Thanks to therapy, safe classrooms and parental support at Childhaven, Duntika Washington and her kids have survived the effects of abuse and are living a stable, healthy life. Childhaven is one of 12 organizations that benefit from the annual Seattle Times Fund For The Needy.
The first time her husband hit her, Duntika Washington said, he was angry because she wouldn’t let him spend his state welfare benefits on crack cocaine.
After that, the beatings became routine, she said. During her six-year marriage, Washington was punched, kicked, choked and dragged by the hair, she said.
One time, she was hit so hard her eardrum ruptured and streamed blood. Another time, her husband and tormentor pressed a gun to her head while her toddler son and baby daughter watched.
“I just never left because I didn’t want to be homeless with my kids,” Washington, 28, recalled recently as tears streaked her face. “But it (got) to the point where it was negligent for me to keep my kids around that.”
ABOUT THIS SERIESEach year, The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy raises money for a group of charities that help children, families and senior citizens. Throughout the season, The Times is telling how the 12 organizations make a difference in the lives of thousands, and the impact donors can have. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to the Fund For The Needy.
Washington finally fled her husband’s home with her two children after a particularly vicious strangling — an episode that led her then-4-year-old son to yank his dad by the hair to get him off his mom.
When the family eventually landed in a temporary housing shelter in Renton, the trauma had taken its toll.
Her youngest child, a 5-year-old girl, was anxious and clingy. She cried easily, had trouble focusing and needed constant reassurance. Her son, now 6, was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and oppositional defiant disorders. He distrusted adults, threw tantrums and lashed out at other kids.
“He was freaking out, having terrors, screaming, punching, biting, running through the parking lot — all because he didn’t know how to cope with what he’d seen,” Washington said. “He was kicked out of literally 10 day cares.”
Your dollars at work
Childhaven provides free therapeutic day-care services and early-childhood learning programs to trauma-affected infants, toddlers and preschoolers, and offers support for their families. Samples of what Childhaven can do with your donation:
$25: Puzzles and games for one classroom to help children reach developmental milestones.
$50: Car seat for the safe transport of a child to and from Childhaven each day.
$100: A therapeutic session to provide a trauma-affected family with science-based emotional support.
For information: https://childhaven.org/
Then, Washington and her kids found Childhaven.
The charity dating to 1909 — among a dozen nonprofits that benefit from The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy — provides free therapeutic day care and early-childhood learning programs for trauma-affected babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Such trauma can be the result of a child’s exposure to abuse, neglect, addiction, housing instability or mental-health issues.
Children enrolled in any of its branch centers in Seattle, Auburn and Burien must be referred by state child-welfare officials, public-health professionals or other authorities.
Childhaven’s mix of licensed clinicians, teachers and staff members aim to heal children and their families and stop cycles of abuse and neglect. To do that, each child is assessed and provided one-on-one therapy sessions tailored to their needs.
They also spend time in safe classrooms where they learn strategies to bolster socialization, confidence and coping skills during daily routines. Meantime, the charity supports parents by providing transportation for their children to and from day care and offering parenting-skills classes, in-home visitations, support groups and referrals to other services.
“It’s a holistic approach,” said Kile Imus, program manager at Childhaven’s Eli Creekmore Memorial Branch in Burien, where Washington’s children were enrolled. “To treat the children, you have to support their families, too.”
About 35 percent of Childhaven’s roughly $10 million annual budget comes from government contracts, the largest of which is with the state Department of Early Learning, said Jon Lanthier, the agency’s spokesman. Childhaven relies on philanthropy for the bulk of its budget, which helps to pay for therapy and other services for the more than 300 children and their families served each year.
Studies show children subjected to abuse and neglect can be developmentally stunted and damaged, leading to emotional, behavioral and health problems in adulthood. That’s why early-childhood learning is so critical, Imus said.
“We can reverse that damage and restore each child to a healthy place,” he said. “If you front-load the investment in children, you get more bang for your buck for a lifetime.”
For Washington’s kids, that investment began in May 2016 after Vision House, a temporary housing agency that sheltered her and her kids, referred the family to Childhaven.
Katie Lawson, a Childhaven therapist assigned to Washington’s family, recalled that the fallout from domestic violence had impacted her children’s perceptions of their mother.
“Many times in domestic-violence situations, a child no longer sees a parent as a parent,” she said. “So they’ll stop listening to Mom, they’ll act out aggressively, and they won’t respond to limits.”
Washington’s son was so deeply traumatized, Lawson noted, that he didn’t know how to relate to others without lashing out.
Lawson and other staff members who worked with the family initially sought to build trust with the family, partly by assuring Washington that despite what she’d heard elsewhere, her kids were not “bad children” and wouldn’t be expelled from the day care.
“Another big challenge was just to let her know that it was OK for her kids to get therapy,” Lawson added.
Over the next 14 months, Childhaven’s personnel employed “play therapy,” emotional coaching, positive-reinforcement techniques and other methods to help the children build trust, gain confidence and learn socialization and coping skills, Lawson said.
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“We had a lot of rough times here,” she noted. “But (Washington’s son) had a teacher who decided no matter what happened, she would never give up on him. And once kids trust you and believe you, they’re willing and able to just be kids, and let their mom be a mom again. I saw that transformation happen.”
Almost immediately, Washington recognized a profound change in her children.
“Within a month, they were calmer, they had stability and they loved coming to school,” she said.
After both kids “graduated” from the therapeutic preschool last summer, Washington also recognized her family needed a change of scenery. Her ex-husband, a multiple felon, is now serving a state prison sentence, but Washington said she also needed to escape a toxic relationship with his extended family.
Washington moved with her children to Eastern Washington, where she has since landed a medical assistant’s job and enrolled both kids in kindergarten.
Her daughter is now a confident, trusting little girl — and an exceptional student, her mother said.
“And (my son) will use his words now,” Washington added. “Like he’ll say, ‘I’m feeling angry because I’m embarrassed,’ instead of punching some kid out. He takes that home with him, too. If he’s mad or freaking out, he’ll literally say he needs ‘quiet time’ and he’ll go sit by himself and calm down.”
During the family’s recent move, Childhaven supported Washington by referring her to day cares and counseling services in her new locale. The charity’s staff also still routinely communicates with her kids’ school to share notes and check on their progress.
Washington, who was put out of her adopted family’s home in Spanaway at age 15, said she’d really never had support as a young parent until she encountered the charity.
“Without Childhaven, who knows what would’ve happened?” she reflected recently. “Like, my son was going to grow up and be just like his dad, the violence was just going to continue.
“But now my kids are happy again. They’re not afraid all the time. I just want people to know, there is a way out.”