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Domestic Violence and the psychological impact on children

Domestic Violence and the psychological impact on children

Domestic Violence and the psychological impact on children

Children who are born and raised in homes where domestic violence is experienced growing up in fear, anxiety and tension as the environment is unpredictable for them. This leads to psychological and emotional trauma among the children, and the children go through a similar experience to those exposed to child abuse (Antle et al., 2007). Children grow up worrying about their future and trying to predict what will happen the following day and come up with means to protect themselves and their siblings in case violence occurs again (Antle et al., 2007). The physically and emotionally safe and secure environment that children are supposed to grow in is not available to them, and children have to grow with the primary objective of getting through the day. Such children have little time for fun, planning for the future, and relaxing. With persistent exposure to domestic violence, children later become aggressive, hyperactive, and disobedient in life. Some of the other impacts include poor concentration, low self-esteem, having nightmares and disturbed sleep, and fantasizing about normal domestic life (Sharpen, 2009).

In the event of domestic violence, several intervention measures are taken to save the abused from the aggressor. It is designed to help the victims also cope with the physical, psychological, and emotional trauma that results from domestic violence (Howarth et al., 2016). The domestic crime response involves the development of an emphatic talk with the abused, assessing his/her needs, and the performance of psychological counseling to avoid more crises in the future (Howarth et al., 2016). This paper discusses the impacts of domestic violence on children is better and can help in coming up with the best intervention methods to stop the crime. Domestic violence has led to many negative impacts on child upbringing, and measures to contain should be reinforced, minimize the lasting effects on children.

Literature Review

Children who have been exposed to domestic violence later experience the effects when they reach adolescence and even when they are adults. Some of the adverse effects include behavioral, cognitive, social, mental health, and physiological problems (Sharpen, 2009).

There have been many programs developed for intervention and prevention of domestic violence. These programs include parent, child psychotherapeutic intervention, prevention, and community-based intervention programs. These programs have been empirically tested in many countries for the purpose of protecting children from the effects of domestic violence (Stanley, 2011).

Past Studies

According to (Antle et al. 2007, Chang et al. 2008, Holt et al. 2008, Stanley 2011), domestic violence adversely affects many aspects of a child, including educational development and mental health. The effects of domestic violence on children are similar to those of child abuse. This link is, however, less addressed to clinicians undergoing child safeguarding training (Sharpen 2009).

Another study was conducted by Researching Education to Strengthen Primary care On Domestic violence and Safeguarding (RESPONDS) to establish a knowledge base that could be used for training clinicians and general practice teams on the relations between child safeguarding and domestic violence (Chang, Theodore, Martin, & Runyan, 2008). From the study, it was discovered that combined training on child safeguarding and domestic violence offered new means of improving the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and the self-efficiency of the clinicians and general practice teams in dealing with the issues related to protecting children in a violent domestic environment (Chang et al., 2008).

According to (Gellert 2007), child neglect and domestic violence are associated with several factors such as effects and unrelated issues, including violence in the parent family, substance abuse, social isolation, and economic stressors. It is proven that children who experience domestic violence and child abuse later become depressive, anxious, isolative, and other related behavioral problems (Kernic et al., 2003). Personality traits of the perpetrator of domestic violence, traditional values, and verbal conflicts are other risk factors that are associated with domestic violence (Gellert, 1997; Stets, 1995; Williams, 1995). Other risk factors related to domestic violence experienced by the child include lack of parenting skills, maternal depression, and parental attributes of blame (Smokowski & Wodarski, 1996).

In another study, Hughes (1997) estimates the comorbidity rates of the child abuse and spouses to range between 40% to 60% (Hughes, 1997), whereas Ross (1996) estimates that about 50% of batterers also abuse their children directly. Ross also points out that only 24% of the abused retaliate or take action against the batterer (Ross, 1996). The effect of domestic violence, as concluded by (Hughes, 1997), is maladjustment of the children at a later stage in their lives.

Mental Health Outcomes of Domestic Violence on Children

There are several mental health effects related to domestic violence, as discussed above. Some of these effects are as discussed below;

  1. Anxiety

Research has revealed that there is a link between exposure of the child to domestic violence and internalizing symptoms on the child, such as depression and anxiety. Research has also shown that children who are persistently exposed to domestic violence are more anxious and depressed than those who live in friendly, violence-free environments (Stanley, 2011).

  1. Trauma Symptoms

There is posttraumatic stress that later affects the children when they are grown up. These include re-experiencing of violent events, difficulty in maintaining concentration and being attentive, intrusive thoughts, numbing, and nightmares. Research has also shown that the higher levels of posttraumatic stress in children are as a result of previous exposure to domestic violence (Ross, 2016).

  • Risk of physical injury

Children may find themselves in the middle of the fight either accidentally or as hostages and may get injured as a result. An object targeted on the victim may hit the child if held by the victim or when they try to intervene to defend the victim (Chang et al., 2008).

  1. Violence after separation such as child abduction

The abuser may take advantage of the innocence of children to torment the abused, where they may try to stop the victim from leaving or to return home after separation by abducting and holding the children hostage. The risk is usually substantial as children have suffered or even killed in the long run in the sense of the abuser punishing the victim (Howarth et al., 2016).

Ways in which Children Experience Domestic Violence in the Home.

Some of the ways through which children experience domestic violence in the home include;

  1. Seeing the incidences of domestic violence as they
  2. Hearing of noises from quarreling or fighting and threats being
  • Being part of the violence as hostages, intervening, or being
  1. Seeing the aftermath such as blood, broken items, bruises, torn clothes, and
  2. Being aware of the violence atmosphere at home (Gellert, 2017).

Interventions for Children Exposed to Domestic Violence

There are numerous programs in most countries to cater to victims of domestic violence, especially women and children. Most of these programs are shelter programs that emerged in the 1970s in the US and respond to the root concerns as to why shelter places (places for emotional support and safety for the victims of domestic violence) should be provided to women and children (Howarth et al., 2016). As of today, shelter programs have developed and encompass a wide variety of social services, counseling, legal assistance, job training, housing assistance, and drug and alcohol abuse control. The shelter programs are practiced in a variety of organizations such as women organizations, religious organizations, hospitals, and NGOs. These organizations have employed social workers, clinicians, and psychologists to provide the required services to domestic violence victims (Howarth et al., 2016).

Two reviews were used in the systematic evaluation of interventions for the children who have been exposed to domestic violence in a study conducted by (Howarth et al., 2016). The first review was studied which had a wide range of study designs and published between 2000 and 2002 in English. Some of the study designs included in these studies were cohort studies, qualitative studies, observational studies, and cross-sectional studies. The second review was by Rizo et al., which summarised the interventions that targeted children exposed to domestic violence either directly or indirectly and which include the studies in the first review with quantitative methodologies as the study design (Howarth et al., 2016). In the research, (Howarth et al., 2016) included in their study the interventions that targeted improvement of the mental health, behavior, educational, or social outcomes in children who had been exposed to domestic violence. The suitable interventions were those targeted either to the parent only, to the children only, or targeted to both the parent and the children.

Although children are the victims of domestic violence, most interventions target the parent, especially the mother. This is based on the assumption that if the parent changes his/her behavior, he/she will protect the child. Such interventions include programs such as parent support groups, mental health support, home visits, parent education, therapeutic, and social support services (Kernic et al., 2003). Intervention programs that target the children who have been exposed to domestic violence include skills related to conflict management, skill-building against maltreatment, and therapeutic interventions (Gellert, 2017).

Barriers to An Effective Response

Most abuses in the home go unrecognized despite the victims reporting the incidences to the health practitioners. Studies show that only 6% of the victims are identified and helped by the related authorities. Most caregivers in health care settings do not understand the prevalence of abuse to the victims. Besides, there are a few primary programs that educate on domestic violence while also the continuing medical courses rarely address the issue of domestic violence in the syllabus (Gellert, 2017).

Some caregivers are also shy or afraid of inquiring about domestic violence as the fear that it will take a long time to get the feedback. Other barriers to effective response about domestic violence are the healthcare providers’ misconceptions, and attitudes towards domestic violence as most providers may think that domestic violence does not occur among their patients (Kernic et al., 2003). This is common for healthcare providers whose patients are of a similar profession, social class, education level, cultural or religious backgrounds.

Some providers also may be conversant with the background of the family and may think that there are no chances of violence occurring in the home, which is not always true (Howarth et al., 2016).

Consequences of Non-Intervention

The healthcare providers are beginning to get acknowledged about domestic violence, although the information has been there as early as the 1970s. The issue has been ignored in most hospitals, even in those with better domestic violence protocols. When a victim of domestic violence, especially women and children reach out for help but nothing is done, there is a progression of symptomatology in the victims when they encounter a health care facility that is unwilling to help (Szilassy et al., 2017). The victims begin to see a disturbing that becomes repetitive. Primarily, a victim will seek medical attention for a physical injury. Still, healthcare practitioners will only give her a symptomatic treatment, which will compel her to look for more help since the issue is not addressed, or due to fresh injury from continued abuse. As time goes by, the victim will be defined as the cause of the problem and will be labeled all sorts of names such as a hysteric or a crock (Szilassy et al., 2017).

Importance of Collaboration

The collaboration between the different concerned bodies in managing domestic violence such as child welfare associations, juvenile courts, the police, and women rights activists has been found to improve the fight against domestic violence and child welfare as well. The importance of this collaboration has been highlighted in most studies related to the topic and has been demonstrated in the Greenbook project evaluation techniques (Antle et al., 2007).

Finding Evidence-Based and Promising Practices

Promising practice and evidence-based practice refer to programs that are evaluated with an emphasis on the effectiveness of the intervention program’s outcomes to the targeted victims. The evidence-based programs show a more conclusive evidence level of efficacy of the intervention program while the promising practices show effectiveness even though they may be very new to have the evidence level required for them to become evidence-based practices. If a program is trying to bring up a new intervention for specific victims, it is essential to search the available evaluation networks and registries, and each registry should have the required thresholds for the evaluation of the selected programs (Stanley, 2011).

Future Without Violence

A useful tool for searching interventions that can be used for children exposed to domestic violence was developed by the Promising Futures initiative to allow the user to stipulate the aspects such as age, the language of the participants in the program, and the intervention type. The plans for the future without violence have summaries that contain information relating to the links to the registries and the evidence level that allow for the evaluation of evidence (Szilassy et al., 2017).

In conclusion, domestic violence causes lasting effects on the life of an individual. Children exposed to domestic violence at an early age will develop negative traits related to the impact of domestic violence. They may too become violent in the future or be victims of domestic violence as well. Parents have to find better conflict resolution methods instead of violence to protect their children from witnessing them fight. The intervention methods have not bee up to the expectations as the issue has not been addressed, and many families still experience domestic violence. It is, therefore, essential for better intervention methods to be developed, and collaboration between the concerned bodies be enhanced to completely eliminated domestic violence.


Antle, B. F., Barbee, A. P., Sullivan, D., Yankeelov, P., Johnson, L., & Cunningham, M. R. (2007). The relationship between domestic violence and child neglect. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention. 7(4), 364.

Chang, J. J., Theodore, A. D., Martin, S. L., & Runyan, D. K. (2008). Psychological abuse between parents: Associations with child maltreatment from a population‐based sample. Child Abuse & Neglect. 32(8), 819–829.

Gellert, G. A. (2017). Confronting violence. Westview Press.

Howarth, E., Moore, T. H., Welton, N. J., Lewis, N., Stanley, N., MacMillan, H., … Feder, G. (2016). Systematic review of interventions for children exposed to domestic violence and abuse: Evidence from controlled trials. Retrieved from

Kernic, M. A., Wolf, M. E., Holt, V. L., McKnight, B., Huebner, C. E., & Rivara, F. P. (2003).

Behavioral problems among children whose mothers are abused by an intimate partner. Child Abuse and Neglect. 27, 1231–1246.

Ross, S. M. (2016). Risk of physical abuse to children of spouse abusing parents. Child Abuse and Neglect. 20, 589–598.

Sharpen, J. (2009). Improving Safety, Reducing Harm: Children, Young People and Domestic Violence; A Practical Toolkit for Front‐line Practitioners. The Stationery Office, London.

Stanley, N. (2011). Children Experiencing Domestic Violence: A Research Review. Research in Practice, Dartington.

Szilassy, E., Drinkwater, J., Hester, M., Larkins, C., Stanley, N., Turner, W., & Feder, G. (2017). Making the links between domestic violence and child safeguarding: An evidence‐based pilot training for general practice. Health & Social Care in the Community, 25(6), 1722–1732.


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Domestic Violence and the psychological impact on children

Domestic Violence and the psychological impact on children

Domestic Violence and the psychological impact on children

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