your DNA..” ~ Lia Marie Johnson

Lia Marie Johnson, actress, singer and YouTuber, released a heart wrenching song and video titled “DNA” about the devastating impact domestic violence has had on her life; and her struggle to break free from the cycle of abuse. 

Past my bedtime,

Blue and red lights,

Come take you away,

Hate to see you like a monster,

So I run and hide...”

According to statistics, as many as 10 million children witness domestic violence each year. In the United States, in a single day (2008) 16,458 children were living in a domestic violence shelter or transitional housing facility, while an additional 6,430 children sought services at a non-residential program. (fromThe National Network to End Domestic Violence, (2009). Domestic Violence Counts 2008: A 24-hour Census of Domestic Violence Shelters and Services). And in Canada, on any given day, about 2,500 children are living in an abused woman’s shelter with their mothers (Little Eyes, Little Ears). 

Witnessing abuse includesWitnessing can mean SEEING actual incidents of physical/and or sexual abuse. It can mean HEARING threats or fighting noises from another room. Children may also OBSERVE the aftermath of physical abuse such as blood, bruises, tears, torn clothing, and broken items. Finally children may be AWARE of the tension in the home such as their mother’s fearfulness when the abuser’s car pulls into the driveway.” (Domestic Violence Roundtable) Witnessing abuse is traumatic to children, even if they are not physically hurt, and causes harmful effects on every part of a child’s life physically, emotionally, socially and developmentally. Children who witness abuse are also more likely to become involved in abusive relationships as adults (which is not limited to intimate relationships but could involve any social interaction such as: work, church/religious involvement, friendships, or a pattern of being manipulated or taken advantage of.) 

The video for “DNA”, released in 2016, shows the cycle of abuse in two parallel stories of Lia witnessing domestic violence as a child, and later experiencing it in her own life as a young adult. 

Public Domain Image: http://awesomwallpaper.com

The damage that abuse has created in Lia’s life are vividly depicted in the video for “DNA” – these are common struggles many survivors face – she is a young adult who is seeking love and attention in the wrong places. She is the life of the party whose smile hides the turmoil she feels inside. She feels depressed, anxious, insecure. Lia’s life is spinning out of control as she parties and drinks. For more info on how domestic violence affects children, please read: Children and Youth Exposed to Domestic Violence

Research has also shown that children who are exposed to violence, or are victims of violence, are at a much higher risk for entering abusive relationships in later in life – meaning the cycle of abuse continues. This is also true for Lia, who reveals in the “DNA” video, her own experiences being involved in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. Lia says about this relationship,”When I wrote this song, I was at a really low point. I saw a lot of similarities. I didn’t want to be like that.” (Lia Marie Johnson – DNA “Behind the Scenes”). The similarities are shown in the video, when images flash back and forth between Lia and her memories of her parents, where she witnessed her mother being abused by her father. The song also reflects the inner conflict Lia feels – torn between fear of her father and the love she has for him.

Lia says witnessing abuse left her with low self-esteem and feeling that she “would always be a f– up” but she later learned, that she can change her life. And what she saw in parent’s life does not have to repeat into her own. Which is true, it is possible to break the cycle of abuse. If you have been a victim of domestic violence or exposed to it, there is help, support and resources available to assist you with safety planning and other needs (please see list of Helplines below). 

Are the pieces of you

In the pieces of me

I’m just so scared

You’re who I’ll be when I erupt,

Just like you do

They look at me

Like I look at you

I won’t be, no

I won’t be like you

Fighting back,

I’m fighting back the truth …”

 

Additional Reading: 

Child Abuse and Neglect: How to Spot the Signs and Make a Difference

The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children (Domestic Violence Roundtable)

Little Eyes, Little Ears: How Domestic Violence Shapes Children As They Grow by Alison Cunningham & Linda Baker

 

Helplines: 

National Child Abuse Hotline: 1.800.422.4453
www.childhelp.org

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1.800.799.7233
www.ndvh.org

Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network: 1.800.656.4673
www.rainn.org

National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: 1.866.331.9474
www.loveisrespect.org

 

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Lundy Bancroft will be speaking in Minnesota at the upcoming conference “Behind Closed Doors: A Deeper Look Into Domestic Abuse, Sexual Assault, and the Effects of Trauma”.

The conference hosted by Saving Grace, a local non-profit, in recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. For more info, visit: Saving Grace Facebook

For more information, and registration, please visitBehind Closed Doors Conference – St. Paul, MN – 10/27/2017

DATE AND TIME

Fri, October 27, 2017

7:30 AM – 4:30 PM

 

LOCATION

Amherst H. Wilder Foundation

451 Lexington Parkway North

Saint Paul, MN 55104

 

ABOUT THE CONFERENCE:

Through plenary presentation and breakout sessions, participants will gain in-depth knowledge of the multiple and complex factors associated with abuse and trauma.

“Behind Closed Doors” will provide education and training:

  • To understand the effects of verbal/emotional, physical, sexual, and interpersonal violence; trauma and recovery in adults and children.
  • To identify the short and long-term impact of domestic violence and sexual assault; emotional, mental, physical, economical, financial, and legal.
  • To understand the effects of trauma on the brain, in adults and children, and utilize Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview techniques.
  • To increase professional collaboration efforts of community partners in being able to identify, interrupt, and influence a positive change in the outcomes of batterers and victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking.

    Lundy Bancroft

Lundy Bancroft will be presenting as a keynote speaker on “Why Does He Do That?: The Profile and Tactics of Men Who Abuse Women“. Lundy will also host 3 break out sessions in a smaller group setting on the following: “Meeting the Post-Separation Needs of Women and Children”, “Assessing Risk to Children from Men Who Batter” and “Advocacy and Legal Representation for Women in Custody Disputes.”

Behind Closed Doors” will then be followed by several break out sessions, so participants can chose the subjects they want to learn more about and customize the conference to their interests and/or needs.

The break out sessions are conducted by a wide variety of experts including therapists, nurses, law enforcement, child protection worker, victim advocates, legal professionals and other community professionals.

Topics Include: 

*Understanding Trauma

*Effects of Violence and Trauma on Children

*Documentation and Care of the Patient

*Family Court and Legal Issues

*Best Practices in Sex Trafficking Investigations

*Challenging Bias, Beliefs and Assumptions

*Understanding Multi-Cultural Issues in Domestic Violence Situations

And more…

Public and professionals are invited to attend what will be an interesting, and informational event!

“Behind Closed Doors” is specifically designed for Social Workers, Child Protection Workers, Teachers, School Counselors, Lawyers, Law Students, Child Custody Evaluators, Guardians Ad Litem, Parenting Consultants, Judges, Law Enforcement, Investigators, Probation Officers, Health Care and Mental Health Professionals, Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Advocates, Physicians, Nurses, and Forensic Nurses. *CEU’s, CLE’s, & POST credits are being applied for*

 

Public Domain Image

(Duluth, St. Louis County, Minnesota: Jan 28, 2017) In 2015, an Indian Child Welfare Court was established in Duluth, headed by Judicial District Judge Sally Tarnowski, to offer a better informed, culturally sensitive approach for Native American families involved with the legal system. Professionals working in the Indian Child Welfare Court are specially trained in ICWA (the Indian Child Welfare Act), the historical context leading up to ICWA and other relevant legal and cultural issues in order to better meet the needs of families, and to better collaborate with tribal communities. 

Read more about the court: Indian Child Welfare Court in Duluth aims for better outcomes for Native American families (Duluth News Tribune)

The Indian Child Welfare Court was created in response to ongoing concerns, validated by research, that shows Native children are being placed into state care at high rates – taken from tribal communities and placed into non-Native families. This is significantly harming families and communities. In Minnesota, statistics consistently show, that Native children are placed into state care at earlier ages, have multiple placements, and spend longer amounts of time into foster homes or institutions.

In October 2014, David Glesener a Child Protection Supervisor for St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services reported that,”As of this week, we have 540 children in out of home care, up from less than 500 two years ago. The percentage of those in care that are American Indian has also been rising and is at 40% – up from 30% two years ago. The numbers are similar in counties across Minnesota. The situation is truly epidemic for American Indian families and tribes...” The crisis of Indian children in Minnesota

In another somber report (August 2016) the Star Tribune reported that,Of the 1,300 Indian children discharged from Minnesota foster care in 2013 and 2014, the most recent years available, only 58 percent were reunited with their parents or primary caregiver, according to a Star Tribune analysis of federal data. That’s the lowest of any racial or ethnic group” Saving themselves, then their family

The Indian Child Welfare Court is designed to work in the best interest of the child’s well-being and safety while also considering their cultural needs, and utilizing community resources where appropriate.

The result has worked to build closer relationships between all those involved – including tribal governments and authorities, social services and the court system. The court room is also designed so that every sits together at one table, in a square,”In the middle of the tables inside the courtroom sit the Native American medicines sage, tobacco and sweetgrass. Everyone — from the clients to the judge — sits on the same level in a square. ICWA cases can include multiple attorneys and parents, social workers and a guardian ad litem. Before this court, all child protection cases were heard in a smaller, more intimate court. But it meant that people were talking to the backs of heads..” (Duluth News Tribune)

Currently, there is only one Indian Child Welfare Court in existence in Duluth but if this court proves successful, others could be modeled after it. The court operates through a grant issued from a federally funded study.UMD Leads American Indian Child Welfare Act Project

History of Native Children Being Taken from Home, Community

The history of Native children being taken from their homes is long, and complex, and involves actions taken by the U.S. government on Native people, and consequences that resulted within families, and Native communities as a result of these actions. Native communities, and families have been significantly impacted by the destruction of their traditional way of life and along with it, the destruction of community and family ties, and destruction of values and teachings that provided ways to raise and care for children. Poverty also remains a serious issue that is impacting Native families. 

Janice LaFloe of the American Indian Family Center (AIFC) says, For years and years, American Indian people have worked together to protect their community, as decisions were made for them, through the signing of treaties and breaking of promises, through the forced system of tribal governments and the forced assimilation of taking children into mission schools…The forced removal of children to go to boarding schools was the most detrimental thing you could have done to Indian community. There was a whole generation or more of children removed from their homes. The amount of abuse that happened to children in those boarding schools led to a perpetual cycle of learned behavior that surfaced and continues to play out...” American Indian children in Minnesota disproportionately placed in foster care (TC Daily Planet)

(PA) Carlisle Boarding School. Wikipedia Commons.

Out of home placement for Native children can be traced back to boarding schools (1860-1973), which were operated by the U.S. government through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, or by religious missionaries. The purpose of boarding schools was to educate and assimilate Native children into the mainstream “American way of life”, and to shed their Native identity entirely. At boarding schools, Native Children were given a new name, forbidden to speak their Native language, their hair forcibly cut, clothing changed, and they were taught to be ashamed of their identity and encouraged to adopt American practices. Abuse (physical, mental, sexual) and neglect was common place at boarding schools, as was forced labor. Many children died as a result of abuse or disease, resulting from overcrowding or neglect in boarding schools.

Government policies forced Native children into boarding schools – many children were kidnapped or parents were threatened, including use of physical force, to gain compliance. In many areas, racism kept Native children out of public schools so their only choice of education was a boarding school. Or, extreme poverty caused parents to send children into boarding schools. In Minnesota, in 1971-1972, 1/4 of the total population of Native children under the age of 1 years old had been adopted, and 90% were adopted into non-Native homes. According to the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) 2013 Legal Review, 60,000 Native children were enrolled in boarding schools in 1973, when the boarding school era was coming to an end.

Children being taken out of Native homes and placed with non-Native families has created a crisis that threatens the existence of Native people, and the preservation of their culture. The trauma caused by boarding schools is experienced in Native families, and communities to this day. According to experts, and health care professionals, there is a direct relation between the trauma and destruction of family ties caused by boarding schools and the high rates of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug and alcohol abuse and suicide among boarding school survivors and their families. In addition, survivors of boarding schools were instilled with shame, and taught to believe they are at fault or to blame for the abuse inflicted on them. There was no help, support or resources offered to cope with what happened, or to address the harms inflicted. Another disastrous effect was that the passing down of Native teachings, languages and customs was interrupted, and in many cases not passed down – and children were taught to be ashamed of their identity, and encouraged to separate from family and community.

In 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was established out of a response to rising concerns about the well-being of Native children who were being taken, at high rates, from their homes by public and private institutions and placed into non-Native families. Cultural genocide remains a very real concern for many Native communities, as does the fate of their children – many who have never returned. The intent of Congress under ICWA was to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families” (25 U.S.C. § 1902). ICWA applies when there is an Indian child involved in child custody proceedings including foster care placements, CPS and family court proceedings. The goals of ICWA are to strengthen Native families, protect tribal interests and keep decisions within Native communities. Minnesota has added an additional layer of protection for children under the Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act (MIFPA), passed in 1987.

For More Information:

ICWA – Historical Context, Information & Application: Powerpoint Presentation by Evie Campbell, MSW (UMD)

The sad legacy of American Indian boarding schools in Minnesota and the U.S. (Minn Post)

The article Fragmented Child: Disorganized Attachment and Dissociation by Robert T. Muller Ph.D describes how abuse can destroy a child’s sense of self, and cause them to seek refuge from a painful reality by dissociating.

The “Fragmented Child” article was very helpful to me to identify many of the symptoms I have seen in my own children; I am sharing a link to this article along with some of my own experiences to raise awareness about the effects of abuse on children. I also feel a purpose in sharing my story to illustrate the devastating impact of family court rulings that place children in the care and custody of an abusive or unfit parent – much of the harm inflicted on my children could have been prevented if the family court had protected them from abuse.

What is Dissociation?

In “Fragmented Child”, Muller describes dissociation and its cause. The “fragmented child” is one who uses dissociation as a defense mechanism to deal with a stressful, traumatic or abusive situation.

Muller says about dissociation,“As a way of coping, dissociation occurs when the brain compartmentalizes traumatic experiences to keep people from feeling too much pain, be it physical, emotional, or both. When dissociation occurs, you experience a detachment from reality, like ‘spacing out.’ Part of you just isn’t ‘there in the moment.’” Children who grow up in an abusive homes often dissociate because they can not handle the trauma, pain and/or dysfunctional environment.

Dissociation happens when there is a trauma or assault, our first instinct is to go into “fight or flight” mode. When there is no escape, the flight is taken into the mind – away from a present danger. Dissociation is a defense mechanism where a person separates from their memory something they do not want to deal with. There is a range of mild dissociation to full blown dissociative identity disorder (separating a part of yourself from memory). Amnesia may occur with dissociation because the mind is shutting out or erasing a painful reality.

Through dissociation, memory of the trauma is held within fragmented parts of the mind. The trauma causes the mind to break or split off into smaller pieces that make it easier to process what has occurred. Over time those fragments may form their own distinct parts or identities. Triggers or memories of trauma release the memories which emerge (this occurs in a variety of ways).

People who experience dissociation commonly report feeling numb, spaced out, may have amnesia, and feel disconnected. A dissociative disorder changes the way a person sees reality and impairs memory, consciousness and a person’s sense of identity.

For more info on Dissociative Disorders please visit: Dissociative disorders (by Mind for Better Mental Health(

Understanding the Dissociative Disorders by Marlene Steinberg, M.D.

Public Domain: http://absfreepic.com

The Devastating Impact – When Courts Order Children into the Custody of Abusers: What I Have Seen in my own Children

My children are victims of abuse who have been further traumatized when the family court gave sole custody to the identified abuser. My children suffer from debilitating psychological, behavioral and social problems as a result of the abuse. My children have had their childhood stolen from them.

It is distressing to realize that your children are coping with a dysfunctional home environment by dissociating, and that your efforts to protect your children are being challenged, and prevented, by the family court system. Filing protective orders or asking for a change of custody based on abuse or endangerment has resulted in reprieve, and punishment from the courts (financial sanctions, loss of visitation and/or custody, ordered into supervised visitation, gag orders, jail are all common forms courts punish protective parents). Seeking therapy and professional help for my family has resulted in me being accused of harming my children, being told I need to “co-parent” better and otherwise being told my concerns of abuse, and the supporting documentation I offer, is not credible. My legal rights have also been violated in the court process. I am told to stay silent, stop raising concerns, be a more “cooperative” parent. No parent should be asked to enable the abuse of their own children.

I have seen the following indicators of dissociation present in my own children:

1) Talking to my children, they are sometimes triggered or can not deal with a difficult emotion, their response is a blank face (emotionless) and silence. The tone of voice may sound monotone. Or their mood may not match the current situation or the prevalent emotions of the day (for example, it’s a birthday party, everyone is happy but the children are silent and withdrawn).

2) The child withdraws into their own world – retreating into distractions, video games or computer time, imagination or an intense interest that draws their attention away from the present and into an inner world. The interest dominates the child’s focus, and they have trouble staying emotionally regulated without it.

3) After a long separation from my child, I am finally able to reconnect or have some contact with the children. I am overjoyed, and emotional. The child appears detached, appears emotionless, eyes are blank, voice is flat and mood is somber or withdrawn. At times a glimmer of my child once was will appear. Maybe I will get an unexpected hug. Or my child will create a card or picture for me, showing love or affection. It is confusing to see the dramatic changes – the conflicting closeness followed by the coldness, some children reject the targeted parent entirely.

4) The child is reminded or triggered by a memory of past trauma or abuse, and they freeze or lock up. They are unable to talk or move – sometimes they blank out. Other times they are aware of what is happening around them but unable to move or interact with their environment. Amnesia often follows these events. Or the child is unable to identify how they are feeling or what they are thinking.

5) When the child is overwhelmed by memories of trauma or abuse, they have violent or intense tantrums. Often there is very little or no memory of the tantrums. They may fall asleep after the tantrum due to exhaustion. There may be physical or emotional signs of dissociation that is associated with the onset of the tantrums – regressive behavior, mood swings, a drastic change in facial expression or appearance (this is an emotional change), banging their head on the wall, etc

Other signs of dissociation in children may include: Memory loss, inability to concentrate or focus, hyperactivity, mood swings, nightmares, a flat or monotone voice, appearing weak or lethargic, anxiety, and changes in personality.

When Family Court Professionals Fail to Recognize the Impact of Abuse on Children

The judges, Guardian ad Litem, evaluator, attorney for my abusive ex and other family court professionals working with my children, etc who do not understand the effects of abuse and trauma on children, commonly assign blame to one parent for causing reported behavioral and emotional problems in a child. Other times the court will deny any problem exists with the children (this happens even when there is ample evidence and documentation) and falsely accuse the targeted parent of having some kind of mental illness that causes a parent to report abuse and seek help for this child. In this way, victims of abuse are not being protected by the family court, and are being re-victimized.

Where there is no safety for children, some have chosen to escape the abuse, pain and ugly world they live in through dissociation.

— EJ, May 2016

Karen Woodall, a specialist working with families affected by Parental Alienation, shares insights on how alienation affects a child, and what they may be experiencing from a deeply personal level.

Through her experience, and skill, Woodall gives voice to the traumatize and wounded children who can not speak for themselves.
“The mind of the captured child would, if we could look inside it, appear not as we expect it to be, but would appear to be almost empty. This is because the doors to the unpleasantness that these children direct towards the parent they are rejecting, remain firmly closed when that parent is not around. Put simply, when they are not busy rejecting, these children do not want to think about the parent they do not see because it brings up too many painful feelings for them.”

Woodall also advocates establishing a multi-model support system to help children recover, and heal from alienation. Woodall says, “The mind of the captured child can only be freed when the power dynamic around them changes and someone is willing to intervene.”

To Learn More, Please Read: Rescuing the mind of the captured child

Karen Woodall

Those of us working in the field of parental alienation spend a lot of our time thinking about and working with, children whose minds have been captured by a parent’s emotional or psychological reactions to significant change.  As someone working regularly with children who reject or resist a relationship with a parent after separation, I spend more time than most in the company of such children.  I find them to be both fascinating as well as terrifying and somewhere in between, deeply troubled.  For these children, the task of coping with the schism in the sub and unconscious mind of the families they are torn between, can be impossible. Helping them to escape from the pressures that this brings to bear in their lives is what our work is all about.  Helping to restructure the power dynamics around the family is part of that process.

My fascination with alienated children…

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Tips for Practitioners Working with Families Experiencing Parental Alienation.

Insights on what an Alienated Child is experiencing, and how their perception of reality, and themselves, has been damaged by alienation.

When the mirrors reflect not your own self but that of the alienating parent and when the words which are spoken jar horribly with the language that the body of the alienating parent is speaking, the brain and the mind becomes used to responding to the ‘truth’ and not the lie which is heard. Of course the ‘truth’ is the lie and the lie is the truth in this world and keeping that firmly in the foreground of the mind as a practitioner is a critical element of successful practice.

Article by Karen Woodall

Karen Woodall

This week I have been working on several projects concerned with increasing parental awareness of what is happening to their children when alienation strikes.  All this alongside working with parents whose children are alienated and children who think that the parent they have rejected is quite simply horrible. I have also been working with parents who are so indignantly determined that their version of why a child no longer sees a parent is correct, that they will go to any lengths to ‘prove’ it.  The world of children’s rejection of a parent is indeed a world in which everyone is concerned about what they know. And of course,  everyone believes that what they know is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.  Working in the midst of this can feel a little bit like being down the rabbit hole with Alice, I half expect the mad hatter…

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“In the 1970’s when the Khmer Rouge came through Cambodia, they wiped out the entire educated class.

They wanted to destroy the family structure. Mother and women were slaughtered. That’s a whole generation that was taken out.

And now you have women raising children who’ve never had grandmothers teaching them, mothers to teach them how to raise children, how to be a mom. And these women have felt the effect for years.” — Sissy Samaritan’s Purse

I was really struck by this quote because it reminds me of how –injustice in family court destroys the family structure, and destroys the bond between parents and children. A whole generation is being taken out due to the failures in family court.

Fit, loving parents are being forcibly separated from their children. This causes real trauma, and often leaves life long scars. I wonder what the effect will be on the future generation of children… who have been forced to live in an abusive, dysfunctional home and deprived of a healthy, nurturing relationship with a parent.

How will these child survivors parent their own children? How will they function in the real world? What will the effect be?

– EJ, 2015

“Crossing the River: Motherhood in Cambodia” is a short film created by Samaritan’s Purse who is doing missionary work in Cambodia, providing maternal and child health programs and offering support.

The video explores the challenges and experiences of mothers in Cambodia, a country with one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world. Samaritan’s Purse is working to reverse that trend by building health clinics, teaching mother’s needed skills, and offering support to build their confidence in raising their children.