Every year, millions of children are exposed to domestic violence. What goes on behind closed doors can impact them for the rest of their lives.
Counselors at The National Children's Advocacy Center (NCAC) work to help break the cycle of domestic violence. They coordinate care for people who have experienced childhood trauma, including witnesses of domestic violence.
"They come to us and whatever their trauma is, it's been awful, it is shaking their world, and things are feeling upside down, out of control, and they don't know what to do," said NCAC Clinical Supervisor, Erica Hochberger. "Sometimes, it's physical, but sometimes, it's emotional and verbal, different ways, but if you have violence in the home, then it's really hard to learn those good, healthy life skills."
If not addressed, Hochberger, said childhood trauma can lead to both short-term and long-term problems.
"It puts a lot of inappropriate and impossible responsibility on kids," she said.
Hochberger explained children can't separate themselves from the issues and are often forced to side with either the abuser or the victim.
"Another thing to think about with kids who grow up seeing violence in the home or without seeing any healthy conflict, is that they don't know what a healthy relationship looks like," she said.
Ultimately, those children are more likely to become either perpetrators or victims of family and domestic violence in the future.
"And the reality is that those are real problems and that the kids really don't have any control over that," Hochberger said.
She said there is hope for children who are in volatile homes, but it's up to the parents to seek the necessary help for both themselves and their kids.
"The best thing we can do for them is we can be our safest and healthiest selves, and then we can really be the best parent we can be to them," she said.
Through the years, she's witnessed firsthand the positive impacts learned coping skills can have on a family recovering from abuse.
"The common thread is that you've always had at least one parent who was protective and they changed, telling that child, and, you know, that not all of what you seen has been healthy, and we're working on that, but you can learn better ways and you can go and have a really good future," she said.
You have to find the courage to get help, before it's too late.
"If your gut is telling you that something is not right, listen to that. That is important and help is out there to be had, and the sooner, the better," Hochberger said.
The North Alabama office for the National Children's Advocacy Center is located on the same campus as Crisis Services of North Alabama and an HPD substation. The campus allows these organizations to work closely together to build safer, healthier families.