The traumatic effects of domestic violence on women have been widely documented. But the fate of a second set of victims – battered women’s children – is often overlooked.
Violence in the home rips a child’s world apart, research shows, creating emotional stress that harms development of their brains and impairs cognitive growth. When mothers are forced to flee a dangerous environment and seek emergency shelter, the children they bring along lose the comforting staples of everyday life – attending school, playing sports, even seeing friends.
“When their moms go into hiding, these kids’ lives are uprooted,” said Lisa Ford-Berry of the Center for Violence-Free Relationships. “They are truly the innocent bystanders. And it’s heartbreaking.”
Ford-Berry and others at the El Dorado County agency have a plan to make life a bit more bearable for the children in their care. They are asking Book of Dreams readers to help them transform the backyard of their safe house into a kid-friendly fun zone, complete with slide, swings, monkey bars and a pingpong table.
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“Our safe house is beautiful, with a very soothing, healing environment inside,” Ford-Berry said of the facility, situated amid oak trees in the Sierra foothills. “But when you look around you realize – ‘Oh my gosh, we need something more for the kids.’ ”
While fun is the top reason for installing the play equipment, it will also serve an important therapeutic purpose. After witnessing and sometimes experiencing abuse in their own homes, children arrive at the safe house in fragile condition. They tend to cling to their mothers, show fear of being alone, suffer from sleep problems and often struggle with depression or antisocial behavior.
“When they get outside and play, the kids not only have the chance to feel normal again, but they tend to let their guard down and become more likely to share things with therapists,” Ford-Berry said. “So it can really contribute to healing.”
Playing games such as pingpong also places children in situations with winners, losers and rules, allowing therapists to work with them to address boundary issues and any aggressive behaviors that may arise.
Serving western El Dorado County, the center was founded in 1980 and in 1985 opened an emergency shelter for battered women and their children. Formerly known as the El Dorado Women’s Center, the agency maintains a 24-hour crisis line for victims of abuse and offers a wide spectrum of services, from legal assistance to counseling and emergency food aid and transportation. More than 23,000 victims have been served.
In 2013, the organization received a grant to remodel and expand its safe house. But there were no funds for a playground. Ford-Berry said that in addition to the play structure and pingpong table, the center hopes Book of Dreams donations will allow them to add a basketball hoop and eight bikes and three scooters for the kids.
“Childhood is supposed to be the happiest time of your life, but these kids show up scared out of their wits and with nothing but the clothes on their backs,” Ford-Berry said. “If we can give them a place to play and forget about everything for a while, then maybe the holidays will be a little brighter.”
Needed: Funds for playground equipment for the Center for Violence-Free Relationships.
2014 BOOK OF DREAMS
For more than 25 years, The Sacramento Bee’s Book of Dreams has helped people and organizations in our community realize their dreams. Their needs can be as simple as a pair of shoes for someone who is homeless; holiday baskets for low-income families or a shiny, new bike for a child. Whatever the dream, you can help by making a donation today.
All donations are tax deductible and none of the money received will be used for administrative costs. The Book of Dreams fund is administered by the Sacramento Region Community Foundation. If you donate online, the Region Foundation will appear on your statement.
If you have additional questions, please call the Book of Dreams line at (916) 556-5667. Donations will be accepted through Jan. 16.
* To claim a tax deduction for 2014, all donations must be postmarked by Dec. 31. All contributions are tax-deductible and none of the money received will be spent on administrative costs. Partial contributions are welcome on any item. In cases where more money is received than requested for a given need, the excess will be applied to meeting the unfulﬁlled needs in this Book of Dreams. Funds donated in excess of needs listed in this book will fulﬁll wishes received but not published and will be donated to social service agencies beneﬁting children at risk. The Sacramento Bee has veriﬁed the accuracy of the facts in each of these cases and we believe them to be bona ﬁde cases of need. However, The Sacramento Bee makes no claim, implied or otherwise, concerning their validity beyond the statement of these facts.