The 2002 Adoption and Children Act S120 identifies extended the legal definition of harming children to include “harm suffered by seeing or hearing ill treatment of others, especially in the home”.
Whilst therefore for some time it has been recognised that children witnessing domestic violence is detrimental to them the actual impact upon the children has not been so clear.
Recent research from the NSPCC however now gives some insight how domestic violence can effect children’s behaviour.
The research suggests that over half of children from violent homes show three or more kinds of disruptive behaviour at secondary school.
Children who witness family violence are four times more likely to carry a weapon or seriously harm someone than children from non-violent homes and such children are also three times more likely than their peers to be involved in a mixture (three or more types) of anti-social behaviour and twice as likely to be excluded from school.
The research, which surveyed over 6,000 children, young people and carers, showed that children who have witnessed violence between their parents or other family members are:
- Four times as likely to carry a weapon, such as a knife, or hurt someone badly than their peers;
- Three times as likely to take drugs, steal, spray graffiti or bully others than their peers;
- Twice as likely to get drunk or get into fights than their peers; and
- Five times more likely to run away from home than their peers.
Over half (56%) of children from violent homes show three or more of these kinds of disruptive behaviours whilst at secondary school.
The damaging impact is even seen in primary school children. Five to 10 year olds from violent or abusive homes are two to four times more likely to hit, slap or push other children; pick on others or; break, damage or destroy someone else’s belongings.
Andrew Flanagan, CEO of the NSPCC, said:
“ The damaging impact of family violence on children’s behaviour and education is immense. These children are acting out their emotional disturbance by causing harm to themselves or others. We know from pioneering research that a child’s brain is damaged by witnessing or experiencing physical or emotional abuse at a young age. And whilst this is not a determining factor, and does not in any way provide an excuse for poor behaviour, it does go a long way to explaining it.”….by the time a child is in their early teens the damage can already be done and behaviour can spiral out of control. We must intervene early in families where violence occurs and, crucially, we must provide opportunities for therapy for children who have been harmed by this abuse. The cost of doing this is dwarfed by the costs, both in human and cash terms, of inaction”.
The NSPCC is:
- Calling for adult and children’s services to work closely together to ensure the needs of the whole family, including the children, are addressed when violence is reported.
- Asking schools to look out for bad behaviour being potential indicator of abuse at home.
- Introducing programmes of work across the country to help children who have suffered family violence and working with families to reform their behaviour.
The reasons why a parent may commit acts of domestic violence or remain in a domestically violent relationship are many and varied, but as the research shows this can have a dramatic impact on the children in these relationships.
It can be a complicated and difficult process to extradite yourself from such a relationship and anyone thinking of doing so should seek early expert advice as soon as possible.