Meeting the needs of children in shelter

The first major project of the Children’s Center on Family Violence is focused on a pilot of a new shelter screening tool. The purpose of the screen, which is currently being utilized in three domestic violence shelters in Connecticut, is to determine if children entering shelter with their caregiver may benefit from assistance with emotional or behavioral concerns as a result of being exposed to intimate partner violence. The ultimate goal is to build on the strengths that the child and his or her caregiver already possess in order to overcome any potential negative effects of the exposure.

There are three available screens:

  • Parent-report screen for young children (0-6 years old)
  • Parent-report screen for children (7+ years old; this can include a child interview)
  • Youth self-report screen (12+ years old)

Conducted around the time that a child and caregiver enter shelter, the screen questions focus on a number of potential trauma-related behaviors, such as depression, aggression, sleep disruption, etc. The screen is voluntary and caregiver’s must provide their consent prior to completion. Shelter advocates are careful to explain that the screening tool is neither able nor intended to diagnose or confirm mental health issues, but is simply a tool to connect children to the most beneficial services that will help them thrive. Each screen takes 10-15 minutes per child to complete and results are reviewed with the caregiver and, when appropriate, the child.

Advocates in participating shelters were trained on how to conduct the screens in January, with the pilot officially launching in March. Selected based on their location, size and structure, each pilot site was provided with a list of local resources for potential referrals depending on the results of the screen. Advocate and caregiver feedback received during the pilot, as well as guidance from The Center’s Advisory Board, will inform any necessary changes or improvements to the initial screening tools. The pilot will continue through July with an anticipated statewide rollout in September.