Violence against children is a crime that affects all communities. According to a 2006 UNICEF report, up to 362,000 children in Canada are exposed to domestic violence. Newcomer children and their families face additional barriers to accessing support when there is violence in the home.
Who are Newcomer Children?
Newcomer children are immigrant, refugee, and non-status children under the age of 12.
How is Violence Against Newcomer Children Distinct?
Living in a violent or abusive situation is very harmful for children, and even the experience of safety planning can have long-lasting impacts upon their emotional and physical wellbeing. For refugee children, there may be an intense fear of being separated from their parent or caregiver as a result of the violence.
In domestic violence situations where one parent is abusing the other, children can also be victims of violence or abuse. For example:
A Note on Child Sexual Abuse
Child sexual abuse is a serious crime. Newcomer children may also be living with sexual abuse. The sexual abuse could be occurring on its own, or in addition to domestic violence. For more information on sexual abuse and how to support a child living with sexual abuse, please visit RAINN.org.
- Children can be pitted by one parent against another, or abused by one parent to hurt the other
- When trying to intervene to stop the harm to their parent, a child can be hit or abused
- Children can internalize the violence or abuse and believe that they are responsible
- Children can be socially isolated just as their parent who is being abused – this social isolation could be forced by the person abusing, or the child could isolate themselves to avoid having to answer questions from friends or neighbours
Signs of Abuse in Newcomer Children
Children may not verbalize their experience about being exposed to violence or abuse, but there could be some visible signs, such as:
- physical signs (tiredness, headaches, stomach aches)
- emotional signs (sadness, constant worry about potential danger, withdrawal, aggression or bullying towards peers or siblings, outbursts of anger)
- self-esteem and confidence issues
- stereotyped beliefs about males as aggressors and females as victims
- substance abuse
What Barriers Can Affect Newcomer Children and their Families?
- Some immigrant and refugee women are unable to flee with their children
- Some immigrant and refugee women are held in immigration detention on an indefinite basis, separated from their children
- Some immigrant women are unable to sponsor their children given the changes to the immigration system, and are not reunited for years
- Some refugee or non-status women whose children were born in Ontario face an incredibly difficult situation if their refugee application is denied or if they receive a deportation order
- Some immigrant women, who are able to get access to shelter supports, find that their older male children are not allowed to stay in the shelter