Children and Domestic Violence: Public policy, parents and community involvement

From Safe Start Center Director Elena Cohen

Research has clearly demonstrated that children who are exposed to domestic violence exhibit significantly more behavioral and emotional problems than children who have not been exposed.  Importantly, children who are exposed to violence are more likely to use violence in solving problems as adolescents and adults.

Children’s reactions to exposure to violence can be immediate or appear much later. Reactions differ in severity and cover a range of behaviors. One common response is a loss of trust, while another is a fear of the event reoccurring. But not all children exposed to violence react in the same way. Some children exposed to domestic violence show no greater problems than children not so exposed.  Even siblings in the same household may be exposed to differing degrees of violence depending on how much time they spend at home. Protective adults – including the child’s mother, relatives, neighbors and teachers, older siblings, and friends – may all play protective roles in a child’s life. The child’s larger social environment may also play a protective role if extended family members or members of church, sports or social clubs with which the child is affiliated act to support or aid the child during stressful periods.

Research has shown it is likely that a child who is exposed to domestic violence will also suffer other types of traumatic experiences. For example, the Adverse Childhood Experiences found that men exposed to physical abuse, sexual abuse, and adult domestic violence as children were 3.8 times more likely than other men to have perpetrated domestic violence as adults.

Public Policy Responses  

Laws relating to childhood exposure to domestic violence have changed considerably in the last decade. These laws focus most often on criminal prosecution of violent assaults. There are several examples of recent legislative changes in criminal statutes in a number of states that directly respond to concerns about the presence of children during domestic violence assaults.  Some laws have been changed to permit misdemeanor level domestic assaults to be raised to a felony level charge.  In addition, many states now include the presence of domestic violence as a criterion that judges may use to determine custody and visitation arrangements when disputed.

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#CEVchat: Children and DV recap

Exposure to DV puts kids at risk for becoming poly-victims, more so than many other forms of violence.

— Sherry Hamby, psychologist and NatSCEV researcher

In observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Safe Start Center teamed up with VAWnet to host a Twitter chat on children’s exposure to domestic violence.

Special guest Sherry Hamby discussed the issue related to findings from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV).

Hamby explained that NatSCEV found more than one in four children were exposed to domestic violence during their lifetime and that the definition of parents has been expanded to include others in a household that may participate in the violence.

“Boyfriends of mothers, for example, were 1 of 9 perpetrators and are missed in most studies of children’s exposure to dv,” Hamby tweeted.

Other than Hamby’s insight, participants from across the country were able to connect, ask questions and share resources. From polyvictimization to building resilience, the chat covered multiple aspects of children’s exposure to domestic violence.

Missed the chat? Catch up on the discussion on Storify.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month is almost over, but work to protect children exposed to this type of violence isn’t. Below, find helpful resources for anyone who works with children and families touched by domestic violence.

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#CEVchat: CEV in the Home

You’re Invited!

Please join us Oct. 24 at 2 p.m. ET as we take to Twitter to discuss domestic violence’s impact on children. In observance of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we’re joining forces with VAWnet to discuss the prevalence and implications of children’s exposure to domestic violence and what parents, practitioners and family advocates can do to help.

A 2006 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that 15.5 million children in the U.S. lived in families in which violence between partners occurred at least once in the previous year.  The study also found seven million children lived in families in which severe partner violence occurred.

To increase awareness, the Safe Start Center recently released a toolkit focused on children’s exposure to domestic violence.  The toolkit includes an easy to understand infographic, issue brief and tip sheets on CEV and how adults can help.

VAWnet, a project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence, is an online library supporting evidence-based, culturally-specific prevention and response to domestic and sexual violence. VAWnet’s collection of materials on Children Exposed to Domestic Violence review key research findings and offer promising practices.

We hope you’ll join us using #CEVchat to follow and participate in the conversation. Questions about how our Twitter chats work? Find instructions here or click on the Twitter Chats tab at the top of this page.

Register here:

Feedback? Questions?  Feel free to contact us at

The impact of domestic violence on children’s health

As we continue the conversation this month we wanted to raise awareness about domestic violence as a health care issue contributing to a number of short and long-term mental and physical health problems. Futures Without Violence points out some of the health issues that exposure to domestic violence contributes to, including depression, sexually transmitted infections, substance abuse, diabetes and even heart disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the monetary cost of domestic violence is also high, costing several billion dollars each year in the provision of direct medical and mental health care services.

For children exposed to domestic violence, one of the biggest risks is the threat of physical injury. In a domestic violence situation children are more likely to be abused by the adults in the home. In these situations children are also at higher risk for developing physical illnesses such as migraines, asthma and gastrointestinal problems. These health risks also don’t typically end during adolescence. In their adult years these same children are also much more prone to develop cancer and obesity, as well as the health problems mentioned above.

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Domestic Violence Awareness Month

When one adult physically or emotionally abuses another in a household that contains children, the adult victim isn’t the only one who suffers.

In the room where the abuse is happening, or even down the hallway, a child who sees or hears the abuse is also at risk.

The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence found:

  • One in four children (26 percent) were exposed to at least one form of family violence during their lifetimes.
  • Sixty-eight percent of these youth who witnessed family violence, witnessed acts committed only by males, although assaults by mothers and other caregivers were also common.

And according to a Futures Without Violence fact sheet:

  • 15.5 million U.S. children live in families in which partner violence occurred at least once in the past year, and seven million children live in families in which severe partner violence occurred.
  • In a single day in 2007, 13,485 children were living in a domestic violence shelter or transitional housing facility. Another 5,526 sought services at a non-residential program.
  • The UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence Against Children conservatively estimates that 275 million children worldwide are exposed to violence in the home.

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In Search Of: Domestic Violence Awareness Month bloggers!

We’re gearing up for Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October and we’re once again looking for some new voices for our blog – your voices.

We’re looking for anyone with a story to tell, about domestic violence and children, to write a brief blog post. Parents, have you experienced domestic violence, and if so, how did it affect your children? What did you do about it? Practitioners, what have you experienced in relation to domestic violence and children or what tips do you have for others? Do you have a program for children who have been exposed to domestic violence? Tell us about it!

Please send your blog post – with your full name, contact information and a picture of yourself, if you have one – to We will run guest posts through the entire month of October.

Before you get started, take a cruise around the blog or visit to see what we’re all about.

We look forward to reading your posts!

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