Parenting Support and Education Programs

One program designed specifically to address the needs of battered women through empowering them as parents was designed in 1994 by Graham-Bermann and Levendosky. Many battered women do not identify their own needs and are reluctant to seek help for themselves, but are often quite worried about their children. On the other hand, many battered women cite the children's needs as a primary reason for staying with the abuser. Specifically, the women want to have a family, think it is important for children to have a father, and worry about whether they could manage raising children alone. When society reinforces the importance of having a man as the head of the family, many battered women feel caught in the bind of whether an abusive father is better than no father at all. Further, it is often difficult for women as mothers to claim power and to take control of their families. Battered women often struggle with asserting themselves as mothers and in handling aggression by their children.

The parenting support program provides basic education about domestic violence, advocacy for women to obtain services in the community, and a support group where the woman can share and process issues related to both the violence and to parenting children under these most difficult family circumstances. Two trained clinicians (social workers or clinical psychologists) serve as leaders for each group of approximately five to eight women. It is essential that the group leaders receive weekly supervision for their work, in order to reduce the potential for secondary trauma-tization from the many vivid and horrific stories that are heard each week.

The groups begin with each woman telling her story, including her present circumstances and concerns. A list of worries about children and concerns about parenting is kept. Each session emphasizes both the emotional and physical abuse as well as child-rearing issues. Along the way, these parenting topics are ad-dressed—discipline and controlling negative behavior in children, mothers' worries and fears about their children, the impact of woman abuse on the child, understanding children's developmental needs, having fun with children, helping children to identify emotions, and communication in the mother-child relationship. Group leaders make referrals as needed to shelters, lawyers, doctors, and other advocates and community agencies that provide support for battered women.

This program is designed to serve only as a starting point for battered women to think about issues associated with domestic violence and raising healthy children. The aim is not to cover all that can be learned about any subject in a few hours' time, but to provide an opportunity for the women to discover their shared concerns and to learn new strategies for dealing with the very real problems presented by their children. In this way it is hoped that battered women may experience a sense of empowerment as they become more effective mothers to their children.

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