For two days a week – Monday and Thursday – School Counselor Brett Welch can be found greeting students as they arriving to class in Harvie Elementary School in VA. She carefully examines the young faces as they walk in for signs of distress. According to Welch, “The first 10 minutes after a student arrives at school in the morning is a critical window.” If she’s able to identify a student who is struggling and make them feel heard, “it can completely change their day”…and that of their classmates as well.  

Welch acts as a part-time school counselor at Harvie, where most of the children she helps are experience Childhood Domestic Violence (CDV). Her role is imperative to ensure the stability and success of the students who need extra support. And it is working. When she is there, students appear calmer, ready to work, and relaxed. Which begs the question: Why is she only there two days a week?

Conundrum and Consequences

The harsh reality is that often, a single counselor may be responsible for multiple schools and may be supports over 1,000 students. So in the best case scenario, students struggling with CDV may go for days or permanently without the support they need to overcome, succeed in school, and thrive in life, which research shows are all intimately interconnected. As Welch notes, students who come from “rough homes” are “more likely to get in trouble at school and have behavioral problems.” They’re also more likely to act out and bully others. For these students, school is “where they can feel powerful because they are completely powerless at home.”

Even more distressing are the findings that when a school counselor is not present to support a child of domestic violence on a “bad” day, this impacts not only their school work but also that of other students in their vicinity, and ultimately leads to lower test schools and success ratios across the board, not only in elementary school but in life. For instance, studies show that “exposure to an additional disruptive peer throughout elementary school leads to a 3 to 4 percent reduction in earnings at age 24 to 28.” So, when children who experience CDV as suffering, all children suffer.

The Solution – Two Essential Puzzle Pieces to Better Odds

As longstanding research has repeatedly demonstrated over 3 decades, there are two essential puzzle pieces that are particularly powerful in mitigating the negative impact – not only for children of domestic violence but for all children across all schools.

  • Talking About It: Have it out in the open – particularly when parents take the initiative to report the violence – seems to yield significant improvements in outcomes, because it helps to stop the violence and then helps to transform the meaning for the children impacted.
  • Having THE ONE: There’s a demonstrable need for more and more consistently present school counselors, like Welch, across all schools nationwide to provide the support these children desperately need, to take off the edge and provide them with a safety net and constructive ways to process the negative feelings.

As Welch stated, these children need at least one relationship where “they feel listened to and they feel respected and they know someone cares. That can change everything for them.” Mounting evidence confirms this.

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To learn how you can become THE ONE for a child facing Childhood Domestic Violence (CDV), take our free, ground-breaking, empirically tested, evidence-based CHANGE A LIFE online program. You need not come from a child development or mental health background. In 40-minutes, this simple, easy program, endorsed by the U.S. Fund for UNICEF will train you to take simple actions and use key messages that can help change a life.