How are children involved?
In a relationship where there is domestic abuse, children will witness the abuse in a number of different ways. They may see or hear or even be involved in the abuse. People may believe that children are unaware of what was happening, but they can often remember exactly what happened. Besides the possible physical abuse, children will almost certainly suffer emotional abuse by being shouted at, told they are stupid or are not trying hard enough, or are given mixed messages by being favoured one moment and put-down the next. These emotionally damaging actions often have a long-lasting effect on the children.
How are children affected by domestic abuse?
It is very upsetting for children to see one of their parents/step-parent/partner abusing or attacking the other either physically or emotionally. How the child is affected depends on each individual child, their age and gender, how much they witness and whether or not they are personally involved in the abuse. Domestic abuse is relevant to the child's present and future well-being, and there is a significant overlap with child abuse.
This video gives a clear dipiction of what DA does to a child living with it:
Behavioural problems that the child could develop include
Babies: excessive crying, failure to gain weight, asthma or other allergies, exaggerated startle responses/stiffness, sad facial expressions, lack of interest
Toddlers: aggression to adults and peers/defiance and non-compliance, reckless and accident prone, nightmares/insomnia, emotional withdrawal/late speech development, asthma or other allergies
Children and young people: depression/anxiety, rejection of authority, aggression and anger, anti social behaviour/early experimentation with drugs, eating disorders, school failure/lack of concentration, unable to make friends, insomnia and/or nightmares/bed-wetting
Children tend to copy the behaviour of their parents. Boys learn from their fathers to be abusive to women. Girls learn from their mothers that abuse is to be expected, and something you just have to put up with. However children don't always behave in the same way as their parents when they grow up. Many children don't like what they see, and try very hard not to make the same mistakes as their parents.
Even so, children from abusive families often grow up feeling anxious and depressed, and find it difficult to get on with other people. Older children will often hold themselves responsible for the abuse, especially where extreme abuse has been an issue.
Remember that even where the child is 'only' witnessing abuse, it can affect not only the child's well-being during or shortly after the abuse, but affect the child's ability to build and maintain healthy relationships in his/her adult life.
Contact with other parent
The big issue for people who have separated from an abusive person is contact between their child and the child's other parent/step-parent. Before making arrangements, there are some things that should be considered.
Is it safe for the victim or their children to see the other parent? Do the children want to see their other parent? If yes, for how long and how often would be appropriate? Even if it is safe for the child, does the victim feel safe? If the victim doesn't feel safe or doesn't want to see the other parent, the child could see them at the home of someone the victim can trust or at a contact centre.
If the victim and the children feel safe seeing their other parent, where would be a good place to meet? The meeting could be in a place that is neutral and safe (for example, a local park, local outdoor/indoor playground).
If contact stopped but is starting again, how could the victim help the child with this change? Perhaps the victim could take things slowly by having some short visits first.
Is there is a chance that the victim and their child's other parent might argue or fight? Is it likely that the child might feel upset or worried about arguments when they see the two of them together? Having a contact centre or mutual friend to do the handover can sometimes be less confusing and scary for the child.
Very young children will not understand what is going on, but as they get older, the child will probably start to see and talk about the contact visits. It's important to give the child lots of chances to talk about their feelings and to support them and respond to their worries in simple words.
It's important to get further legal advice and/or counselling if there are concerns about the victim or their child's safety.
Young Carers and Domestic Abuse
Various agencies support Young carers and a regular revelation is DA. Here are some tools used for this scenario:
Children And Family Court Advisory Support Services (CAFCASS)
CAFCASS looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings. They work with children and their families, and then advise the courts on what is considered to be in the best interests of individual children.
Sexting in Schools
What to do and how to handle it (pdf format, 1.8MB) is a useful resource on our website for anyone, especially those working in schools. This guide looks at the issues around self-generated indecent images amongst youngsters and how to manage cases.