Children's exposure to domestic and family violence

Children's exposure to domestic and family violence

Key issues and responses

Monica Campo

CFCA Paper No. 36 — December 2015
Children's exposure to domestic and family violence

Children's exposure to domestic and family violence has become a prominent policy issue comparatively recently. In the past two decades, empirical evidence about the extent to which children are exposed to domestic and family violence and the negative effect this has on their development, has created an impetus for policy responses to this issue. Such responses are also reflected in the recognition that exposure to family violence is a form of child abuse in some state and territory child protection frameworks, the Australian Government's National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-2020 (COAG, 2009b), and the federal Family Law Act 1975 (Cth).

This paper examines the literature assessing children's exposure to domestic and family violence, and findings that domestic and family violence can affect children's behaviour, schooling, cognitive development, mental and physical wellbeing, and is the leading cause of homelessness for children. Children who grow up in families where domestic and family violence occur are also more likely to experience other forms of child abuse, such as sexual, physical and emotional abuse/maltreatment. The effects of such multi-victimisation require attention in policy, practice and research.

There is relatively little research that examines the best responses to children exposed to domestic and family violence; however, therapeutic responses that work with both mother and child are thought to be beneficial. Responding to children exposed to domestic and family violence should occur alongside primary prevention. Primary prevention should be universally delivered, should help children to become critical of gender norms and violence-supportive attitudes, and equip them with the skills to form healthy and respectful relationships in adulthood.

If you are experiencing family or domestic violence or sexual assault, or know someone who is, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit the 1800RESPECT website

Key messages

Significant numbers of Australian children are exposed to domestic and family violence.

Domestic and family violence affects children’s physical and mental wellbeing, development and schooling, and is the leading cause of children’s homelessness in Australia.

Domestic and family violence often co-occurs with child abuse including child sexual abuse. This co-occurrence needs particular attention in policy and practice.

Policy responses to children exposed to domestic and family violence are complicated by the intersecting policy jurisdictions of child protection, family law and domestic violence sectors.

Exposure to domestic and family violence alone does not seem to be a factor in future perpetration. Recent multi-country studies suggest that gender roles, stereotypes and violence-supportive attitudes are important for understanding the correlation.

Therapeutic responses to children exposed to domestic and family violence should include working with mothers (or the non-offending parent) and children to strengthen attachment and should be trauma-informed.

Primary prevention of domestic and family violence with children and young people is crucial and there is a promising evidence base for the effectiveness of school-based programs.

Prevention strategies with children should be universally delivered and work to help children be critical of gender norms and violence-supportive attitudes, and equip them with the skills to form healthy and respectful relationships in adulthood.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Monica Campo is a Senior Research Officer with the Child Family Community Australia information exchange at the Australian Institute of Family Studies.


This paper has been adapted from the literature review for the research report Children Affected by Domestic and Family Violence, commissioned and funded by the New South Wales Department of Community Services, with thanks to the co-authors of that report, Rae Kaspiew, Sarah Tayton and Sharnee Moore. Thank you also to Cathy Humphreys and Cathryn Hunter for their reviewing and helpful feedback.

Cover image: © istock/ambrozinio

Publication details

CFCA Paper
No. 36
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, December 2015.
24 pp.
ISSN: 
2200-4106
ISBN: 
978-1-76016-059-3
Suggested citation:

Campo, M. (2015). Children's exposure to domestic and family violence: Key issues and responses (CFCA Paper No. 36). Melbourne: Child Family Community Australia information exchange, Australian Institute of Family Studies.

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