Children Exposed to Domestic Violence Engage with "Good Guys" of Law Enforcement in Unique Catholic Charities Partnership

Author: Catholic Charities Published:

“I’m not the bad guy, I’m not the bad guy,” were the words of an innocent three-year-old boy who was removed from his home and put into the back of a police car due to domestic violence that he could not control. Unfortunately, that is a sad reality for many children today. 

Nearly five million children each year will be exposed to violence in their homes. They will see actual incidents of abuse, or hear threats or fighting from another room, and also observe the aftermath such as blood, bruises, tears, torn clothing, holes in walls and much more. 

Children exposed to domestic violence show signs of aggression, hostility, anxiety, social withdrawal and depression. They many times function with limited verbal skills and attitudes that support the use of violence. Children struggle to trust and build relationships. 

At Harbor House at Catholic Charities we work diligently to understand the trauma that our children have experienced and put services in place to help them thrive and overcome challenges as a result of the domestic violence they’ve witnessed. 

One of the behaviors staff observed too often was the way in which children spoke about and reacted to law enforcement.  Sadly, most of the interactions our children have with police are during unfortunate circumstances like our example above. Harbor House and the Wichita Police Department came together and wanted to change that. 

The last Monday of every month Officer Tejeda comes to our shelter to talk with our children, build trust and educate them about his role in the community. Officer Tejeda spends time with our children outside playing, doing art projects, and even attended our Fall Festival where the children could show off their costumes. He also played a role with several other police officers in the community and brought Santa Claus to visit the children at Christmas time. 

These types of interactions let children know they are important and that he is interested in them as people and not because something bad has happened. It gives an opportunity to correct misperceptions, answer their questions, and give them a voice. Officer Tejeda goes above and beyond to show the children his handcuffs, lets them hold them, and even gives them the chance to use them on him. His goal is to show them that they do not hurt and to not be afraid in case they ever have to watch them be used on someone else they know.

The response from our children has been overwhelming for me to watch as the program director and has even brought tears to my eyes. Watching children who have once been afraid to now sitting on his lap and claiming they want to be just like him when they grow up goes above and beyond any expectation I could have imagined this collaboration turning into. The children look forward to the days he is here and cling to him when he leaves. Having Officer Tejeda has been such a blessing to our staff, children and their parents. This is only the beginning of the great things we will accomplish together for the people we serve.