Growing up in a violent home and witnessing domestic abuse can have a damaging impact on the development of children and young people.
It is important that children grow up in safe and stable environments. However, domestic abuse can take away this security.
Last year, the NSPCC released data that show record levels of children were being affected by domestic abuse. With referrals to social services and calls to the NSPCC helpline both increasing.
What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse is any incident of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse. It takes many forms and not all experiences look the same. Domestic abuse is a crime.
Domestic abuse can happen in any type of relationship, inside and outside of the home and in person, over the internet or social media.
Examples of domestic abuse include:
- Controlling or coercive behaviour
- Physical violence
- Online abuse
- Harassment and stalking
- Rape and sexual violence
- Making threats
How does domestic abuse impact children?
Experiencing domestic abuse can have a serious and long-lasting impact on a child or young person’s mental and physical wellbeing. This impact can last into adulthood.
Every child or young person will be affected differently by domestic abuse and age can be a factor in this. In the short term, effects of domestic abuse include:
- Lower grades at school
- Feelings of guilt and blame
- Physical signs such as headaches, stomach aches, ulcers
- Anxiety and depression
- Low self-esteem
- Development of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Acting out
- Engaging in behaviours such as drinking or drugs
There are also long-term impacts from domestic abuse that might even continue into adulthood. These include:
- Mental health problems, such as becoming anxious or depressed. Low mental health can also lead to big impacts on physical health, including self-harm or developing an eating disorder.
- Having a lowered sense of self-worth.
- Using alcohol and other drugs as unhealthy coping mechanisms.
- Repeating behaviours seen in their domestic setting.
How can you tell if domestic abuse is taking place?
It can be difficult to tell if domestic abuse is happening. However, there are some signs that a child has experienced domestic abuse or witnessed it:
- withdrawn or detached behaviour
- ambivalent feelings towards both the abuser and the non-abusing parent
- constant or frequent sickness
- frustration or aggression
- bullying peers
- problems in school or with learning
- anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts
- drug or alcohol use
- easily startled or seem on edge
- fear of leaving the home
- bed-wetting or increased soiling
- nightmares or insomnia
- withdrawal or struggles with separation
- difficulty identifying feelings or communicating needs
- difficulty developing positive peer relationships
What do I do if a child reveals domestic abuse?
If a child speaks to about domestic abuse it is very important that you provide them with a safe space to share. You should let them know they have done the right thing by telling you, listen to them and understand them but do not push them for answers beyond what they are comfortable with. You should explain what you will do next and report what you’ve been told.
Do not confront the alleged abuser.
If the child is immediate danger, call 999.
If there is no immediate danger, you can report abuse to the Knowsley Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) on 0151 443 2600, by getting in contact with Childline or speaking to a trusted adult such as a teacher.
I am experiencing domestic abuse – what do I do?
In an emergency, dial 999. If you are unable to speak, cough, tap the handset or press 55 and the operator will put you through to the police.
Knowsley Council Safer Communities Service (Specialist Domestic Abuse Service)
Tel: 0151 443 2610
The First Step (Independent Specialist Domestic Abuse Service)
Tel: 0151 548 3333
Knowsley Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub
Tel: 0151 443 2600
Further support is also offered by these national agencies:
victimcaremerseyside.org (directory of services)
National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247 (24 hours).
Worst Kept Secret Helpline: 0800 028 3398.
Refuge (includes information for men) | refuge.org.uk | 0808 200 0247 (24 hours)
The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327.
National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428.
Samaritans (24/7 service) – 116 123.
RASASC – Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre – National phone line 0330 363 0063 & Knowsley phone line Knowsley 0151 218 7960