The Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association and Foundation created a new committee in 1996, Lawyers for Children. The goal of this committee was to find unique ways in which the legal community can assist children in the area. With the creation of “It’s Not OK: Let’s Talk About Domestic Violence and Children” by the American Bar Association, the committee was encouraged to address the needs of children who are witnesses to domestic violence.
“It’s Not OK” is a video for children of any age who witness domestic violence. Produced in association with the Walt Disney Company, the video is intended for use only by trained professionals. It imparts the messages that violence is not the way to express anger, it’s not the child’s fault, and there are steps that kids can take to be safe. Since its creation, Lawyers for Children have partnered with more than 35 area shelters, social service agencies, police and hospital emergency rooms. They have provided the video, three books written for children: When Mommy Got Hurt, Something’s Wrong at My House, and I Wish the Hitting Would Stop. They also created two posters: Five Messages for Children Who Witness Domestic Violence, and Four Safe Ways for Children to Respond to Domestic Violence.
The need for a multidisciplinary approach to domestic violence in the community was demonstrated during implementation of the video project. The professionals involved indicated that while several projects have been implemented in the area that address domestic violence, there is little or no coordination of these projects between various sponsoring organizations, and no programs that specifically address the effects of domestic violence on children. Statistics regarding domestic violence indicate that children who witness violence in the home normally identify along gender lines with their parents’ relationships (i.e., sons of abusive fathers tend to become abusive adults and daughters become victims), and child abuse is 15 times more likely to occur in household where domestic violence is present.
An annual “Domestic Violence and Children” conference was instituted on October 29, 1998, since October is nationally recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The goal of these conferences is to empower professionals in the community to better deal with this unique problem. More than 100 professionals attended the full-day conference. The cost of admission was $10 and a child’s item for donation to one of the six shelters in the metropolitan Kansas City Domestic Violence Network.
Conference attendees received written materials and had the opportunity to share in a unique networking opportunity. Participants in the 1999 conference held a candelight vigil following the day-long seminar, to honor survivors and remember victims of family violence. Response to the conference was overwhelmingly supportive. The 2nd Annual interdisciplinary conference was held on October 28, 1999 and the 3rd Annual is scheduled for October 26, 2000. Also in 1999, Lawyers for Children also worked with elementary educators to incorporate “It’s Not OK” in safety education curriculum in the schools.