CHILDREN EXPOSED TO DOMESTIC VIOLENCE
Children living in homes where domestic violence happens are exposed to the physical and emotional abuse of the adult victim (for example, their mother, father, parent's partner or grandparent). They may see the abuser yelling at, punching, slapping or stabbing the adult victim. They may see the abuser threaten the adult victim with guns, knives or other weapons. Even if they don't see the actual physical assault, they are often exposed to the aftermath - broken furniture, lamps or plates broken, food strewn about, or smashed pictures. It is not uncommon for them to see the adult victim upset or crying or see bruises, scratches or marks resulting from the violence.
The Home Can Be a Dangerous Place
Children may be intentionally hurt or physically injured by the abuser. Close to 50 percent of men who abuse women are abusive towards their own children or children living with them. Some children get hurt when they are standing close to the adult victim during an incident. Even though the abuse was not specifically directed at them, they are injured anyway.
More information on the overlap between child maltreatment and domestic violence from the U.S. Child Welfare Information Gateway
Domestic Violence Take Its Toll on Children
Exposure to domestic violence can impact children's educational, social, emotional and behavioral growth. The impact is different for each child. Some children may act out. Others may withdraw from friends and family. Common reactions to exposure include problems with sleeping or eating, anxiety, depression, and attention problems.
Factors such as the child's age, relationship with the abuser, type of abuse, and access to other support can determine the impact that exposure will have on a child. Each factor can work as either a protective or a risk factor for certain developmental problems. For instance, older children often can often cope with exposure to domestic violence better than younger children. As a result, younger children are more likely to experience emotional and psychological distress. The child's non-abusive parent, relatives, neighbors and teachers, older siblings, friends, extended family members or members of church, sports or social clubs can act as buffers to support or help the child during stressful periods. The more that children have these supports in their lives, the fewer problems children seem to have as a result of exposure to domestic violence.
Learn more about helping a child - Healing the Invisible Wounds: Children's Exposure to Violence from the Safe Start Center
Early Intervention is Essential
Early intervention is the best way to ease the impact of exposure to domestic violence on a child's development. The best intervention plans work with the abused parent and the child to create a safety plan and to connect them with helpful resources like counseling and support groups. This helps children gain stability. It also weakens the impact of the exposure. Successful intervention methods include safety planning with both the non-abusive parent and the child, identifying other supportive adults in the child's life, and providing counseling and support for the child and the abused parent.
Domestic Violence Programs Offer Counseling, Support, Education
Pennsylvania's local domestic violence programs have staff members trained to help children exposed to domestic violence. Child advocates work directly with children. They use counseling and support groups to help children understand their experience and plan for future safety. Child advocates can also help abused parents understand the impact that the abuse may have had on their children. This helps the abused parent to consider the needs of their children into a family safety plan.
Many local programs across the state offer education programs to schools, universities, civic organizations, and others. By learning about the impact of domestic violence on children, the community can respond to children's needs more effectively.
PCADV Works to Increase Options for Children Exposed to Domestic Violence
- PCADV's member programs work in every county to provide domestic violence victims and families with emergency shelter, housing options and other services toward safety, financial stability and independence.
- PCADV legal department attorneys provide technical assistance to advocates and attorneys helping domestic violence victims and their children dealing with domestic violence-related legal issues.
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If you fear for your immediate safety, call 9-1-1 or your local police.
Contact the domestic violence program in your area for free and confidential help.
Other victim programs are available to help you and your family.
Any attorney helping a domestic violence victim may contact the PCADV legal department at 888-235-3425 for information on law and legal procedures. (This is not a helpline for victims.)
The information provided on this website is intended for informational purposes only. The information provided under this topic is not legal advice, does not create an attorney-client relationship, and is not a substitute for contacting an experienced attorney. Read our full legal disclaimer.
- Effects of Domestic Violence on Mothers and Children describes the child's experience of not knowing what to expect from an abusive parent, from the Joyful Heart Foundation.
- Center for Children and Families in the Justice System provides resources and information for both parents and professionals working with children exposed to domestic violence in the home.
- National Center for Children Exposed to Violence provides resources, information, and statistics about children exposed to domestic violence.
- Articles related to child exposure to domestic violence on VAWnet, the National Online Resource Center for Violence Against Women.
- Special Collection: Working with Children Towards a Healthy and Non-Violent Future VAWnet: The National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women.
- Information Packet: Children Exposed to Intimate Partner Violence, developed by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, 2002.
- Applied Research Paper: Emerging Responses to Children Exposed to Domestic Violence, by Jeffery Edleson, in consultation with Barbara Nissley, VAWnet: The National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women, 2006.