WINNIPEG — Louise recalls how physical violence between her mother and father would escalate to the point where police were called to the family’s homes in Winnipeg and in the First Nations community where they lived for some of her childhood.
Now a young adult, she says officers failed to acknowledge her and she was scared of being taken from her parents.
Her parents never received the help they needed for anger management and addictions, and Louise says it wasn’t until she went into the child welfare system that she received mental health support to cope with the violence she witnessed.
Louise’s story is one of those featured in a report released Wednesday by the Manitoba Advocate for Children and Youth’s office on how intimate partner affects children who witness it. To protect their privacy, the report used pseudonyms for the young people who shared their stories.
The research suggests that every two hours, a child in the province witnesses a police-reported case of intimate partner violence.
“This finding is deeply concerning because it is well established that exposure to intimate partner violence in childhood can be traumatic for young people. Growing up around violence can shatter feelings of safety and lead to mental health and other challenges that can be lifelong,” says Ainsley Krone, who is Manitoba’s acting child and youth advocate.
The report followed 671 children exposed to intimate partner violence during a one-month period in 2019 to better understand their contact with public systems and the responses from police and other agencies.
The report found Indigenous children and youth were overrepresented, making up 82 per cent of the cases where children and youth were exposed to intimate partner violence.
Intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence experienced by Indigenous women at a rate 2.5 times higher than the national average, the report says.
Exposure to intimate partner violence in early childhood has been associated with mental health issues in adolescence and adulthood, including symptoms of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
It can also lead to poorer school performance and a greater likelihood of dropping out of school. The report says children who witness violence in the home are more likely to attempt suicide and to misuse drugs and alcohol.
The advocate’s office spoke with youth to get a better understanding of what supports are needed.
In the report, Ajay, an Indigenous man in his early 20s, details his experience witnessing violence in the home between his mother and her partner.
He says it led to his involvement with the child welfare system and the mental health challenges he experienced as a teen.
Young people who shared their stories for the report say intimate partner violence passed from generation to generation and was often tied to relatives’ experiences in residential schools.
The advocate’s office says children are rarely offered direct supports and frequently carry their trauma silently until seeking out services for themselves once they are adults.
“As a province, we need to recognize children who witness intimate partner violence are also victims and ensure we provide the services and interventions they need to feel safe and protected,” Krone says.
Krone’s recommendations include the creation of specialized therapeutic and culturally safe supports for children, education in schools and increased funding to family violence shelters for a child-focused trauma specialist.