Even when children do not see or hear it, nor even live in the same home where it happens, they are impacted by the domestic violence perpetrated towards their mum or someone else who cares for them.
Exactly how children are affected is unique to each child. Some children become withdrawn, while others seek attention. Some become aggressive, others depressed.
Children of all ages become distressed, often blame themselves for the abuse and need help to understand what is happening is not their fault. They can feel frightened, confused, and lonely. Some children dwell on what has happened, others avoid thinking about it. They may be scared of violence happening again, of their mum or safe caregiver getting hurt or killed, feel guilty they cannot protect their mum/caregiver, feel guilty that they love or miss their dad or abusive parent, or be anxious or depressed about what the future holds.
Children who were thought to be asleep during a violent episode in their home can often describe exactly what happened.
“My eyes stay awake at night” – Kate
“The bad noises come when I’m asleep.” – Luca
An abusive person is likely to escalate their violence and control with their partner when she becomes pregnant and is more vulnerable. Babies suffer even if they are not physically hurt. Whenever there is shouting, hitting, crying, fear and chaos in the home, babies, even in utero, can suffer serious distress.
Impacts on children may not show up straight away. It can take days, weeks, months or years. Parents, teachers and professionals can easily make the mistake of blaming the child for being ‘difficult’ or ‘naughty’ and make a bad time even worse for a child who needs more love and caring, rather than more punishment.
It can be very helpful for children to get specialist help after they’ve been exposed to domestic violence. Specialist services such as KIDshine and child safety programmes across NZ (See section on Safety programmes) may help children stop blaming themselves, reconnect with their safe parent/caregiver and develop some age-appropriate safety strategies.
“I know what to do now if I’m scared, I know how to ring the police and I know that it’s not my fault.”
– KIDshine child
Parenting is a demanding job at the best of times.
If you are a parent experiencing IPV, you are experiencing an attack on your ability to parent.
A partner’s violence and controlling behaviours makes parenting very difficult. An abusive parent may keep their partner from doing what they think is best for the children. Abusive behaviour towards a partner/ parent is also an attack on the relationship between that parent and their children. Support is often needed to rebuild the parenting relationship between the abused adult and their children.
IPV often stops the abused parent from being able to provide for their children’s basic needs. Many people experiencing IPV face other harsh realities as they try to provide for their children, particularly those living in poverty.
People experiencing, and people using violence, often find it difficult to talk to their children about abuse they have seen or heard, or think it’s best not to talk to their children about it. Children often end up with no one to talk to and feel like they have a shameful secret.
Many mothers/caregivers manage living with a partner that uses abuse because they believe it’s best to stay for their children, or because they fear that by leaving, their partner will (sometimes) have sole care of the children and they won’t be able to protect them.
For some mothers/caregivers, leaving an abusive partner leads to greater safety and wellbeing for their children. But for many others, leaving an abusive partner leads to greater danger or uncertainty for children as the abusive partner continues to stalk or harass the mother/caregiver and the children, or if they are forced by the Family Court to have contact with the abusive parent.
The Family Court often forces children into contact arrangements with an abusive parent, and often prevents the mother/caregiver from relocating to where they and their children would have greater support from extended family.
See sections on Safety Programmes, the Family Court, and Oranga Tamariki.