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Anna G. Larson, Published October 08 2012

InDepth: School counselor talks about helping child victims of domestic abuse

FARGO – In the 21 years that Nancy Tisor has been an elementary school counselor, there hasn’t been one year without a domestic abuse situation presented to her.

It’s an issue that comes up all the time, Tisor said, who works at Lincoln Elementary School.

“It’s important for kids to know that (domestic abuse is) not the norm,” she said. “When you’re in it, you might not know what a healthy family is.”

If a child is present during a domestic dispute and discloses that information to Tisor, she is obligated to report it. Teachers and other school personnel, law enforcement, physicians and child care providers, among others, are considered mandatory reporters, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

“After that, it becomes a social services issue because the child was in danger,” she said. “My job is to report it. I don’t get in the way of an investigation.”

Tisor and other school counselors have materials to use with children to help them in their situation, and she often makes referrals to the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead.

“I become more of a support person,” she said. “As a school counselor, I’m here to support the kids in school. There are people in the community much more trained to work with kids on these issues that I am. I provide a therapeutic environment.”

Children react and understand domestic abuse differently depending on age, Tisor said. A 5-year-old child might hear crying and loud voices but might not put it all together. An 11 year old is more fully aware of the sounds and emotions that go along with domestic abuse, and they deal with it differently, she said.

“Once you’re older, you stay ‘in it’ longer because you’re processing it differently,” Tisor said.

Some children are verbal about telling their friends and others about what they experience at home – some aren’t, she said.

“It looks so differently for each child,” Tisor said. “There’s no way to say ‘Here’s what a kid in a home with domestic abuse looks like.’”

Working with victims of domestic abuse can take its toll on the mental health of counselors or other professionals, Tisor said.

“I had to learn to try leave it at work,” she said. “You do have to believe that all the other people you plugged this little person into are doing their job to keep them safe.”