Hendricks County shelter aims to break cycle of domestic abuse

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HENDRICKS COUNTY - Is there a lot of fussing and fighting in your home, including verbal, mental or physical abuse? You may be repeating a cycle of abuse in your family, and your children could be the next victims.

Sheltering Wings is an emergency shelter in Hendricks County for women and children fleeing from abusive homes.

"It's a huge problem. That's why we had to expand in order to house the women and children and eventually we'll be housing men too," said Sara Leathers, child therapist.

Shelter Wings is spreading its wings with a more than $3 million expansion. In this haven for families, staff hopes to help stop the cycle of abuse with the children. They live with different forms of abuse that are not always physical.

"There's neglect and emotional abuse. Dad yelling at the mom about everything she is doing is wrong or calling her names or calling the kids names," said Leathers. "Women also can do it to the dads. Dad can just as easily be the victim."

If parents think the children aren't watching, think again.

"They're on the step where the parents can't see and they're overhearing everything," said Beth Snedeker, child life specialist.

The abuse can scar a child.

" The first week to a month the kids come in very angry, aggressive, standoffish," explained Snedeker. "We have a lot of kids with nightmares and fears about everything."

The damage can begin before birth. Sarah Leathers talks about a baby affected in the womb.

"He heard mom and dad fighting constantly and at six months he had irritable bowel syndrome due to that fighting," she said.

A toddler with whom she is working at the shelter seems happy and healthy at first glance, but he has fears from witnessing abuse.

"He's afraid whenever his sister or mom leave," explained Leathers.

The child is afraid they may be harmed or won't come back. Play therapy - a young child's language - helps him express his feelings.

Child specialists here also tutor kids who sometimes experience learning delays or lose focus in school because of abuse at home. Children also express themselves through art therapy.

"It gets those feelings out a little easier than to talk about it," said Leathers.

Their pictures here are worth more than a thousand words - drawings of a dad choking the mother, children sketching their tears and children writing about their sadness. Experts say the cycle of abuse is something the children accept.

"That kind of environment can be very normal to them so they don't even realize that what they're witnessing is abnormal," said Leathers.

Sheltering Wings teaches children that abuse is not normal - to help end the cycle of abuse in their family.

"When they leave here. They're having fun, they feel safe and they have that sparkle back," said Snedeker. "It's just a sense of hope that maybe we've changed some family's life."

You have the power to help stop the cycle of abuse or prevent teen dating abuse. Donate to the Shattering the Silence fund to help pay for healthy relationships programs in schools and youth agencies. You could change a child's life.