Children's exposure to domestic and family violence

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


Children's exposure to domestic and family violence has become a prominent policy issue comparatively recently. In the past two decades, mounting empirical evidence about the extent to which children are exposed to domestic and family violence, and the effect this has on their development has created impetus for policy responses to this issue (Humphreys, 2014; Richards, 2011). Such responses are also reflected in the recognition that exposure to family violence is a form of child abuse in state and territory child protection frameworks, the Australian Government's National Framework for Protecting Australia's Children 2009-2020 (Council of Australian Governments [COAG], 2009b), and the federal Family Law Act 1975 (Cth).

As signatories to the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child, which recognises that children have a universal right to live free from all forms of violence, Australia has international obligations to protect children from violence in the home (UN, 1989, Article 19). In 2011, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child released an expanded comment regarding Article 19, re-emphasising the obligation of signatory states to ensure this right, including, among other forms of violence, the right to be free of violence in the home. The committee stated that this obligation includes nations acting to "prohibit, prevent and respond to violence against children through legislative, judicial, social and educational measures" (UN, 2011, p. 6).

This paper will provide an overview of the prevalence of domestic and family violence, the effects of domestic and family violence on children (including the co-occurrence of domestic and family violence with child abuse), the intergenerational transmission of violence and the implications of these for preventing domestic and family violence. It provides an overview of insights from studies that have sought to determine the various psychosocial and long-term health and development outcomes in children via longitudinal research, meta-analyses and experiential studies, as well as findings from studies that have examined children's experiences more directly via qualitative interviews and surveys. The paper will also examine the literature on evidence-based responses to children exposed to domestic and family violence.