Intimate partner violence (IPV) within the home creates negative health consequences for the entire family. It is well documented that children and families who are experiencing, or have experienced IPV, utilize the health care system at a much higher rate than the general population. Many times these are not visits for obvious signs of abuse, but more commonly for the secondary conditions that result from the chronic stress that IPV puts on the body. Examples include flare ups in asthma, chronic pain, sleep disturbances, GI complications, and many more negative health outcomes. You might be thinking, “None of these point glaringly to IPV, so how can I know which patients to help?” This is where the importance of education comes in.
Due to the complex and extremely sensitive nature of IPV, health professionals have long struggled with how to intervene or “catch” signs of IPV. It becomes even more complicated and less likely to be discussed when it comes to children. But pediatricians have a unique opportunity to improve the health outcomes of their patients and families. Taking the time, at each appointment, to educate on what healthy relationships are is crucial to overall health. When working with younger patients, health professionals can speak privately with the parent to give them a little education on what healthy relationships are, how they affect their children, and give them local IPV resources that are free and confidential. This simple gesture opens up conversations, without intrusive questioning, and gives parents a resource that they otherwise might not have been aware of.
When working with teenagers, health professionals can speak directly with the patient, giving them essential information on what is healthy, where they can get resources, and answer any questions that they might have. This helps move away from the disclosure driven questioning that tends to scare people away. Instead, general education on what healthy relationships are opens up the opportunity for discussion, and may even be the first time that some teens have ever discussed this topic.
Futures Without Violence (2017) reports that IPV is more prevalent in the US than diabetes and breast cancer combined! Both are health conditions that patients get screened & educated on, on a regular basis. It is time that healthy relationships become a part of the conversation that we have with every patient, every time.
Health specific resources, supports, and trainings on IPV are all available through the Children’s Center on Family Violence, as well as the Health Professional Outreach (HPO) program at the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence. We offer free resources and trainings to health professionals across the state. The goal of the HPO program is to help health professionals understand that they do not have to become experts on IPV. There are trained IPV advocates available 24/7 at all 18 CCADV member organizations across the state.