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Domestic violence impact on children and young people

What is domestic violence and abuse? Honour-based violence and forced marriage are forms of domestic violence and abuse. How are children involved? In relationships where there is domestic violence and abuse, children witness about three-quarters of the abusive incidents.

About half the children in such families have themselves been badly hit or beaten. Sexual and emotional abuse are also more likely to happen in these families. Who is involved in domestic violence and abuse? Although a man abusing a woman is recognised more often, abusers may be male or female.

Abuse can happen in any class, religion, ethnic group, occupation or age. It may occur in all types of relationships, including same sex relationships.

The effects of domestic and family violence on children and young people

Children may also experience domestic violence and abuse, or, if they are older, be domestically violent and abusive. People often think that alcohol and mental illness can cause person to be violent. Most people who are mentally ill are not violent. Younger children may become anxious. They may complain of tummy-aches or start to wet their bed. They may find it difficult to sleep, have temper tantrums and start to behave as if they are much younger than they are.

They may also find it difficult to separate from their abused parent when they start nursery or school. Older children react differently. Boys seem to express their distress much more outwardly, for example by becoming aggressive and disobedient. Sometimes, they start to use violence to try and solve problems, and may copy the behaviour they see within the family.

Domestic violence - the effect on children and young people

Older boys may play truant and start to use alcohol or drugs both of which are a common way of trying to block out disturbing experiences and memories. Girls are more likely to keep their distress inside. They may become withdrawn from other people, and become anxious or depressed. They may think badly of themselves and complain of vague physical symptoms. They are more likely to have an eating disorder, or to harm themselves by taking overdoses or cutting themselves.

They are also more likely to choose an abusive partner themselves. Children of any age can develop symptoms of what is called 'Post-traumatic Stress Disorder'. They may get nightmares, flashbacks, become very jumpy, and have headaches and physical pains. Children dealing with domestic violence and abuse often do badly at school.


Their frightening experiences at home make it difficult to concentrate in school, and if they are worried about their abused parent, they may refuse to go to school. Are there any long term effects? Children tend to copy the behaviour of their parents. Boys learn from their fathers to be violent to women.

Girls learn from their mothers that violence is to be expected, and something you just have to put up with. However, children don't always repeat the same pattern when they grow up. Many children don't like what they see, and try very hard not to make the same mistakes as their parents.

Professionals working with children should therefore keep this in mind when working with children whose behaviour is disturbed and distressed. For the more serious long-term effects of domestic violence and abuse, parent and child treatments are available, as are individual treatments and group treatments for children with issues such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Children are better able to cope and recover when they get the right help and support, for example from other family members, peers, school.

Some children find it helpful to speak to a professional like trained counsellors. For some families, domestic violence and abuse are a "normal" part of family life. Even when children domestic violence impact on children and young people that the situation is wrong, shame can make it difficult to speak out.

However, having a trusting relationship outside the home can increase the chances that someone affected by domestic violence and abuse will manage to talk about their experience. Sharing the secret with someone outside the family is the first step in breaking out of the cycle of violence and abuse.

Professionals including doctors, nurses, health visitors, teachers and social workers are trained to keep watch for signs of domestic violence and abuse. You can always talk to them and they will work with you and other professionals to keep you and your children safe. In many areas, specialist domestic violence organisations can offer support. Once out of the domestically violent or abusive relationship, practical help may be needed from professionals like social workers or solicitors.

They will be able to help with finding a place to live, dealing with money problems, and making contact and school arrangements for the children. I had to take Mum to hospital once and it was just horrible. But it did get so difficult. Then my Mum started saying I was just like him. That was the worst time ever. One day my mum spoke to someone on a helpline. After that, they had a big row and then he left home. Then we had this counsellor who talked to my Mum, and me and my sisters together.

Somehow it all began to seem better and I felt it was possible to move on.