What impact might it have on my children?

  • Many children are affected by domestic violence and abuse, even if they don’t see the abuse take place
  • Protecting children from the effects of an abusive relationship are always a priority for the police, the local authority and the courts.

Children learn from their environments and their parents. Because of their experiences, they can grow up thinking that a certain situation (e.g. domestic abuse) is normal.

Normalising such behaviour for children is dangerous, as they may take their experiences with them through to adult life.

Young people experiencing domestic violence and abuse (either directly or indirectly) can become withdrawn, violent, and lose confidence in themselves. The experiences can also have a significant emotional impact on them. The Royal College of Psychiatrists states that children or young people might:

  • become anxious or depressed
  • have difficulty sleeping
  • have nightmares or flashbacks
  • be easily startled
  • complain of physical symptoms such as tummy aches
  • start to wet their bed
  • have temper tantrums
  • behave as though they are much younger than they are
  • have problems with school
  • become aggressive or they may internalise their distress and withdraw from other people
  • have a lowered sense of self-worth
  • begin to play truant or start to use alcohol or drugs
  • begin to self-harm by taking overdoses or cutting themselves
  • develop an eating disorder

Children may also feel angry, guilty, insecure, alone, frightened, powerless or confused.

In what ways can children witness domestic violence and abuse?

Children can ‘witness’ domestic violence in a many different ways. They may be:

  • Caught in the middle of an incident as they want to try and stop it
  • In the room next door and hear the abuse or see any resulting injuries
  • Needed to help the victim tend to any injuries
  • Forced to stay in one room or may not be allowed to play
  • Forced to witness sexual abuse
  • Forced to take part in verbally abusing the victim

Remember – children are at risk of harm if they are attempting to protect one of their parents from the other.

The risks of harm to children exposed to domestic violence and abuse have now been recognised. An amendment to the definition of harm in the Children Act 1989 now includes ‘impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another’ (Adoption and Children Act, 2002).

This reflects that young people living with domestic violence and abuse are over-represented among those referred to statutory children and families teams with concerns about child abuse and neglect. It also represents the fact that they can account for around two thirds of cases seen at child protection conferences.

What help is available for my children?

There are a number of different forms of help available for your children, ranging from direct support to counselling services. Coventry Haven Women's Aid run the Wish Project designed to support children and young people who have been victims of domestic abuse.

Children are vulnerable and as such, a priority for all of us. As long as parents have the interests and safety of their children as a priority – Social Services and other agencies can offer support in many ways.

They help children deal with the issues raised by living within an abusive household. If the police have become involved they will work with Social Services when there is a significant concern that a child may be affected by domestic violence and abuse.

Will my children be taken away from me?

In general any involvement by Social Services or West Midlands Police is based on the best interests of the children involved, and as long as parents put the interests and safety of their children as a priority, then the professional group will help you to reduce any risk and support you all through this difficult period.