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Right now, we have four infants under the age of 2 living at Interval House. And this isn’t unusual for us. At any given time, our house is usually full of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers!
It might be hard to think about such young children living in a women’s shelter, having been exposed to domestic violence at a very young age. But for us, it’s an incredibly hopeful sign.
“When I first started working at Interval House, nearly 30 years ago, the average age of kids in the shelter was closer to 16,” says Lesley Ackrill, Executive Co-Director. “Many women who came to us would wait until their kids were old enough to leave home before fleeing their abuser.”
“There were a lot of harmful attitudes that made women feel they should stay ‘for the sake of the children,’” Lesley continues.
Over the years, we’ve seen the average age of kids in the shelter slowly drop. A decade ago, the average age was around 10 years-old. Today, the average age of kids living at Interval House has dropped to the 4-5 year-old range.
Why is this trend hopeful? Because it means that women are leaving abusive relationships sooner. Rather than suffering in silence for years or decades, hoping that an abuser might change, women are getting the message earlier about what abuse looks like, and the supports that are available.
It also means that their children are less exposed to violence, and that our counsellors can intervene with kids at a much younger age to break the cycle of abuse in their lives. Studies have shown the crucial role early intervention plays in ensuring kids exposed to domestic violence don’t grow up to relive the cycle they learned, either as victims or abuses themselves.
What do we think is the reason for this trend? While much work remains to be done, some attitudes around domestic violence have shifted over time. For instance, an Interval House study published earlier this year found that 94% of Canadians do not believe that a woman should stay in an abusive relationship for the sake of the children. This message seems to be getting to women subjected to abuse, who are fleeing earlier and earlier from violent homes with kids in tow.
Want to support the little ones at Interval House? You can help by donating now.