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BCIFV home > Newsletter > 2002 Archives > Winter 2002 articles

Responding to and Preventing Future Family Violence...

The BC-Yukon Society of Transition House’s "Children Who Witness Abuse" Programs

by Shahnaz Rahman
Coordinator of Children’s Services
BC/Yukon Society of Transition Houses

Transition Houses have been providing safety, shelter and advocacy to abused women and their
children for over twenty-five years in the province of British Columbia. Over a decade ago, front-line workers in transition houses identified the pressing need for services to children who had witnessed their mother’s abuse. A statistics Canada Survey conducted in 1993 indicated that 59% of BC women had been violently victimized compared with the national average of 51%. Studies have indicated that approximately 80% of children whose mothers have been abused have witnessed the violence against their mother. (Jaffe, Wolfe, & Wilson, 1989). A positive indication from the research is that the right intervention at the right time can stop the cycle. As Peter Jaffe states in the video "Seen But Not Heard" (BCYSTH, 1993), "children who witness abuse are not doomed to become batterers and victims". Programs specific to their needs and their situations interrupt the intergenerational cycle of abuse.

The Children Who Witness Abuse Counseling Programs were first established in 1992 as an initiative led by the BC/Yukon Society of Transition Houses. The Vancouver Foundation and United Way of Greater Vancouver provided the funds for research and development of these programs and the Ministry of Social Services granted initial operational funds. For two years the organization, spearheaded by the work of Sharon White, researched and developed the program that began operation in 1993. Historically, the Children Who Witness Abuse Program has been tied to services for abused mothers and the goal of the program remains the same today:

To break the cycle of intergenerational abuse by focusing on the children of the family, to teach them non-violent ways of resolving conflict and begin healing the wounds inflicted upon them.

Mandate and Description

CWWA is a community-based prevention program with a focus on children who have been exposed to the abuse of their mothers.

  • The program provides group and individual counseling services for children ages 3 – 19 who are living in the community and who have witnessed the abuse of their mothers.
  • It provides information and support to the mother or other supportive adult, and includes a school-based educational component focusing on violence prevention.
  • The program description includes information to assist referring parents in deciding whether CWWA counseling is appropriate for their children.
  • CWWA Counseling is not intended as a crisis response to the witnessing of abuse. It is intended for when a child’s situation has stabilized, when he/she is out danger and when there is better opportunity for intervention.
  • CWWA counseling is based on a psycho-educational model with a feminist perspective.


Children Who Witness Abuse Program Evaluation

BC/Yukon Society of Transition Houses received funding from the Vancouver Foundation in July 1998 to undertake an evaluation of the Children Who Witness Abuse Programs from the children’s point of view. "Children Who Witness Abuse Program Evaluation: Pre/Post Program Questionnaire" was prepared by Valerie Oglov on behalf of the BC/Yukon Society of Transition Houses.

Children were given questionnaires before or shortly after beginning the group or individual counseling. The Post-Test questionnaire was given at the conclusion of the groups. For children in individual counseling sessions, in most cases counseling continued after the post-test questionnaire was administered.

The children’s evaluations of the CWWA program were very positive. The BC/Yukon Society and the Children Who Witness Abuse Programs it coordinates now have specific and concrete feedback about what children have learned in the programs about definitions of abuse, safety skills, knowledge and attitudes about violence/abuse, identifying, expressing and coping with the feelings and self esteem. In addition, children and mother’s/caregiver’s evaluations of the groups and/or individual counseling was positive. It was noted that children enjoyed the programs and had indeed learned many of the skills the programs were designed to develop. Mothers or caregivers observed positive changes in their children after they had participated in the programs.

Copies of "A CWWA (Children Who Witness Abuse) Program Evaluation…", which includes the evaluation Pre/Post Program Questionnaire, are available by contacting the BC Yukon Society of Transition Houses at (604) 669-6943. The cost of the manual is $10 for Society members; $15 for non-members. For more information about other BCYSTH publications and/or programs, please call 669-6943, or consult our website, located at http://home.istar.ca/~bcysth/main.htm.