Children's exposure to domestic and family violence

Key issues and responses
CFCA Paper No. 36 – December 2015

Effects of children's exposure to domestic and family violence

Homelessness

Domestic and family violence is the leading cause of homelessness for children in Australia (Bland & Shallcross, 2015; Spinney, 2013). A significant proportion of women and children (33%) presenting to Supported Accommodation Assistance Program services (SAAP) in Australia are escaping domestic and family violence (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW], 2014). According to the latest data from the AIHW, the number of children using SAAP services as a result of domestic and family violence has increased by 14% since 2012.

It is widely recognised in the literature that homelessness has wide-ranging effects on children's long-term physical and mental health and wellbeing (Bland & Shallcross, 2015). Homelessness also disrupts children's schooling, friendships and links to community and cultural activities (Spinney, 2013; Tually, Faulkner, Cutler, & Slatter, 2008). Spinney (2013) argued that women and children made homeless by domestic and family violence experience a "double-whammy" of disadvantage as domestic and family violence "disrupts and violates the sense of safety and belonging" within their homes while the violence is occurring, but making the decision to leave the family home usually results in losing it permanently (p. 399). This loss of the family home itself can have traumatic effects on children.

Learning, behaviour and wellbeing

A range of longitudinal, meta-analytic and population-based studies have found that exposure to domestic and family violence can affect a child's mental wellbeing and contribute to poorer educational outcomes and a range of behavioural issues. These may include:

  • impaired cognitive functioning;
  • behavioural problems;
  • poorer academic outcomes;
  • externalising and internalising behaviours;2
  • learning difficulties;
  • depression and poor mental wellbeing;
  • low self-esteem;
  • low school attendance; and
  • bullying (both as victim and perpetrator).

A meta-analysis of 118 empirical studies published between 1978 and 2000 (Kitzmann, Gaylord, Holt, & Kenny, 2003) found that 67% of children exposed to domestic and family violence were at risk of a range of developmental and adjustment problems and fared worse than other children, in terms of academic success, cognitive ability, mental health and wellbeing. Similarly, Wolfe, Crooks, Lee, McIntyre-Smith, and Jaffe's (2003) meta-analysis of 41 empirical studies concluded that children's exposure to domestic and family violence was associated with a range of cognitive and behavioural problems and poorer academic outcomes.

The previously mentioned AIFS Survey of Recently Separated Parents (De Maio et al., 2013) examined the relationship between child wellbeing and family violence among a sample of 6,119 recently separated parents. Parents in the study reported that 1,011 children had witnessed violence before or during separation, 402 had witnessed violence since separation, and 1,389 had witnessed violence before, during and since separation. Assessments of child wellbeing were based on parents' assessments of children's physical health, satisfaction with overall child wellbeing, behavioural problems and social and learning difficulties. The study found:

  • There were higher levels of reported behavioural problems in children aged between 1 and 3 years who had witnessed physical violence compared to children who had never witnessed violence.
  • There were higher levels of reported behavioural problems in children who had been exposed to emotional violence.
  • Children aged 5 to 17 years who had experienced violence over an extended period (before/during and since separation) were faring worse in terms of schoolwork, peer relationships and overall wellbeing than children who had never witnessed violence.

Similarly, another Australian study tracking 1,507 first-time pregnant mothers (Gartland et al., 2014) found that 29% of mothers reported experiencing violence from a male partner within the first four years post-partum. Children of mothers who reported violence were more likely to have emotional or behavioural difficulties at age 4 (as reported by mothers in the study). Ongoing exposure to violence (at both study points: 1 year and 4 years) was associated with the highest likelihood of behavioural difficulties, even after accounting for socio-economic factors, maternal depressive symptoms, child's gender and child health issues. However, children exposed to domestic and family violence at 1 year, but not at 4 years, had fewer reported behavioural difficulties.

In the USA, Lundy and Grossman (2005) analysed data from 40,436 children relating to children's behaviour, physical and mental health, and schooling, collected from a state-wide domestic violence service over a period of seven years. Over half the children were reported as having significant behavioural problems, and just over one-fifth had difficulties at school, including poor class behaviour, learning difficulties, low school attendance and poor academic performance. Further, Schnurr and Lohman (2013) undertook a longitudinal analysis of data from a sample of 2,000 children from a large child welfare study in three US cities. Children were recruited to the study as toddlers, and then interviewed and assessed according to a variety of psychological and developmental measures four years later, when aged between 8 and 10 years. Schnurr and Lohman found a correlation between early exposure to domestic and family violence and behavioural and academic problems and low engagement with school during middle childhood; however, there was little effect on cognitive ability or physical health. In qualitative studies assessing children's experiences, children and young adults describe experiencing significant effects on their schooling as a result of living with domestic and family violence, including poor academic performance, bullying and high absenteeism (Tuyen & Larsen, 2012; Yates, 2013).

Physical health

The effects on children's physical health have also been documented in a US longitudinal study of 631 children (Rivara et al., 2007). Rivara and colleagues studied the health care use of children whose mothers had experienced domestic and family violence, compared to those whose mothers who had not. Their study found that children whose mothers had experienced domestic and family violence were significantly more likely to use a range of health services - including mental health services, primary care, speciality health services and pharmaceutical services - and were more likely to be admitted to an emergency department.

Trauma

A great deal of research on children exposed to domestic and family violence over the last 20 years has focused on the effects of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The general concept of trauma, although not an officially recognised diagnostic term, is often used to describe a broad range of disorders, symptoms and social problems that are not captured by the more limited PTSD category (Price-Robertson, Rush, Wall, & Higgins, 2013; Wall & Quadara, 2014). Trauma is associated with sustained or cumulative exposure to abusive interpersonal relationships in childhood (but this is not an exclusive context). A range of psychological and behavioral symptoms may be evident in those suffering trauma, including an inability to manage internal states/emotions, alterations in attention or consciousness and alterations in self-perception (Bateman, Henderson, & Kezelman, 2013; Margolin & Vickerman, 2011; Wall & Quadara, 2014).

Children exposed to domestic and family violence over a sustained period of time may experience trauma symptoms, including PTSD, resulting in psychosocial and sometimes physical responses that, if left untreated, can have longlasting effects on children's development, behaviour and wellbeing (Jaffe, Wolfe, & Campbell, 2012). These include:

  • depression;
  • low self-esteem;
  • anxiety;
  • poor coping mechanisms;
  • suicidal thoughts;
  • eating disorders;
  • self-harm;
  • substance abuse; and
  • physical symptoms such as chronic pain (Jaffe et al., 2012; Knight, 2015).

Furthermore, sustained and chronic exposure to domestic and family violence can result in trauma that may distort survivors' sense of identity and concept of others, leading to mistrust, social isolation and inability to relate to others (Knight, 2015; Price-Robertson et al., 2013). Trauma arising from continued exposure to harm differs from single-incident trauma because it is cumulative and repetitive, but as Bateman et al. (2013) pointed out, this doesn't mean that one form of trauma is more "worthy" than another.

Margolin and Vickerman (2011) examined the literature about trauma, children and domestic and family violence, with a particular focus on PTSD. They found that PTSD has particular qualities when it occurs in relation to childhood experiences of domestic and family violence, and that the cumulative effects of long-term exposure might result in complex disturbances, such as an inability to regulate emotion, and cognitive and behavioural developmental delays.

Multi-victimisation

Trauma seems to be particularly pertinent for children who have experienced multiple forms of maltreatment (Price-Robertson et al., 2013). The co-occurrence of domestic and family violence with other forms of child maltreatment, including physical, emotional and sexual abuse, is well established in international research (Bromfield, et al., 2010; Finkelhor, Ormrod, & Turner, 2007; Gewirtz & Edleson, 2007; Goddard & Bedi, 2010; Herrenkohl, Sousa, Tajima, Herrenkohl, & Moylan, 2008; Higgins, 2004; Holt et al., 2008; Price-Robertson et al., 2013). There is growing recognition that outcomes of experiencing different types of maltreatment are thus hard to differentiate (Price-Robertson et al., 2013). Long-term exposure to multiple forms of child maltreatment is thought to result in what has been described as "cumulative harm", which has similar effects to trauma, but with more specific outcomes for children's development and behaviour (Price-Robertson et al., 2013). These include aggression towards self and others, self-hatred, lack of awareness of danger, and disturbed attachment behaviours (Price-Robertson et al., 2013).

Herrenkohl et al.'s (2008) widely cited systematic review examined the intersection of child abuse and domestic and family violence. The review of over 500 studies found a considerable overlap between domestic and family violence and other forms of child maltreatment. Herrenkohl and colleagues concluded that child abuse compounds the effects of domestic and family violence and increases the likelihood of psychosocial problems in youth and adulthood. Finkelhor et al. (2007) undertook a study of poly-victimisation among a nationally representative sample of American children (2,030 children aged 2-17 years). They concluded that the majority of children experience more than one type of victimisation. Therefore, previous research that has focused exclusively on one type of victimisation (e.g., sexual abuse, exposure to domestic and family violence, neglect) may have "overestimated the unique association between theses single forms and various negative outcomes" (p. 20). Finkelhor and colleagues also found that the cumulative effects of multiple types of victimisation are linked to trauma: poly-victimisation was more predictive of trauma than any other single type of victimisation. As such, not all forms of victimisation should be viewed "as equivalent in their traumatic potential" (p. 21).

Likewise, Higgins (2004) suggested that the distinction between the effects of different types of child maltreatment is unclear, as children have often experienced more than one type of maltreatment. Higgins therefore suggested that child maltreatment types, including exposure to domestic and family violence, "should not be considered in isolation due the large degree of overlap between each form of abuse and neglect" (p. 54). Higgins (2004) and Finkelhor et al. (2007) argued that there is a need for research, practice and policy to address the varying degrees to which individuals have experienced different types of maltreatment. Finkelhor et al. further argued that research needs to focus on trying to identify why some children are multi-victimised, and resilience and vulnerability factors.

Parenting and domestic and family violence

Of particular focus in the literature, are the effects of trauma and/or cumulative harm on mother-child attachment relationships and the consequences this has for children's development and future intimate relationships. The relational model of trauma (Lannert et al., 2014) theorises that children develop insecure attachments to primary caregivers when the ability of these caregivers to emotionally shield the child from the experience of trauma is compromised because of domestic and family violence (Gewirtz & Edleson, 2007; Lannert et al., 2014; Margolin & Vickerman, 2011). Since secure attachment relationships support healthy child development and are considered to be the foundation of healthy adult functioning, the long-term effects of insecure attachment relationships are viewed with considerable concern. Margolin and Vickerman suggested that children's capacity to cope with trauma is compromised by the non-offending parent's inability to act as a buffer to the trauma in the context of their own stress, trauma and depression. Holt et al.'s (2008) review of the literature found that domestic and family violence affects parental capacity, which, in turn, negatively affects children's psychopathological outcomes. Holt et al. cited several studies indicating that maternal stress, depression and trauma may result in emotionally indifferent and unavailable parenting.

Howell's (2011) review of the literature had a particular focus on children of pre-school age. She suggested that exposure to domestic and family violence for children in this age group raises some particular concerns because of their developmental stage and the fact that they may spend a greater proportion of time with their parents compared to school-age children, and are thus not able to benefit from the potential buffering effects of exposure to a school environment. Her analysis showed that trauma symptoms are evident in pre-school-age children exposed to domestic and family violence and can result in both physical and psychological symptoms. Howell argued that where infants and children cannot rely on parents or caregivers to protect them from or buffer traumatic events, children may instead rely on self-protective behaviours such as withdrawal, anger and aggression, and may have difficulty with developmental tasks due to poor emotion regulation or have difficulty recognising emotions in others.

Several authors, however, have cautioned against holding non-offending parents - most often mothers - responsible for children's exposure to domestic and family violence (Bedi & Goddard, 2007; Buchanan, Power, & Verity, 2014; Holt et al., 2008; Humphreys, Thiara, Sharp & Jones, 2015). They point to several studies suggesting that mothering in the context of domestic and family violence does not necessarily result in poor attachment relationships, and that non-offending parents sometimes go to great lengths to protect children. For example, a UK qualitative study of 54 children and 24 mothers who had experienced domestic and family violence (Mullender, 2002; Mullender et al., 2002) indicated that while mothers' relationships with their children were "deeply affected" (Mullender, 2002, p. 158), over half the mothers in the study felt they had made significant efforts and used various strategies to shelter their children from the violence that was occurring in the home. Similarly, Buchanan et al. (2014) undertook interviews and focus groups with 16 women who had given birth to a baby in the context of domestic and family violence. Their study concluded that "maternal protectiveness" was paramount to the women in the study, but the "sustained hostility" of living with domestic and family violence constrained the "availability of space to form a relationship with their babies" (p. 722). Despite this, most women did manage to create the time and space away from the violence that allowed them the opportunity to have time to bond with their babies.

While many studies assess the mother-child relationship in the context of domestic and family violence, there is a lack of attention in research given to the father-child relationship (Guille, 2004; Humphreys et al., 2015). The limited number of studies in this area suggests that violent fathers often fail to see the effects of their behaviour on their children (Holt, 2015; Rothman, Mandel, & Silverman, 2008). Humphreys et al. argued that domestic violence can be conceptualised as an attack on the mother-child relationship. Perpetrators often directly and indirectly undermine the relationship between mothers and their children as a tactic of control and abuse (Morris et al., 2015; Mullender, 2002; Thiara & Humphreys, 2015). For example in Mullender's (2002) study, described above, despite mothers' efforts, many felt they could not fully protect their children from emotional or physical harm, as offenders sometimes deliberately used children to hurt and control mothers. Coercion, control, abuse and undermining of the mother-child relationship often continues, or worsens, following separation from the perpetrator (Bagshaw et al., 2010; Katz, 2014; Morris et al., 2015; Radford & Hester, 2015)

A focus on fathers' influence on the psychosocial and behavioural outcomes of children exposed to domestic and family violence is scant. However, a study by Febres and colleagues (2014) studied the association between domestic and family violence, father characteristics, and child psychosocial functioning in a sample of 145 US men arrested for domestic and family violence. The study found a correlation between antisocial personality traits in fathers, domestic and family violence, and children's overall psychosocial impairment. The authors suggested that children may learn the hostile behaviours and poor emotion regulation modelled by their fathers. Further, the authors postulated that hostile fathers create an overstimulating environment, making it difficult for children to concentrate, or causing them to use attention-seeking behaviours. Another earlier study (Sullivan, Nguyen, Allen, Bybee, & Juras, 2000) also suggested that children's behaviour and development was affected directly by witnessing the father's violence, rather than from any lack of maternal buffering. Ferbers et al. thus recommended that interventions for perpetrators should help men understand how their behaviour directly affects their children.

Intergenerational transmission of violence

Longitudinal, meta-analytic and population-based studies have consistently linked childhood exposure to domestic and family violence with future perpetration. There is, however, some debate on the question of whether exposure to domestic and family violence alone is a factor in future perpetration of violence. Not all children who experience abuse or family violence go on to become perpetrators or victims and, likewise, not all perpetrators have a history of childhood violence or abuse (Casey, Beadnell, & Lindhorst, 2009). Participants in studies where a correlation is established tend to have experienced childhoods characterised by several risk factors (such as socio-economic disadvantage, parental mental ill health, parental substance abuse and child abuse) (Fergusson, Boden, & Horwood, 2006; Fulu et al., 2013; Higgins, 2004; Temple et al., 2013). Moreover, gender roles and stereotypes and violence-supportive attitudes are important for understanding the correlation (Fulu et al., 2013).

Fergusson et al.'s (2006) longitudinal analysis of a cohort of 10,000 young adults in New Zealand found that the association between adult perpetration of violence and child exposure to domestic and family violence was weak. They suggested that the correlation could be explained by the "confounding psychosocial context" in which the domestic and family violence took place (p. 103). Their study found that domestic and family violence was more common among participants whose childhoods were characterised by a number of adversities, such as parental mental ill health, unemployment, poverty, family dysfunction, sexual abuse and impaired parental bonding. In a smaller sample involving 36 male perpetrators, Bevan and Higgins (2002) found a unique correlation between childhood exposure to domestic and family violence and the psychological abuse of spouses. However, closer analysis of inter-correlations of variables suggest that "rather than physical abuse or witnessing family violence … other forms of child maltreatment … are important risk factors for the perpetration of domestic violence in adulthood" (Bevan & Higgins, 2002, p. 239). Bevan and Higgins found that neglect in particular had a strong association with future physical perpetration of domestic and family violence.

Within a psychosocial framework, it is thought that different forms of maltreatment and abuse result in complex trauma or cumulative harm, as described above, which is thought to have long-term effects on a child's development and psychosocial outcomes, including the ability to form attachments and healthy, respectful relationships in adulthood (Price-Robertson et al., 2013). Re-victimisation through violence and abuse may also be a common outcome of sufferers of trauma, particularly for children who have suffered multiple forms of abuse (Price-Robertson et al., 2013).

However, recent large multi-country population-based studies examining men and violence have found that gender inequality, rigid gender roles, and in particular harmful modes of masculinity, are important for understanding the correlation between childhood exposure and future perpetration (Barker et al., 2011; Fulu et al., 2013; Hagemann-White, Kavemann, Kindler, Meysen, & Puchert, 2010). For example, the United Nation Multi-Country Study of Men and Violence (Fulu et al., 2013) analysed population-wide questionnaires from several countries across the Asia-Pacific region to discover why some men use violence. This study found that:

at least one form of childhood abuse was associated with intimate partner violence perpetration in all countries, with childhood abuse or neglect, sexual abuse, or witnessing the abuse of one's mother the most common. (p. 77)

However, Fulu et al. (2013) stressed that overall, the study showed that intimate partner violence (including sexual violence) was largely driven by structural inequalities, gendered power imbalances and harmful gender norms, such as forms of masculinity associated with power, control, domination, aggression and sexual entitlement. As such, the link between childhood experiences of violence/abuse and perpetration of violence against women, should be understood within the historical and societal contexts that also contribute to violence against women (p. 6).

Social learning theory (Bandura, 1977) offers a framework for understanding how gender norms are related to the intergenerational transmission of violence. According to social learning theory, violent behaviour is learned in childhood through behavioural modelling and observations of parents and peer relationships (Bell & Naugle, 2008; Cochran et al., 2011; Ellis, Stanley, & Bell, 2006; Flood & Pease, 2009; Shorey, Cornelius & Bell, 2008). Children who grow up with domestic and family violence may internalise family norms that may serve to "neutralise the stigma of intimate partner violence, to accept it as normal, and perhaps even approve it under certain circumstances" (Cochran et al., 2011, p. 794). According to Jaffe et al. (2012), gender role modelling is an important aspect of this theory, as it is thought that children model behaviour on the parent with whom they identify; boys may learn from their father that violence is an acceptable and appropriate method for dealing with conflict, and girls may learn from their mothers to internalise victimisation. There is some evidence to suggest that exposure to violence in childhood has a greater effect on boys, who are more likely to condone and perpetrate violence in adulthood (Markowitz, as cited in Flood & Pease, 2009, p. 131). Within this framework, responses to children exposed to violence should focus on facilitating children to develop skills and knowledge that foster healthy, respectful relationships and enable the learning of non-violent methods of dealing with conflict (Ellis et al., 2006).

Children's experiences

Much of the literature on children and domestic and family violence is quantitative, and research directly assessing children's experiences is lacking, particularly in the Australian context; however, a small body of qualitative research examines children's views and experiences of domestic and family violence (Bagshaw et al., 2010; Buckley & Holt, 2007; Carroll-Lind et al., 2011; Holt, 2015; Morris et al., 2015; Mullender et al., 2002; Stanley, 2011; Stanley et al., 2012; Tuyen & Larsen, 2012; Yates, 2013). This research shows that children have articulate and coherent understandings of the violence that they and their mothers experience. Their views are thus important to hear, particularly as they offer insight into how best to support children and facilitate them having greater agency in negotiating safety (Morris et al., 2015) and having input into post-separation contact decisions affecting their lives (Holt, 2015).

Buckley and Holt (2007) undertook in-depth interviews with 22 children who had experienced domestic and family violence in Ireland. Children described living with fear, anxiety and dread, and worried about the safety of their siblings, mothers and themselves. Children further conveyed feelings of shame about their home life, and thus lacked confidence and self-esteem, resulting in poor peer relationships. Moreover, some children described direct involvement in the violence; acting as mediators or attempting to protect younger siblings and their mothers.

The widely cited Mullender et al. (2002) study was based on qualitative interviews with 54 children and 24 mothers who had experienced domestic and family violence in the United Kingdom. The children in this study described being present in a full range of domestic and family violence incidents, including attempted murder, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse. Like the Buckley and Holt (2007) study, children described living in constant fear and anxiety and reported feelings of powerlessness and anger. They also described physical symptoms such as insomnia, headaches and stomach upsets. Children used a variety of coping strategies to deal with the violence, including "blocking it out" by retreating into private worlds, leaving the house (if old enough), hiding, distracting themselves though television or noisy play, talking to friends or relatives, and attempting to mediate the violence.

In a national violence survey of 2,077 New Zealand children aged 9-13 years (Carroll-Lind et al., 2011), children were asked what kinds of violence they had been exposed to. Twenty-seven per cent had witnessed emotional or physical violence between their parents, and this was reported as having more of an effect on them than peer, community or media violence. Children in this study reported feeling powerless about parental violence, and feeling shame or stigma, which acted as a barrier for seeking help.

Tuyen and Larsen (2012) conducted a cross-sectional survey of 150 children in the USA, drawn from churches, youth groups, schools and sporting organisations. Thirty-two per cent of the children in the study had witnessed parental violence and these were more likely to indicate symptoms of depression. Children who had experienced domestic and family violence also reported anger, anxiety and insomnia. Older children and adolescents in the study described how they would take on roles of responsibility in the family and felt obliged to protect siblings and mothers from violence. Some expressed resentment at having to take on these roles, particularly as it had the effect of isolating them from their peers. Moreover, many described major disruptions to their schooling, including having poor concentration, being victims of bullying, being absent from school, and exhibiting poor academic performance.

The SARAH project (Morris et al., 2015) undertook focus groups interviews and semi-structured interviews with 23 children and young people (aged 8-24 years) recruited from a larger primary care study of women who had experienced domestic and family violence. This study highlighted the ongoing the vulnerability and danger children experience, which often continues into the post-separation period. Children described attempting to lead normal lives in the face of persistent danger, control and intrusion into their lives by the perpetrator, which had wide-reaching effects on all aspects of their lives. A minority of children and young people described family contexts that "enabled them to experience a sense of agency" in negotiating safety in their lives and relationships (p. 25). This agency and safety was facilitated by contexts where children were able to have physical distance from the perpetrator, and having trusted sibling and adult relationships.

Culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) children

The effects of domestic and family violence on CALD and asylum-seeker children can be compounded by cultural and language barriers, experiencing discrimination and racism, isolation from peers, and a history of trauma arising from having witnessed conflict in their homeland or from their journey to Australia (Dawson, 2008).

According to research undertaken by InTouch Multicultural Centre against Family Violence (Dawson, 2008), children who have come to Australia as asylum seekers may already be traumatised. Further, the effect of exposure to domestic and family violence may be amplified by children having:

  • witnessed war/conflict in their country of origin;
  • been forced to flee their homeland in perilous conditions;
  • spent time in refugee camps or in detention centres; or
  • been separated from parents during the journey to Australia and/or on arrival.

It is important for service providers working with children and families from CALD communities to be aware of these issues.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

Within Indigenous communities, domestic and family violence needs to be understood in the context of a history of colonisation, dispossession of land, forced child removal, racism and discrimination and the resulting intergenerational trauma that has arisen from this history (Cripps & Davis, 2012; Millward, 2013; Victorian Indigenous Family Violence Taskforce, 2003). According to the Victorian Indigenous Family Violence Taskforce (2003) report, the trauma of living with domestic and family violence may be just one of the many traumas Indigenous children face. The report also identified the following issues as all needing to be considered in understanding domestic and family violence in Indigenous communities:

  • breakdown of kinship systems and Aboriginal law;
  • experiences of racism, discrimination and vilification;
  • economic exclusion and entrenched poverty;
  • alcohol and drug abuse;
  • institutionalisation and child removal polices; and
  • the effects of grief, trauma on parenting.

Responses to Indigenous children need to be culturally sensitive and community-informed (Cripps & Davis, 2012).

Resilience

Several authors have noted that while the existing research on the outcomes of exposure to domestic and family violence have been important, future research should examine what factors lead to resilience in children (De-Board-Lucas & Grych, 2011; Heugten & Wilson, 2008; Humphreys & Houghton, 2008). Humphreys and Houghton suggested that there is a danger of over-pathologising children who have experienced domestic and family violence, as the research indicates that some children draw on a number of coping strategies and show resilience, while others do not exhibit any negative outcomes at all. For example, in Kitzmann et al.'s (2003) meta-analysis, described above, 37% of children who had experienced domestic and family violence fared better or no worse than the average child.

The literature suggests that there are several factors that may mitigate children's exposure to violence including:

  • the extent of children's peer and social support;
  • the relationship with their mother or other primary caregiver;
  • whether the violence is ongoing or short-term;
  • the age of the child when the domestic and family violence occurred; and
  • whether the child received an adequate response/treatment following the domestic and family violence (Gewirtz & Edleson, 2007; Heugten & Wilson, 2008; Holt et al., 2008; Howell, 2011; Humphreys & Houghton, 2008; Richards, 2011).

Howell (2011) found that age was a significant factor in children's resilience. Older children fared better than younger children, probably because they were able to engage in activities outside the home and develop supportive relationships with peers or other relatives.

In qualitative studies, children have reported that strong relationships with peers, engagement in school activities and being able to escape the family home were important coping strategies (Heugten & Wilson, 2008; Mullender et al., 2002; Thompson & Trice-Black, 2012; Willis et al., 2010; Yates, 2013). For younger children, Howell (2011) found that the most significant factor in resilience was a strong parent-child attachment, and therefore recommended that responses to children experiencing domestic and family violence should focus on strengthening the relationship between mother and child. For CALD children, having strong connections with members of their extended family has been identified as a protective factor (Dawson, 2008).

2 Externalising behaviours may include aggression, lack of emotional control, disobedience and destructiveness, whereas internalising behaviours may include anxiety, social inhibition, sadness and withdrawal (Onyskiw, 2003).