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Children affected by domestic abuse

Prolonged or regular exposure to domestic violence and abuse can have a serious impact on a child's development and emotional well-being, despite the best efforts of the victim parent to protect the child. Domestic violence and abuse has an impact in a number of ways. The impact will be exacerbated when violence is combined with any form of substance misuse.

Domestic violence and abuse may have a long term psychological and emotional impact in a number of ways:

  • Children may be greatly distressed by witnessing (seeing or hearing) the physical and emotional suffering of a parent, or witnessing the outcome of any assault
  • Children may be pressurised into concealing assaults, and experience the fear and anxiety of living in an environment where abuse occurs
  • The domestic violence and abuse may impact negatively on an adult victims parenting capacity
  • Children may be drawn into the violence and themselves become victims of physical abuse

For children living in situations of domestic violence and abuse the effects may result in behavioural issues, absence from school, difficulties concentrating, lower school achievement, ill health, bullying, substance misuse, self-harm, running away, anti-social behaviour and physical injury.

During pregnancy domestic violence and abuse can pose a threat to an unborn child as assaults on pregnant women often involve punches or kicks directed at the abdomen, risking injury to both the mother and the foetus. In almost a third of cases domestic violence and abuse begins or escalates during pregnancy and it is associated with increased rates of miscarriage, premature birth, foetal injury and foetal death. The mother may be prevented from seeking or receiving anti-natal care or post-natal care. In addition if the mother is being abused this can affect her attachment to her child, more so if the pregnancy is a result of rape by her partner.

Young people themselves can be subjected to domestic abuse perpetrated in order to force them into marriage or to punish him/her for 'bringing dishonour on the family'. This abuse may be carried out by several members of a family increasing the young person's sense of isolation and powerlessness.

Young women in the 16 to 24 age group are most at risk of being victims of domestic violence and abuse, some of which may be teenage mothers. Research by the University of Bristol and the NSPCC has also found that young people in the 13 to 16 age group are also vulnerable to abuse within relationships (see Barter, C. et al (2009) Partner Exploitation and Violence in Teenage Intimate Relationships).

For further information and support:

Leaflets for parents

Leaflets for professionals

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