Back to School

As school moves into full swing, it’s important to remember that many children started school last week in a supremely vulnerable position.  “Will I like my new teacher, Will I make new friends, Where will I sit on the bus, What time is recess?” were all secondary thoughts to “Will my Mom be safe today, Will kids make fun of me if they know I stay in a shelter, Will my teachers look down on me because of what happened at home?”

Annually, PADV serves more than 500 victims of domestic violence in our Gwinnett and Fulton shelters; about half of these victims are children who have witnessed and experienced domestic violence in their home.  Many of the children have suffered through complex trauma throughout their lives and have a difficult time transitioning into schools.  This makes the start of a new school year particularly challenging for them. 

The children we serve may feel they don’t belong anywhere, and are longing to feel safe in their environment. They often suffer from separation anxiety due to having to leave their homes, be in a strange and new living environment and being fearful of meeting new peers and teachers. Some children deal with this by closing down and internalizing their feelings, while others act out seeking attention from anyone who will listen. With the many intense and changing emotions they’re experiencing, kids can find it hard to pay attention in class and build strong relationships with peers, creating even more difficulties in their young life.

Our safe houses are a place of refuge for families in need. Most of the children coming into our safe houses have struggled staying on track with school work due to chaotic schedules and ongoing crisis in their homes. Before coming to PADV, some children have reported attending more than six schools before getting to high school. Many have failed courses and repeated several grades. There are many children that want to attend college in the future but, find themselves losing hope for this dream due lack of educational resources and support received because of unstable housing. Some of the children have lost any sense of value or self-worth, so they give up on learning and their future.

While a child is with PADV our goal is to help children understand and heal from the trauma they have experienced and to provide an environment that produces positive emotional and behavioral change for children.  We create an environment of safety and stability where children can improve their communication and conflict resolution skills. PADV works to provide a sense of support and encouragement for the children of the safe house. Our child advocates are aware of the various emotions the children feel and work hard to provide a listening ear, support groups for adolescent and teen and fun activities.  Child advocates work with moms and their children to develop a plan for each child’s academic success. We will go with families to their school to meet with counselors and teachers to advocate for the in-school support needed to help all children achieve their academic goals.  We also provide homework help, encouragement and huge amounts of positive feedback as children share with us their school stories and accomplishments.  We believe all children are jewels, and we’re going to do everything we can to help them shine!! 

-Demetria Reid, PADV Child Advocate