A significant body of research has shown that children exposed to domestic violence towards their mum or protective caregiver have similar long-term health effects to children who are physically abused. All children and young people – of all ages – who are exposed to domestic violence are negatively impacted.
While infants and pre-verbal children are most likely to be overlooked in an intervention, they are also most likely to be impacted. Infants and toddlers – and even babies in utero – who live in an environment of fear and chaos will be affected, and it may impact on their developmental milestones.
Sometimes the impact on a child is very visible, e.g. violence, aggression, withdrawal, anxiety, etc. But sometimes the impact is quite hidden. Exactly how a particular child is impacted by exposure to domestic violence is very different for different children. Some become more withdrawn, while others seek attention. Some become aggressive and violent to other children or family members.
Children of all ages become distressed and need help to understand what is happening. Children often blame themselves for abuse perpetrated by a parent or step-parent towards another parent or siblings or other family members. They may feel frightened, confused and lonely, and often have no one to talk to about what they are experiencing.
The effects of exposure to domestic violence may not show up straight away. It can take days, weeks, month or years. Parents, teachers and professionals can easily make the mistake of blaming a child for being ‘difficult’ or ‘naughty’. This can make a bad time even worse for children and those who love them.
Domestic violence perpetrated towards an adult will also take an enormous toll on their ability to parent. When someone is fearful, exhausted and stressed from living with domestic violence, it can be nearly impossible to be an attentive, loving and nurturing parent.
Abusive partners/parents also often directly attack and undermine the relationship between the abusive partner/parent and their child. The combination of this direct sabotage and the impact on the abused partner’s ability to parent nearly always has a negative impact on the relationship between the child and the abused parent, who is usually the mother.
Help for children exposed to domestic violence: Child Safety Programmes
Child safety programmes are available for children with a parent who is a protected person on a protection order. These programmes are provided by Shine in Auckland and other providers around the country to offer support to children to help them keep safe and cope with their experience of domestic violence.
Find your local child safety programme in this full list of Ministry of Justice approved programme providers here – look for the Register of safety and non-violence programme providers.
Read about KIDshine – our Auckland service that provides a short term intervention for children.
- They didn’t see it. They were sleeping. The voices of children who live with family violence, as heard by KIDshine
- NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse, Issues Paper 3 Child maltreatment, intimate partner violence and parenting
- NZ Family Violence Clearinghouse, Issues Paper 4 Policy and practice implications; Child maltreatment, intimate partner violence and parenting
- Kids in the Middle research, from Women’s Refuge
- Little Eyes, Little Ears: how violence against a mother shapes children as they grow, 2007