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Safety Tips

Safety Planning with Children

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No one deserves to be abused.  Our hope is that if you are being abused, you will be able to find a way to safely get out of the abusive relationship.  However, the reality is that for many different reasons, some victims are not able to leave an abusive relationship once the abuse begins.  Having children with an abuser may be one of the reasons it becomes much harder to leave an abusive relationship.  If you're in an abusive relationship, please consider the following tips to help try to keep you and your children safe until the time comes when you are able to leave.

Following these suggestions (often known as a safety plan) can't guarantee your safety or the safety of your children, but it could help make you safer.  However, it is important that you create a safety plan that is right for you.  Not all of these suggestions will work for everyone, and some could even place you in greater danger.  You have to do what you think is best to keep yourself and your children safe.

During the violence
What to tell your children
Taking your children with you
Getting to safety
Supporting your children

During the violence

  • The abuser may have patterns to his/her abuse.  Try to be aware of any signs that show s/he is about to become violent so that you can assess how dangerous the situation may be for you and your children. 
  • If it looks like violence may happen, try to remove yourself and your children from the situation before the violence begins if you can.
  • If the abuser does start to harm you, don't run to where the children are; the abuser may hurt them too.
  • Identify a safe room they can go to when they’re afraid (if that is possible) and something they can think about when they’re scared.
  • Teach them that although they may want to protect you, they should not to get involved if the abuser is hurting you since that may get them hurt.

What to tell your children

  • Create a plan with your children for when violence happens.  Decide on a code word to let them know that they should leave the house (if they are old enough to do this safely) and get help.  If you think the abuser would not let them leave the house safely, figure out with them where would be a safe place for them to go within the house where they can call for help (such as a room with a lock and a phone).  Make sure they know that their first priority is to stay safe, not to physically protect you.
  • Explain to them that it is important not to tell the abuser about what you are discussing. Plan for what you will do if your children tell your partner about your safety plan or if your partner finds out about your plan some other way.
  • Tell your children that violence is never right, even when someone they love is being violent.  Tell them that the violence isn't their fault or your fault.  Tell them that when anyone is being violent, it is important to keep safe.

Taking your children with you

  • If you plan on taking your children with you when you leave, it is generally best to talk to a lawyer who specializes in domestic violence and custody issues beforehand to make sure that you are not in danger of violating any court custody order you may have or any criminal parental kidnapping laws.  This is especially true if you want to leave the state with the children.  Read more about this under the Parental Kidnapping section of our website and/or go to our Finding a Lawyer page for a list of free and paid legal services.  Another resource may be the Legal Resource Center for Violence Against Women, which specializes in interstate custody matters for victims of abuse – they can provide legal information and referrals to pro bono attorneys who can help you figure out if leaving the state with your children would violate any criminal laws.
  • If you are considering leaving without your children, please talk to a lawyer who specializes in custody before doing this.  Leaving your children with an abuser may negatively affect your chances of getting custody of them in court later on.  Go to our Finding a Lawyer page for a list of free and paid legal services.

Getting to safety

  • Make a habit of backing the car into the driveway (so you can quickly pull out) and having a full tank of gas.  Keep your car keys in the same place so you can easily grab them.  If you have children who need a car seat, make sure there is always one in the car.  You may consider keeping the driver's door unlocked and the door that the children would use to enter (but  the other car doors locked) so that you are prepared to make a quick escape with your children if you have to.
  • Consider asking a trusted friend or family member to watch your children while you go to local domestic violence program to seek help to escape the abusive relationship.  If you have to go to a shelter to escape your home, most  shelters will allow your children to stay with you (although some may not permit older teenage boys). You can find out more information about your nearest shelter on our Local Programs page.
  • Keep a copy of important papers with you or in your car, such as your and your children’s birth certificates, passports, immigration papers, and Social Security cards, in case you have to leave in a hurry.
  • Practice different ways to get out of your house safely.  Practice with your children as well.
  • Get a bag together that you can easily grab when you leave that includes your children’s important paperwork, medication, and a change of clothing.  If your children have a favorite stuffed animal or toy, consider buying the same animal or toy to keep in your bag.

Supporting your children

  • Let them know that the abuse is not their fault and check in with how they are doing.
  • Listen to your children. Listening can help you connect with them. Don’t push them to talk about events or topics they are not ready to discuss. If children discuss traumatic events they have seen or heard, try to be supportive, neutral, and comforting.  Don’t make them feel bad for expressing their feelings, even if they express feelings of missing or loving the abuser or anger or resentment towards you.  They may cry, scream, or express their feelings in any number of ways.  Allow them to communicate their feelings.  
  • Think of ways to help them to reduce stress and build coping skills. You may ask them if certain activities such as spending time with friends, playing sports, or creating art help them to feel calm and give them options to do these activities when possible.
  • Connect them with resources, such as a counselor, a children’s support group, an art therapy program, equine therapy, or any other locally available programs that specialize in helping children heal from trauma. Many local service providers listed on our Local Programs page have free children’s programs.

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