Feb. 27-March 11, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 4
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Think About It
Greenberg: Brown Helped break segregationist South
Medical Center operating in black
Headlines @ U.Va.
‘Homegrown’ administrator credits mentoring in career success
Faculty Senate turns its attention to matters of honor, money
He’s no dummy
Online master’s program trains nurse leaders from underserved rural areas
What About the Children?
Discovering new life at the bottom of the sea
Leap year has U.Va.’s zip code
Francesca Fuchs
Research yields benefits, mankind, marketplace

What about the children?
Nursing School researchers seek to learn the fates of children of domestic homicide

By Dan Heuchert

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 the tragedy?

Richard 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 their experiences.

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.

Anyone 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 homicide-study@virginia.edu.

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.”


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