Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Keeping Mothers in Mind: Trauma informed approaches to supporting mothers who have experienced violence and their young children

Angelique Jenney, Director of Family Violence Services at the Child Development Institute in Toronto, Canada is visiting CRFR in August as part of our ongoing collaborative work on gender-based violence. Angelique has kindly agreed to give an informal seminar while she is here. In this blog Angelique introduces us to her work on the impact of domestic violence on mothers and young children and provides an insight to what she will be covering in her seminar.

Identifying and responding to the mental health needs of young children who are exposed to domestic violence/maternal trauma is one of the most pressing issues confronting child welfare, child mental health, and social service sectors today. It is a common misconception that infants and young children are not affected by these experiences and their environment because they lack the ability to communicate distress or understanding with language. Yet, young children are disproportionately exposed to violence against their mothers simply because of their dependence and proximity to their mothers in these early years.

The evidence tells us that children living with domestic violence are at increased risk of experiencing emotional, physical and sexual abuse, of developing emotional and behavioural problems, and of increased exposure to other adversities. In particular concerns about emotional regulation, exposure to developmentally damaging toxic stress and the experience of witnessing harm to their caregiver are particularly high for such young children. A more detailed examination of these risks can be read here in The impact of domestic violence on infants and young people (IMHP 2012).

The evidence also tells us that, the most protective factor is the availability of a safe and responsive caregiver. Women’s experiences of domestic violence, often combined with a personal trauma history such as childhood physical or sexual abuse, impact all facets of women’s lives including their ability to parent. Being able to respond to mothers who are parenting children in the midst of violence is a particularly important area, given how violence affects children’s emotional health and well-being, the mother-child relationship, and future attachment relationships for children. But how are professionals to assess this impact and to find ways to work empathically and cooperatively with both mother and child to intervene in the best way possible?

Based on these concerns, Child Development Institute (, a multi-service organization in Toronto providing early intervention services for children under the age of 12 and their families, has developed The Mothers in Mind (MIM) program: a 12-week intervention program designed to meet the service needs of women with a domestic violence/trauma history who are parenting children under the age of 4. Group work has been shown to decrease isolation and reduce secrecy and shame that often accompanies experiences of abuse; however, in order to make positive shifts in the mother-child relationship impacted by trauma, specific support and attention must be given to the relationship.

Mothers in Mind™ is an innovative, relationship-based therapeutic mother-child program designed specifically to meet the parenting needs of mothers who have experienced violence and trauma and have very young children. The focus of the program is to intervene early in the lives of young children and their mothers in order to strengthen parent-child relationships, enhance parenting skills and reduce parenting stress. More information and tips for parents and practitioners can be found on the Mothers in Mind™ website.

This seminar will illustrate the importance of understanding the effects of domestic violence exposure on young children (under 4 years), consider risk factors and outline signs and symptoms for assessment of impact and implications for interventions in practice. The unique parenting issues facing mothers who have experienced violence and trauma will also be addressed, highlighting the need for specific trauma-informed parenting support.

Angelique Jenney, PhD
Director of Family Violence Services, Child Development Institute
Assistant Professor (Status Only), Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto

Book now:
Angelique's seminar, Keeping Mothers in Mind will be held on Thursday 28 August 2014, 12.30pm-1.30pm at CRFR in Edinburgh. The seminar is free but places are limited so please email or call 0131 651 1832 to book your place.

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