By Nicky Bowman, Children and Youth Services Co-ordinator, BC Society of Transition Houses
Prior to the pandemic, it was estimated that three to five students in every Canadian classroom experienced violence at home.1 While there is no definitive statistic on the number of students experiencing violence at home during the pandemic, the BC Prevention, Education, Advocacy, Counselling, and Empowerment (PEACE) programs have reported more instances of children experiencing violence directly during COVID-19. We also know the pandemic has exacerbated domestic violence globally and in Canada.2
Increased instances of violence and the stresses of the pandemic have taken a toll on young people’s mental health: the Kids Help Phone received over 4 million contacts in 2020, compared with 1.9 million in 2019.3 Reaching children and youth is crucial at this time, yet restricted access to schools makes it harder to stay connected to vulnerable students.
PEACE counsellors understand the importance of reaching vulnerable children and youth. The BC PEACE programs offer free confidential support to children and youth aged 3–18 with experiences of violence. The program is funded by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General and operates in 86 locations across BC.
One way PEACE counsellors can connect with students and schools is through the Violence Is Preventable (VIP) program. Through VIP, PEACE counsellors deliver free school-based presentations covering topics including healthy relationships, self-esteem, emotional expression, consent, online safety, and violence against women and safety planning. Contact information is provided so that students can self-refer or be referred by a teacher or school counsellor to the PEACE program for further support. The VIP curriculum aligns with the Ministry of Education’s curricular competencies and is tailored to different grades. Presentations can be adapted to meet schools’ needs.
“This presentation is a must for my Grade 7 class.” – Educator
VIP has the capacity to reach a large number of students each year. In 2018–19, PEACE programs reached 8,095 students and 1,047 adults through VIP presentations, resulting in 172 referrals to PEACE program services. Last year, the abrupt school closures in March affected program delivery, yet 6,862 students and 935 adults still received this information, resulting in 140 referrals. This year PEACE counsellors have pivoted to offer VIP and PEACE program services both in-person and remotely.
Violence prevention initiatives are crucial to interrupt the intergenerational cycle of violence. Children who experience violence are more likely to have violent intimate relationships as adults, either as victims or perpetrators,4 and feedback from students highlights the impact and the need for the VIP program.
“I learned that what I do may be abusive, and I am going to change that.” – Student
Educators are not alone in helping children and youth experiencing violence. Schools are well positioned to access a generation of youth and, with VIP’s help, break the cycle of violence. To find a VIP or PEACE program near you, visit www.bcsth.ca/support.
1 Jaffe, P., Wolfe, D., & Wilson, S.K; Children of battered women; Sage; Thousand Oaks, CA; (1990).
2 Bradley, N.L. et al. (2020); "Health care practitioners’ responsibility to address intimate partner violence related to the COVID-19 pandemic"; CMAJ, 192 (22); www.cmaj.ca/content/192/22/E609.short.
3 Yousif, N., "4 million cries for help: Calls to Kids Help Phone soar amid pandemic," Toronto Star, 2021, www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/12/13/4-million-cries-for-help-calls-to-kids-help-phone-soar-amid-pandemic.html.
4 Unicef. (2009). "Behind Closed Doors: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children."