What about the children?
Nursing School researchers seek to learn the
fates of children of domestic homicide
The story is all too familiar:
A troubled relationship, an abusive partner, a disagreement, a
lashing out, blood spilled. One dead, the other led away in handcuffs
— or perhaps a suicide.
What happens to the children, some of whom may even have witnessed
H. Steeves, an associate professor of nursing
who has studied bereavement for much of his career, said he was
“shocked” to find that no one really knows. He and
a colleague, Barbara J. Parker — a nursing professor and
expert in domestic violence — searched for records to document
the fate of children in such cases, and found none.
So, armed with a three-year, $750,000 grant from the National
Institute for Nursing Research (part of the National Institutes
of Health), Parker and Steeves have embarked on their own study
of the children of uxoricide — literally, the murder of
one’s wife, but broadened to include the killing of one
parent by another.
They are seeking to interview adults who have lived through domestic
homicide. Unfortunately, they believe that there will be no shortage
of interviewees. By multiplying the number of domestic homicides
among couples of child-bearing age each year by an average of
two children, they estimate that there are approximately as many
children of uxoricide — 2,700 — as there are children
diagnosed with leukemia annually.
A smaller pilot study conducted in the summer of 2002 turned up
seven people from Central Virginia, including two pairs of siblings.
Although Parker and Steeves declined to discuss their findings,
for fear of prejudicing future interviews, they say that the response
demonstrates that there are people who are willing to talk about
The new study will seek subjects from a wider geographical area.
The parents need not have been married at the time of the homicide
to be included; they may include live-ins or ex-spouses. The children
may have been of any age when the killing occurred, they need
not have any memory of the event itself.
willing to be included in the study may call toll-free (866) 834-9564;
(434) 243-6949 in the Charlottesville area; or contact the researchers
via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The U.Va. study is qualitative, not quantitative. Interviewers
will ask open-ended questions and let the subjects guide the interview.
And they need not talk about their parents’ deaths if they
are not comfortable doing so.
“We want to know what it was like for them to grow up after
this trauma,” Steeves said. “We want them to tell
us what is important.”
When Parker and Steeves began looking into the fates of these
children, they discovered that no one kept records — not
the court system, not social service agencies. “These kids
are not officially victims of crime, so they are not followed
by victim support groups,” Parker said.
Some are taken in by relatives; others enter the social service
system. Some find stable homes; others “go from foster home
to foster home,” Parker said. Often, the disposition of
the children is not recorded.
The researchers acknowledge that their results will not necessarily
represent the full range of experiences that these children have,
as they may end up interviewing only those people who are well-
adjusted enough to be able to talk about their pasts.
“The end result is finding out what kinds of intervention
these kids need and when they need it,” Steeves said. “We
just don’t know anything about these kids.”