Children are often considered the “hidden” victims in families where domestic violence occurs. Studies have estimated that 3.3 - 10 million children witness domestic violence each year. Children, like their adult caregivers, experience trauma from the physical and verbal abuse in the home.
Children can display a variety of behaviors due to witnessing domestic violence and those behaviors can affect their ability to be successful in school and other social settings. Also, 30% to 60% of perpetrators of domestic violence abuse children in the household.
Impact of Exposure to Domestic Violence
Newborn to 5
- Sleep and/or eating disruptions
- Withdrawal/lack of responsiveness
- Intense/pronounced separation anxiety
- Inconsolable crying
- Developmental regression, loss of acquired skills
- Intense anxiety, worries, and/or new fears
- Increased aggression and/or impulsive behavior
Ages 6 to 11
- Nightmares, sleep disruptions
- Aggression and difficulty with peer relationships in school
- Difficulty with concentration and task completion in school
- Withdrawal and/or emotional numbing
- School avoidance and/or truancy
Ages 12 to 18
- Antisocial behavior
- School failure
Impulsive and/or reckless behavior, e.g.,
- School truancy
- Substance abuse
- Running away
- Involvement in violent or abusive dating relationships
*Adapted from National Child Traumatic Stress Network
Programs to Help Children
There are a number of evidenced based programs that can help children, such as The Incredible Years. Trauma-informed therapies like Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Parent Child Interaction Therapy have been shown to be effective in helping children who have experienced a trauma like witnessing domestic violence.
The major emphases for children's healing in these programs and therapies are:
- increasing a child’s sense of physical and emotional safety
- developing self-esteem and stronger social skills
- developing respect for others
- fostering a sense of control of one’s life
Following are resources on children's exposure to domestic violence, treatment, and prevention:
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN)
Provides conceptual content, symptoms and evidenced-based interventions to support children affected by exposure to domestic violence. NCTSN is a resource base offering technical assistance and information to professionals and communities seeking to address needs of children and families in the context of trauma including domestic violence, natural disaster, traumatic grief, etc.
Prevent Child Abuse North Carolina
A statewide agency invested in evidenced-based programming that reduces risks for child maltreatment and supports the strengthening of families through implementation support to communities around North Carolina.
Center for Child and Family Health (CCFH)
A Durham, North Carolina-based interagency collaborative of specialists providing preventative, diagnostic and treatment services to children and families facing social, emotional and behavioral difficulties.
North Carolina Child Treatment Program (NC-CTP)
A program tailored to build capacity to serve traumatized children and families by training clinicians to provide evidence-based therapeutic interventions to children and families and sustain roster of county-specific trained clinicians available to treat children affected by sexual abuse and trauma in North Carolina.
Futures Without Violence and Promising Futures
A national organization that supports the work of ending abuse of children and women by contributing prevention and intervention programs, curricula, toolkits, DVDs, policy and legislative updates. Futures Without Violence has also created the Promising Futures website, specifically dedicated to sharing best practices for assisting children and families affected by domestic violence.
Child Welfare Information Gateway
A federal clearinghouse of research materials, prevention and practices relevant to strengthening families, child welfare, and intersecting issues such as domestic violence and mental health. Website is maintained under the auspice of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services- Administration for Children and Families.
National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma and Mental Health (NCDVTMH) - 10-Part Series: Building Trauma-Informed Services for Children, Youth, and Parents Impacted by Domestic Violence
NCDVTMH is a nationally recognized resource center providing technical assistance, training and consultation to increase allied professionals' capacity to serve adults and children affected by domestic violence. NCDVTMH is hosting a webinar series geared towards advocates and mental health clinicians working with children and caregivers impacted by domestic violence. Parts of the webinar series are archived and available for download.
Honor Our Voices
An interactive learning module to increase community awareness of the impact of domestic violence from a child’s perspective at various ages.
Evidence Based Practices for Children Exposed to Violence: A Selection from Federal Databases
A roster of mostly evidence-based primary and secondary prevention programs and therapeutic modalities to address exposure to violence, arranged by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Disclaimer: These programs need a strong implementation structure. Inquiring agencies should be in consultation with an appropriate resource base to assure fidelity of services and programs.
Thank You to the NC Council for Women and Youth Involvement-Family Violence Prevention Services Act Program for financial support.