By Kayla Blau
There is never a dull moment at our shelter and transitional housing program. Mothers dot our waiting room, oftentimes on hour-long holds with DSHS or their pro-bono lawyer.
Kids zip down the hallway and swing from our dated play structure. New families arrive with nothing but the clothes on their back and empty stomachs full of hope for change.
Mothers are weighed down with endless to-dos: find a new job, enroll kids in school, get school clothes and supplies, find food banks and health clinics, secure housing vouchers, go to court for parenting plans and restraining orders, the list seemingly never ends.
They keep going, despite their own depression or PTSD, and model what it means to have hope for their children, again and again.
Witnessing perseverance of mothers and children escaping abuse, and the small ways in which they heal while in our program, is why I do what I do.
I am a Children’s Advocate at a homeless shelter and transitional housing program for moms and kids escaping domestic violence. We work with moms to find out what their children need during this stressful transition (clothes, therapy, academic help, and so on), and accompany families as they navigate the complex education and legal system to keep their children safe.
I also facilitate therapeutic groups with the kids to help process their emotions around leaving their home environment, unlearning violent relationship dynamics, creating strong friendships, etc.
While every child comes to us from a very different background and home life, these groups build small threads of connection and community during an otherwise chaotic period.
Oftentimes, kids feel confused about the abuse their mother endured, and will blame themselves for their father’s behavior. They may feel alone or isolated in this experience, but group processing allows for kids to recognize they are not the only ones mending from domestic violence.
Witnessing the resiliency of children through this healing process is an honor.
Despite all the violence the kids may have seen or experienced, they never cease to amaze me with their exuberance and positivity. More often than not, they are dancing around the office or cracking jokes among one another.
We put all that energy to use by taking them on field trips and through extra-curricular partnerships such as trapeze classes at Seattle Acrobatics and Circus Arts (SANCA), gymnastics outings at Seattle Gymnastics Academy, and swim trips to the local pool.
During stressful financial and emotional times, extra-curricular activities are often the first thing to go to the wayside. To help remedy this, moms receive free passes to the zoo and aquarium so they can have family outings with their kids. They are so appreciative of positive family time to help rebuild their family.
The other day, an 8-year-old child told me an elaborate story of a giant dinosaur family that had to separate to stay safe. They went through many obstacles to find shelter, food, and protection, but they made it through by sticking together as a family.
Any small way I can aid in keeping families together, safe, and thriving makes all the residual stress worth it.
Kayla Blau is a social worker, spoken word artist, and anti-racist organizer. Read more of her stories.