Pathways Family Support Centre

Working Together to end Domestic Abuse

Barnsley DV Group    Registered Charity No: 1085073

Effects of Domestic Abuse on Children

Family violence is much more than physical abuse. It includes emotional abuse (such as manipulation, isolation, put-downs, mind games, financial abuse, sexual abuse, threats of violence and revenge, property damage, harming pets and physical abuse. Family violence is an abuse of the intimate, trusting and safe relationship that the concept "family" represents. In homes where violence occurs, children are at high risk of suffering psychological and emotional abuse, whether or not they are physically abused themselves. Recent evidence clearly shows that living in a family where a parent is being abused has significant traumatic effects on children.

Even when they do not observe the violence, children are usually aware of what is going on. They are aware of the obvious tension, fear and distress in their parents. Their home, instead of being a place of security, is characterised by cruelty and fear. The longer the situation goes on the harder it is to undo its damaging effects on children's development.

Many children and young people are witnesses to violence in the home each In 90% of cases they will be in the same room or the next room when the violence occurs. Until recently the effects on children who witness violence have not been fully acknowledged, because the violence has not been seen as direct abuse of the children. In this way the effects on children have been easy to minimise or attribute to other causes. There is also increasing evidence that physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children is more likely to occur in a home where one adult is violent towards the other than in non-violent homes.

Many children who witness domestic violence have been found to have higher levels of behavioural and emotional problems than other children. The impact varies according to their age, sex, and role in the family. Some children feel responsible for the violence. They may think they are making things easier for their mother by appearing to cope with the situation, by trying to be quieter, and by not saying how they feel. While most children escape without physical injury they may bear emotional scars which in many cases can last a lifetime.

    "Witnessing" family violence is much more than physically observing the violence. Research has shown that it      may also include:

    · hearing the violence

    · sensing their mother's fear

    · using the child as a hostage or as a means of ensuring the mother's return

      to the home

    · forcing a child to watch, or participate in, assaults

    · interrogating or involving the child in spying on her/his mother

    · attempting to break down the mother-child bond by telling the child that       her/his parents would be together; if not for the mother's behaviour

    · undermining the mother by encouraging negative opinions of her ability,       appearance and so on

    · having familiar belongings of pets destroyed


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    Direct Impact on Children: -

    Having to move house/move a lot

    Standard of living is lowered

    Disruption of schooling

    Difficulties at school - Effect on educational attainment, either poor school     performance or may become a super-achiever at school

    May affect job prospects

    Truancy - children may stay at home to protect 'Mum'

    Breaking relationships e.g. friends/family

    Losing friends/pets

    Not allowed friends or visitors

    Play restricted

    May be intimated/frightened


    Wanting to protect mum and brothers and sisters

    Physical injuries

    Health conditions

    Health consequences due to pre-birth violence

    Prenatal death or injury to unborn child


    Children may experience abuse at a number of levels.

      The effects on children who witness domestic violence may include:


    · feelings of fear, anger, depression, grief, shame, despair and distrust

    · a sense of powerlessness

    · physical reactions such as stomach cramps, headaches, sleeping and eating       difficulties, frequent illness

    · slowed developmental capacities such as poor school performance, low self-       esteem, difficulty relating to       peers

    · substance abuse,

    · behavioural problems such as running away from home, aggressive language       and behaviour, acting out

    · learning that violence is a legitimate means for resolving conflict, or for obtaining control of a situation.

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