Children and young people

How are children involved in domestic abuse?

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 it exactly. Besides 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/parent's 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.

Typical behavioural problems exhibited by children living with domestic abuse

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

Long-term effects on children

Children tend to copy the behaviour of their parents. For example, depending on the nature of the abuse in the family, a boy may learn from his father to be abusive to women while a girl may learn from her mother that abuse is to be expected, and something you just have to put up with. 

Of course, 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 also the child's ability to build and maintain healthy relationships in his/her adult life.

Further Reading

Working Together to Safeguard Children, 2018-  A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children

The following relates to esearch published in the British medical Journal- Identification and initial response to children’s exposure to intimate partner violence: a qualitative synthesis of the perspectives of children, mothers and professionals

Guidance on Multi-agency meetings regarding childrenSafeLives, 2018- This guidance, from the National Scrutiny Panel, offers tips for researching cases, sharing information and action planning when working with cases involving children. It also provides advice for commissioners and strategic groups, including LSCBs, on working with Maracs. 

Guidance on Multi-agency meetings regarding 16-17 year olds- SafeLives, 2018- This guidance highlights the findings of the National Scrutiny Panel for MARACs and seeks to assist local areas in supporting 16 and 17 year olds who are assessed as high risk and referred to the Marac meeting.

Oxfordshire Young Persons' DA PathwayOxfordshire County Council, 2018

This Healthy Relationships Workbook from US is developed by Arc of Spokane. The purpose of this workbook is to assist a person with an intellectual or developmental disability to learn about healthy relationships, to identify and recognize abuse and to know who to contact for help. 

Children's Power & Control Wheel- A great tool which helps social workers explain to the parents how domestic abuse affects children. 

The Teen Relationship Workbook is for professionals working with young people to prevent or end relationship abuse. The workbook can be used in individual sessions, educational settings andpsych-educational or support groups.