How are children affected by domestic abuse and what support is available for them?

How are children affected by domestic abuse?

More than two million adults experience domestic abuse every year in England and Wales. However, we know that children experience and are affected by domestic abuse too.

In 2020, after years of campaigning by Hestia and other charities, the Domestic Abuse Bill was changed to recognise that children are victims of domestic abuse in their own right. Children don’t shut their ears and eyes when their parent, guardian or parent’s partner is being abused. They see, hear and experience it themselves.

“I remember my son Shiya, who is three, being in my arms as his father hit me. He’s so young that I didn’t think he would be impacted by what he saw. I was wrong.” – Ruba*

When children are exposed to domestic abuse, it has a detrimental impact. A recent survey of mothers in Hestia refuges found that three quarters of children experienced a negative emotional change after hearing or witnessing the abuse their mother faced. Four in ten experienced a negative change in their behaviour.

Emotionally, children may become anxious or upset, and may even experience symptoms of depression or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They may become clingier and find it difficult to be separated from their parent or become more withdrawn or shy.

“My children were both increasingly worried about me and it was clear the whole experience was impacting them. After a number of months at the refuge, Hannah told me she was self-harming and that she hated herself. I was beside myself with worry.” – Louise*

Some children may also exhibit more aggression, playing up and getting into trouble in school. Our survey found that nearly a third of children experienced a negative impact on their education after being exposed to domestic abuse. Other children may become more violent, picking up on what they have seen at home.

“My son’s behaviour became challenging. He would pick fights at school and was rude to teachers. He was removed from class and distanced himself from his friends. Eventually, his behaviour became so bad that he was expelled.” – Michelle*

A change in habits may also indicate that a child is affected by what they have seen. Their sleeping habits may change, such as having trouble sleeping, increased nightmares or bed-wetting.

What support is available for children who have experienced domestic abuse?

What support is available for children who have experienced domestic abuse?

Not all children will be affected in the long-term by their experiences, however it is crucial that support is available for those who do require it.

At Hestia’s refuges, we have designated Children and Family Workers who provide emotional and practical support for children who have experienced domestic abuse. This includes therapeutic interventions for children and their mothers, such as play therapy, as well as facilitating group activities and day trips, where children can strengthen their relationships with their mothers and build new ones with other children. This enables them to build trust and be surrounded by healthy relationships.

Many other refuges and domestic abuse support services will have similar support in place.

“My son has been able to interact with the other children and play with all the toys. He’s improved since we got to the refuge. He’s started crawling while we’ve been here too, and he tries to stand up now.” – Nadine*

Professionals working with children, such as GPs and teachers, should also be made aware that a child has been exposed to domestic abuse, so that they can tailor the support they provide and be aware of any additional support needs. Many schools have counsellors in place who can offer support if needed.

Now that the Domestic Abuse Bill formally recognises children as victims of domestic abuse in their own right, the next step is to ensure that all children affected can access the right specialist support needed to recover.

How can I support children who have experienced domestic abuse?

Through winter, mothers and their children will arrive in our refuges after fleeing domestic abuse. We want to give them the best start possible, by providing them with essential items to keep them warm and well. You can help this happen.

Donate to support our Cost of Living Winter Appeal, supporting women and children arriving at our domestic abuse refuges through winter to settle in and begin their recovery journeys.

Donate now