Domestic Violence

Effects on Children

Children are also the victims of domestic violence both directly and indirectly. Children’s experience, reactions and responses vary, with some children being affected far more than others, and children within the same family can be affected differently. The negative effects on children witnessing, or overhearing violence are similar to the symptoms experienced by children who themselves have been abused. These can include any of the following behavioural, physical and psychological effects, which may be short term or long term.

·       Physical injuries, including bruises and broken bones.

·       Being protective of mother and/or siblings: by physically intervening etc.

·       Low self esteem, lack of confidence.

·       Confusion.

·       Embarrassment

·        Isolation

·        Poor social skills

·        Aggression, acting out, disruptive behaviour.

·        Advanced in maturity and in sense of responsibility.

·        Difficulties at school.

·        Developmental delays in young children.

·        Psychosomatic problems.

·        Self destructive behaviour e.g. self harm.

·        Difficulty trusting others and forming appropriate relationships.

·        Emotional confusion in relation to parents.

·        Bed wetting/ soiling.

·        Nightmares /sleeping problems.

·        Depression.

·        Eating disorders.

·        Introversion/withdrawal, clingy/over dependent, feeling fearful, feeling sad, feeling guilty, blaming self & others, feeling anxious & nervous.

It is very important that children receive as much help as possible in order to overcome the effects of living with domestic violence.

What Children See and Hear


In 90% of cases where there is domestic violence, children are in the same or next room. (Hughes, 1992)   70% of children witnessed   violence directly. (Hilton, 1992)

·Witnessing violence over time may have a cumulative impact affecting children’s health (Brandon & Lewis, 1996)


·62% of children overheard one or more attack. (UK NCH-National Children’s Home- Action for Children Survey, 1995)


10% of children witnessed their mother being sexually abused. (NCH Survey, 1995.)


13% of children are hurt or injured during a domestic  violence incident. (NCT Survey, 1995.)

Witnessing violence and abuse and the denial of a safe place to play, learn and develop, can have a very damaging effect on the emotional and physical well-being of the child.

If a child you know tells you that they have witnessed violence or abuse in their home, here are some guidelines which you can follow:

Sensitivity in responding to a child’s disclosure is very important.  Reassure the child that you are there to protect and support her/him.  Explain the need for possible action and consequences that may follow.  Do not promise the child that you will not tell anyone else.  Report all disclosures to the relevant person or agency.


The ever-increasing problem of abuse affects children of every age, race, religion and economic background. Most children are abused by someone they love and trust—in most cases by a family member.   Child abuse can take many forms, but usually consists of one or more of the following: neglect, emotional abuse, physical and sexual abuse.

Neglect: Where a child’s need for food, warmth. shelter, nurturance and safety are not provided, to the extent that the child suffers significant harm.

Emotional Abuse: Where a child’s need for affection, approval and security are not being met and have not been met for some time by their parent/career.

Physical Abuse: When a child is assaulted or injured in some way that deliberate.

Sexual Abuse: Where a child is used for the sexual gratification of another.

The statutory responsibility for dealing with child abuse rests with the director of community care in the HSE and his/her social workers, or alternatively with the Gardai.

If you think a child is being abused or is at risk from someone inside or outside the family, get in touch with the duty social worker or other professionals in your local health centre. If it is an emergency outside HSE hours, you should report it to the Gardai.

Don’t leave it for someone else to report, as the child may slip through the net and the child will continue to be abused.