The current definition of domestic abuse applies to those aged 16 or over. The prevailing view of children and young people is that they are 'witnesses’ or 'bystanders’ to domestic abuse. Help from elsewhere - where it exists - is directed through the victim.

Domestic abuse is well documented as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) that can have catastrophic effects on the emotional, behavioural, social and educational development of children and young people. The impact of such experiences are felt throughout the life course, with evidence of generational patterns of harm and poor outcomes.

There are many barriers for any victim of domestic abuse but none more so than children.  Children have no legal rights and no financial backing.  

Early intervention

It is widely recognised that the sooner the intervention, the greater the impact. 

Early intervention can help to stop abused children growing up to be victims of abuse or abusers themselves. Children need a positive model and understand what a healthy relationship is and what is not healthy.  

Haven sees children in their own right and that's our starting point for needs-led, trauma informed support.

Children living with domestic abuse often experience a state of confusion and fear, having to deal with heavy burdens much beyond their years. Research shows that only 17% of parent/carers talk to children about the abuse, leaving many of them blaming themselves and without a positive model for relationships.     

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone and affects more than the victim. It is well documented how domestic abuse affects women, but there is little known about the impact of domestic abuse on children and young people and their wider family.  

Our experience tells us that each situation is different. Sometimes the abused person has left the relationship and others are still living in an abusive relationships.  

Research tells us that children who witness domestic abuse are more likely to be affected by abuse as adults either as victims or perpetrators.

A child’s basic needs are to be loved and cared for and that the home is a safe place that is free from abuse.

The effects of domestic abuse on children

Domestic abuse can have a profound impact on young lives with serious long term consequences. The consequences can be life changing and evidence shows that without support, these children are more likely to:

  • have problems at school including poor behaviour, absenteeism and fatigue.
  • have an inability to develop functional relationships and appropriate social and cognitive skills.
  • have emotional and behavioural problems.
  • be aggressive and demonstrate abusive behaviours.
  • risk having attachment issues and other familial problems.
  • bully or be bullied.

In the longer term, they are more likely to:

  • have damaged self-confidence and low self-esteem.
  • underachieve at school and underachieve in employment.
  • suffer mental health problems (up to 80% according to some research).
  • be in an abusive relationship.
  • misuse drugs and alcohol.
  • commit crime and be involved in the justice system. 

Alongside the children that witness or hear the abuse are the parents, grandparents, carers and friends. Many are speaking out to share their stories of helplessness and feelings of anxiety and powerlessness. 

Our feedback tells us that those who are supporting children and young people to recover from domestic abuse take on a heavy emotional, financial and time-consuming task with little support. Their lives often see heavy disruption with the unexpected arrival of family members in need of very specific care.

They tell us that there is a lack of information and services to help them to understand how to support the children and young people who have been affected by the abuse. In some cases, grandparents may become the sole carer for children who have been removed from their primary carers. We are told that the carers often blame themselves, feel powerless and are generally isolated, many feel they are "the only people going through this nightmare".  

Support to understand how to deal with the behaviour and help the children and young people to take care of themselves isn’t readily available. All too regularly it isn't until a crisis that help is sought and then the consequences can be extreme.

“Every single minute matters, every single child matters, every single childhood matters.”  Kailash Satyarthi