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How children are affected by domestic abuse

How are children affected by domestic abuse?

Children can 'witness' domestic abuse in many different ways. For example, they may get caught in the middle of an incident in an effort to make the violence stop, or they may be in the room next door and hear the abuse or see physical injuries following an incident of violence.

Even when not directly injured, children are greatly distressed by witnessing the physical and emotional suffering of a parent.

At least 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence. Nearly three quarters of children on the 'at risk' register live in households where domestic violence occurs. (Dept. of Health, 2002)

Are the effects the same for every child?'

Each child will respond differently but the impact will increase when directly abused, witnessing the abuse of a parent, colluding (willingly or otherwise) in the concealment of assaults and whether other issues, such as substance misuse, are also present.

Some of the effects described in a briefing by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (2004) include:

  • becoming anxious or depressed
  • difficulty sleeping
  • nightmares or flashbacks
  • being easily startled
  • complaining of physical symptoms such as tummy aches
  • wetting the bed
  • temper tantrums
  • behaving much younger than they are
  • problems with school
  • becoming aggressive or internalising their distress and withdrawing from other people
  • lowered sense of self-worth
  • older children may begin to play truant or start to use alcohol or drugs
  • beginning to self-harm by taking overdoses or cutting themselves
  • developing an eating disorder

Children may feel angry, guilty, insecure, alone, frightened, powerless or confused and have mixed feelings about the abuser and the non-abusing parent. Remember that these responses may also be caused by something other than witnessing domestic abuse. Therefore, a thorough assessment of a child's situation is vital. Unfortunately, the risk of harm from domestic abuse to the victim and children increases around the time of separation and may continue through contact with the abuser.

In 40 - 70% of cases where women are being abused, the children are also being directly abused themselves. (Stark and Flitcraft,1996; Bowker et al., 1998.)

Worried About Yourself or a Friend? 

If you've got a problem or are worried about someone you know, it can be hard to know what to do to make the situation better. You don't have to manage on your own.
Talking to someone can make you feel better and help you find a solution. Try talking to your friends or an adult that you can trust, like a parent or teacher. There are also other people to help you. Hampshire  County Council's Children's Services has a team there to help you. 

You can ring this number 24 hours a day: 0300 603 5620. 
In an emergency, call 999. 

You might not want to talk to anyone about your worries because you are embarrassed, you might think people won't take you seriously or understand you, or that they might tell someone else when you don't want them to. You might think adults have let you down, so find it hard to trust them. It can be very difficult to talk about your feelings and what's happening in your life, but some problems won't go away if you try to sort them out yourself or ignore them. 

You can contact Childline about anything. No problem is too big or too small. Whatever your worry it's better out than in.
You can contact Childline by phone, email, text or via a message board. Call 0800 1111.

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