Strategies to support families who may be at risk of domestic violence | ECLKC (2023)

Head Start and Early Head Start programs can use this resource to learn more about working with families and children who may be experiencing violence. This information is especially useful during times when communities are being forced to stay at home. Explore:

  • Issues to consider when preparing to contact families
  • Strategies to reach and support families
  • Self-Care Strategies

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At a time when physical distancing is a priority to protect everyone's health, many of us are concerned about the children and families we work with. You may be at home for a long time with a person who has hurt you in the past. It is especially important to prioritize connections to these families. Focus on ways to strengthen relationships, reduce parental stress, help families access resources to meet basic needs, and promote safety.

With the current health crisis, families are likely to experience high levels of stress. In addition to concerns about health and access to health care, they can also be affected by unemployment or short-time work. Families may struggle to pay rent or other household expenses. They may find it difficult to provide regular meals for their family. They also adjust to new routines with the elimination of childcare and school activities. Increased stress related to these and other challenges can increase the risk of domestic violence.

Head Start and Early Head Start staff and programs are responding quickly, creating new ways to support families during this uncertain time. Employees who work with families who may be experiencing domestic violence can continue to offer support while working from home. Schedule regular health screenings with families and ask what they need. Discuss ways to manage and reduce stress and plan for emergencies.

(Video) Helping end family violence - the Information Sharing Schemes and MARAM

prepare and plan

Take the time to think about these questions before reaching out to families.

  • What relationship do you have with family? What do you know about his situation?
  • What strengths could the family draw on? Are there healthy relationships within or outside the family that can be comfort, connection, and strength?
  • Do you have ways to communicate with family that don't help keep the home safe? Can you use any of these strategies now? For example, have you communicated via phone calls, emails, or text messages in the past? Would it be possible to continue this practice without putting anyone in danger? Do you share certain keywords or phrases that indicate imminent danger?
  • Before contacting us, what are your concerns and how could you solve them?
  • Do you need additional support from your supervisor or the program management?

Choose your answer

Check out these strategies to find ways to help children and adults who may be experiencing violence at home. Not all examples apply to all situations.


Families living with violence are often isolated from their friends and relatives. Many children and adults are afraid to ask for help. They may be ashamed or afraid that the violence will get worse. They may feel like it's their fault. You can let them know it's not their fault and that you're there to listen.

Show him that you care and want to help him in any way you can. Ask if it's a safe time to talk. If necessary, ask if there are any immediate safety concerns. Connecting with you can reduce feelings of loneliness or isolation in the family. Domestic violence advocates can help with crisis counseling and safety planning.

submit basic needs

Community programs and partners can help families meet their basic needs and potentially relieve stress. Consider whether there are ways for staff to safely provide groceries, formula, diapers and changing supplies. Do local organizations provide food and diapers for delivery or collection? Is there an opportunity for you to work with a local group and pool your efforts? Ask families if they need supplies and how to get them safely.

Encourage connection with others

Remind families that physical distancing does not mean social isolation. Encourage parents to reach out to other families for support. If possible, offer virtual parent groups. Ask parents if they have opportunities to connect with friends and family over the phone, online, or through social media. Can they go to a public place where they can see others and still maintain a safe physical distance to protect their health?

(Video) Why domestic violence victims don't leave | Leslie Morgan Steiner

Plan with families

Ask if the parents have a safety plan. Depending on the situation, certain strategies may be helpful.

  • Discuss what has been done in the past to promote safety.
  • Ask if there is a place in the house where the baby or child will be safe and secure.
  • Help create a list of emergency support workers and their contact information (e.g., religious leaders, friends, family, police).
  • Encourage the adult to prepare an emergency kit in case one or more family members need to go quickly. Place essentials such as cash, hotline numbers, phone charger, keys, medication, a change of clothes, and important documents (such as birth certificates and vaccination records) in the kit.

Make a warm recommendation to a community program or group

Most communities have advocates, counselors, advocates and religious leaders working to reach out to survivors of this crisis. Use a heartfelt referral to connect families with these professionals and others you know at partner organizations. A warm recommendation is if the team works with families to access services. You can introduce a family to a contact person at a partner organization and, if possible, arrange a joint telephone call. Discuss the referral with the family, whether it was helpful and if further support is needed. Check with the contact person and refine the escalation process as needed.

Keep a list of local services and resources to share with families if they ask. Families may also need access to groceries, rental assistance or health hotlines, parental support, unemployment insurance, and other public services.

Send messages of caring and encouragement to suffering adults and children

Texting and emailing can remind families that they deserve care and support. Please note that anything we put in writing can be read by others. Rely on communication strategies that have historically been safe and effective. Remind the family to be strong and brave. Small acts of encouragement can go a long way.

Control adults who may become violent or abusive

If you have a strong, trusting relationship with someone who has used violence in the past, call for counseling. If the person feels out of control or fears violence, discuss ways to reduce stress. Use this time to offer your support to help.

Invite the person to work with you to create a behavior plan. Providing information on local and national helplines. Work with your leadership team on how to stay safe when dealing with family. Pay particular attention to how the program continues to engage the perpetrator.

(Video) Supporting Families of Young Children at Risk of Ongoing Domestic Violence

practice self-care

You too deserve support. Caring for children and families who may experience violence can affect our emotional and physical health. You may also be worried about your own family and friends. They may be anxious or worried about what might happen next.

We can only do our best for families if we find time to take care of ourselves. Stay connected with friends and family even when you have to be physically far away. If you live with people or pets, make time to spend them together. Create opportunities to relieve stress, even for short periods of time. You may find that simply finding a quiet, private spot where you can take deep breaths and direct your thoughts to a relaxing topic is enough to calm you down. If you need more than quiet time, try other coping strategies that you already know work for you. For example, you can:

  • Chat with a friend or loved one
  • Go for a walk or do some exercise or yoga
  • Practice meditation or deep breathing.
  • Listen or play music
  • Think about what you are thankful for

You can schedule a supervisor or another employee to be available if you need additional support. Supervisors can provide time and space for employees to discuss the impact of families' experiences of domestic violence on their well-being. Developing self-care skills and making them a priority is important to reducing burnout and compassion fatigue.

Similar resources

Employees and family members can use these hotlines for information and immediate assistance:

For more information on preventing and responding to domestic violence, visitfuture without violence.

« Go to Domestic Violence Prevention and Response

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Continue reading:

domestic violence,Stress, resilience and trauma

,family support and wellbeing

Resource type:publication

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National Centers:Parent, family and community participation

Last updated: May 8, 2020


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