St. Augustine Woman's Journal - Educational Resource to the Women of St. Johns County Since 2009

By Brittany Drennen
Childrens Advocate, Betty Griffin Center 

Resiliency and Children Exposed to Domestic Violence


October 1, 2017 | View PDF

In a relationship characterized by intimate partner violence or domestic violence, a pattern of behavior exists where one person may use verbal, emotional, physical, financial, or sexual abuse to control the other. The partner trying to survive the abuse may have very limited control over whether or not her child or children are exposed to the violence. Children react in very different ways, depending on a variety of factors. Some children may try to protect the parent being abused, other children may internalize messages from the abusive parent that abusive behaviors are okay. Even young children may yell at the offending parent to try to stop the violence. Many children do what they can to avoid exposure by putting their headphones in, or going to another room, or to a relative's home.

Research has indicated that exposure to domestic violence is extremely stressful to children, and can negatively impact their physical, emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and social development. One study has compared the neural activity in the brains of children exposed to family violence to that of soldiers exposed to violent combat. Children who witness domestic violence are often exposed to further adversities, such as child maltreatment within the family, and outside victimization in the form of bullying, witnessing community violence, and experiencing poverty. Safety planning is extremely important in the process of parting from a violent parent or family member, both for the caregiver and for the children involved.

Children can be miraculously resilient in the face of terrible adversity. Having a strong relationship with a caring, nonviolent parent is one of the most important factors that can promote a child's recovery from the trauma of domestic violence. Positive parenting, and the development of supportive friendships can be powerful guards against developing depression and running away. Children exposed to violence need access to strong social support networks, and family members that can play protective roles in their lives. Music, dance, arts, and positive recreational and cultural activities can be extremely therapeutic to children who have survived the trauma of domestic violence. Children can be very creative in drawing upon their internal resources to survive adversity, and adults can help by fostering as many positive role-models and experiences as possible in their lives.

The community response to domestic violence can play an important role in children's ability to cope. Maintaining trauma-informed educational environments, social, and legal system responses, where surviving caregivers are supported in their efforts to rebuild and become independent of the abuse, can go a long way in helping children find stability. The messages children receive through system responses to domestic violence can have generational impact. When a batterer is held accountable for domestic or sexual violence, the children attached to them can find safety, a voice, and learn a powerful and preventative message that violence is unacceptable to the community.

If you or someone you know feels unsafe and are experiencing domestic or sexual violence, call the confidential Betty Griffin Center helpline 904-824-1555 for safety planning, information, referrals, or support, or call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-500-1119.

Brittany Drennen

Brittany has a BA in Psychology from New Mexico State University and is in her third year at Stetson University for her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She has been an advocate in the Betty Griffin Center Shelter for six years, working as a children's advocate for the past four years. Brittany leads art groups for children exposed to trauma both in shelter and the Betty Griffin Outreach program. Brittany was an early childhood educator for five years and prior to that coached gymnastics and springboard diving.

"After a cruel childhood, one must reinvent oneself. Then reimagine the world." – Mary Oliver

The Betty Griffin Center was founded in 1990 by concerned citizens and incorporated as the Safety Shelter of St. Johns County to develop plans to provide shelter for local victims of domestic violence and their children. In 1992, the nonprofit agency contracted with a local motel for space and started a 24-hour crisis line and court advocacy program. By 1994, the agency purchased and opened Betty Griffin Center as permanent shelter. The shelter was expanded in 1998 to meet local demand, and a sexual assault program was added the same year. Today, Betty Griffin Center shelters served more than 550 women and children, operates a 24-hour crisis helpline, provides professional counseling for victims of domestic and sexual abuse, provides age-appropriate violence prevention training and also operates two thrift stores at Julington Square and Anastasia Square to assist in funding the agency's ongoing operations.

For more information or to donate, visit To report if you or someone you know is being abused, call the Betty Griffin Center 24-hour helpline at (904) 824-1555.


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