Using Technology to Highlight Children’s Experiences of Domestic Violence



Ericka Kimball
Hoa T. Nguyen
Jeffrey L. Edleson
www.honorourvoices.org


Domestic violence affects not only women who are abused by their intimate partners but also children living with these adults.  In fact, most people assume that adult women are the primary residents of battered women’s shelters, but over half of the residents of battered women’s shelters in the United States are actually children (National Network to End Domestic Violence, 2010). The presence of so many children argues for greater attention to their needs.

On a visit to Europe, one of the co-authors, Prof. Edleson, noticed how the rights and voices of children were taken much more seriously than in American social services. Upon return, he attended a national summit at which he heard Casey Keene, a national speaker and adult survivor of childhood exposure to domestic violence, speak with her mother about the time they spent in a battered women’s shelter. Casey, who works at the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, read from her diary of that period and then she and her mother reflected on those times. From these experiences emerged the idea of this online learning experience.

Honor Our Voices (http://www.honorourvoices.org) seeks to raise the visibility of children’s needs among battered women’s shelter advocates, volunteers and other professionals such as child protection workers. A major element of the Honor Our Voices project is an online training module that includes the stories of three children exposed to domestic violence as told in their diaries and highlights both the effects of domestic violence on children and the promising practices that may support these children at different ages.

Shelters and domestic violence service programs have developed comprehensive interventions for children exposed to domestic violence, yet with scarce funding and regular staff turnover many programs have difficulty maintaining services and staffing to meet children’s needs. In addition, other professionals such as child welfare workers often lack basic information and guidelines for working with children exposed to domestic violence. This lack of information and resources often leads to frustration expressed by children’s advocates and points to gaps in our responses to children exposed to domestic violence.

Innovation
In order to fill this gap, the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse (MINCAVA) partnered with the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare (CASW) and Avon Foundation for Women to create the online training module to highlight children’s voices. The online training module presents children’s experiences through hypothetical online interactive diaries that include audio recordings, drawings, and text and email messages. A two-day national roundtable discussion was held in December 2010 with adult survivors who were exposed to domestic violence as children and key child advocates, to develop recommendations for promising practices. The results of this national roundtable and subsequent consultations with participants guided the creation of the online training module.

The Honor Our Voices website contains three main products: diaries entries of three composite children’s stories paired with commentary on promising practices and links to external resources, a comprehensive guide for practice, and a series of brief audio programs covering the same content. In addition, embedded in the online learning module is a list of resources users can explore. The Guide for Practice (Edleson, Nguyen & Kimball, 2011) is a 40-page document presenting key issues and promising practices in working with children exposed to domestic violence as identified by the national round table and through a literature review. The audio programs highlight specific promising practices through the voices of the children. Narrated by Casey Keene each program illuminates a key lesson learned and its potential application to daily work in domestic violence programs.


Figure 1. Screen shot of Honor Our Voices showing the child's diary on the right and the corresponding promising practice on the left.

Impact
The Honor Our Voices website was launched on September 27, 2011, in time for Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October). From September 27 to December 31, 2011, the site was visited 11,720 times. One hundred and twenty-nine Tweets were distributed from our sites’ “Buzz” page (http://www.honorourvoices.org/press.html), with 913 visitors coming directly from the URL used in Tweets about the site. A variety of listservs, blogs, and print publications reprinted stories about Honor Our Voices (see attached spreadsheet). We have been invited to present this content as well to a number of audiences, including in March and May 2012 to audiences of attorneys for children through the Judicial Council of California and to Guardians ad litem in April and September 2012 in Ohio.

Future Vision
This project built an experienced team that has received new funding to build a similar site for informal social networks, such as family and friends, who are concerned about children exposed to domestic violence. It has also led our Center to plan strategically to go beyond single modules to build a larger, more comprehensive online training system for the tens of thousands of advocates who work with women and children daily through both domestic violence and sexual assault prevention services.

Advice to Others
Choose a web design and development team that has an understanding of your field. A good working relationship with the web design and development team is critical in creating a high quality and useful product. In developing this relationship, it is important to make sure the team understands the theme, tone, and purpose of the final product since this shapes design and usability of the product.

Create a work plan. It is also critical to have a clearly defined work plan that includes responsibilities and timelines for completion of each section of the project in order to get the content information to the web design and development team. There are so many components in the creation of a project like this that it is important to know what is needed from each team member in terms of content, design, and function and also when those components are needed in order to complete the product on time.

Pilot test. When creating the work plan, do not underestimate the time you may need to pilot test and de-bug the site. This required a surprising two months for Honor Our Voices. Give yourself enough time to pilot test and “soft launch” the product to identify and correct any problems in content, usability, and functions. A product that is visually appealing and functioning lends credibility to the message.

Summary
The Honor Our Voices online training module presents children’s perspectives of domestic violence using an online diary format. The use of technology assisted in bringing these experiences to life using visual and audio technology. Much of the success of the project is related to the working relationship between the funder, research content, and web design teams. The project has been well received nationally prompting MINCAVA to develop other online learning modules.


   

Ericka Kimball <kimba053@umn.edu>
Ericka is a PhD Candidate in the School of Social Work and a graduate research assistant at the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse. Her research is focused on social supports as protective factors for children exposed to domestic violence.
Hoa T. Nguyen <nguy1028@umn.edu>
Hoa is a PhD student in the School of Social Work and a graduate research assistant at the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse. Her research focused on financial literacy and the economic wellbeing of women.
Jeffrey L. Edleson <jedleson@umn.edu>
Jeff is a Professor in the School of Social Work and the founding director of the Minnesota Center Against Violence and Abuse. He has widely published on children’s exposure to adult domestic violence.