This case study relates to a group of eight children aged 5-11 years old, attending the Helping Hands group in a community setting. The Helping Hands group is a Women’s Aid programme and is delivered at Haven by specialist practitioners, using a trauma informed approach.

The children attending the group were referred to Haven by safe carers, schools and other support services due to the domestic abuse they had experienced. Each child’s family background differed and the children were all at different stages of processing their experiences of domestic abuse.

Through our assessment process, we identified that one of the children experienced anxiety and as such, found new people and situations difficult. To help the child to feel more comfortable and supported to attend the group sessions, we arranged for the child and their safe carer to visit the group venue at ZEST a week prior to the sessions starting. The child and their safe carer met the group practitioners, saw the room where the sessions would take place and were able to familiarise themselves with the route to and from the venue. Practitioners used this opportunity to play some getting-to-know-you games and make a name card with the child to help them feel prepared to begin sessions the following week. As a result, the child felt comfortable and secure in the group setting and was able to successfully complete the entire group programme.

A number of the children were identified as struggling with feelings of sadness and anger. A key focus of the group sessions was to help the children understand their feelings and behaviours. We looked at how to recognise when our bodies were telling us we were feeling overwhelmed, and strategies that we could use to help us feel calm again. The children loved creating a tool-kit of calming resources, which they then took home to share with their families. One parent also shared this with their child’s teacher, to help them regulate their emotions in the school environment.

The activities were delivered in lots of different fun formats – such as crafts, games and challenges. Throughout the weeks, the children were encouraged to share as much or as little as they felt comfortable doing. At times, they found it helpful to separate themselves from their emotions – for example, when exploring the more difficult feelings their bodies had when they felt unsafe, we found it helpful to be able to use cardboard people, rather than talk about themselves.

We also looked at feeling safe and the safe people that they had in our lives. For every child this looked different, but it was important that each could identify safe people that they could go to for support or help if ever they needed it. This exercise brought up a conversation around the adults in their life that were unsafe for some of the children. Others chose not to share. It was an invaluable opportunity for the children to begin to understand that they were not alone in their experiences of domestic abuse and that it was ok to talk about it if they wished.

Here is some of the feedback we received from parents and carers:

‘He’d just been excluded from school so I was worried about the timing but he absolutely loves coming. He looks forward to it every week and seems so happy when he comes out.’

‘I think she knows it’s ok to talk to me about how she’s feeling… which is something she never wanted to do before.’

‘My son’s confidence and happiness grew… he loved talking about what they’d been doing.’