Domestic violence often affects almost everyone exposed to it; the victims, perpetrators, and more children who witness it. It is therefore essential to understand its complexity and effectiveness to have adequate knowledge of the systems affected at any given time in order to establish viable strategies to mitigate the menace. For this research, a systematic review studies the previous research by examining various experiences of children who witnessed domestic violence and its impacts on their development, behaviours, and adjustments. Typically, the review study attempts to explore the primary question: “What is the impact of domestic violence on children who witness it?” The review and analysis reveal significant findings on the impacts of domestic violence. Domestic violence can devastate children and young people who witness it, lasting into adulthood. The problem can deteriorate the child’s development posing a significant negative impact on later life goals. However, with viable domestic abuse services, specialists can provide essential practical and emotional support to children and young people affected by domestic violence in one way or another. Arguably, findings suggest that children exposed to domestic violence are often extremely prevalent and at high risk of problems in holistic development. Besides, the research also suggests a need to establish the impacts of domestic violence and intimate partner violence (IPV). Further research should focus on the therapeutic interventions for children witnessing domestic violence.
Keyword: domestic violence, intimate partner violence, children witnesses
Chapter One: Background and Literature
For victims of domestic violence, emotional maltreatment, and physical attacks, among other forms of abuse, are certain to take a toll on an individual’s wellbeing. Conversely, while these horrors are significant in the primary victims of violence, young people who witness the abuse of their fathers, mothers, or other family members are also significantly impacted. The effect has a lasting psychological and physical effect on the exposure to domestic violence. To reduce these effects, it is also essential to highlight ways that children can be protected from harm. Domestic violence, also referred to as intimate partner violence can be defined as a pattern of coercive, assaultive behaviours that entail sexual, physical, or psychological attack and economic coercion among adults or adolescents against their intimate partners and spouses.
Typically, family relationships are essential to human development through the life span of food and water. At the same time, families can be the cause of anguish and can derail development. The potential for violence and other forms of maltreatment exists in all possible relationships within the family system. The present research focuses on the professional’s respective impact on children who witness domestic violence. In this regard, the study suggests how to reframe children and domestic violence. Arguably, in place of the passive concept of children being “exposed to” or “witnessing” physical violence, it is possible to build a strengths-based understanding of children’s agentic responses to coercive control. The study, therefore, furthers this understanding, exploring children’s vulnerabilities and agentic capacities when experiencing coercive control.
Picturing children’s experiences witnessing domestic violence is crucial in various aspects. It might seem unnecessary to picture the experience of children with domestic violence since one might think that you already “know” what these children are enduring, but actually, it is necessary to start by re-examining the preconceived idea that flashes into one’s mind. This study intends to put forward a new conception of who children ‘are’ and what capacities they have. Whatever we think we may know, our default understanding may be an obstacle to developing a fuller picture of children’s experience of domestic violence, especially when they witness it.
Keywords: children as witnesses, domestic violence, intimate partner violence (IPV)
Perhaps most people’s intuitive image of children’s experience of domestic violence is the type of image that is represented and reinforced by the media: the child crying or hiding in a dark, shadowy room. The teddy bears and doll clasped for comfort in such images are symbolic of lost childhood innocence; the child’s experience of domestic violence is viewed in terms of spoiled innocence and damaged childhood. Alternatively, your image may be less passive but still be quite particular; you may picture a child rushing to intervene in a physical confrontation where the father is attacking the mother. Past researches attempt to explore this and give insights into how domestic violence influences the life development of a child.
When children and domestic violence research first emerged in the 1980s and 1990s, children tended to be viewed as passive bystanders and silent witnesses who were harmfully exposed to upsetting scenes of violence against their family members (McTavish et al., 2016). In much the same vein as that of the 1980 and 1990s portrayal, the majority of the field’s research up to the present day has focused on investigating how children are damaged by exposure to domestic violence. The focus has been on how such children often develop mental health, behavioural, cognitive, social, physical, and psychological problems. Hines (2015) raised the concern almost 20 years ago that most research in the field was on a quest to find psychopathology in children who witnessed violence against their mothers. There were some exceptions here; for example, Hines (2015) study explored the coping strategies of children who witness parental domestic violence. However, overall, David, LeBlanc, and Self-Brown’s (2015) criticism has continued to apply to scholarship in the field as the years have passed.
Data about the impacts of domestic violence on children have frequently been gathered from their mothers or other adults. Meanwhile, children have continued to be defined in terms of psychopathology and, as David, LeBlanc, and Self-Brown (2015) warned against, children have continued to be marginalized as a source of information about their own lives. As children are included in data collection, the approach has tended to be limited and deficit-focused, with children being asked to complete a questionnaire to measure their behavioural and emotional problems.
The field’s focus on harm has often marginalized recognizing these children’s agency, strengths, and adaptive strategies. This is not to deny the vital importance of research into how domestic violence harms children. However, research on children’s resistance and resilience is also essential. Ferrara et al. (2019) argue that “children who experience domestic violence are not just damaged by the experience of witnessing but also have a complex range of coping strategies.” The result of omitting children’s agency from research is that it may limit the ability of interventions and services to understand children’s strengths and coping strategies and build on them.
Against this backdrop of damage-focused studies, there is a small but growing strand of research exploring children’s agency and voices, lived experiences, strengths, and adaptive coping strategies. Mullender et al.’s (2002) research contributed to the field to foreground the concept of agency in relation to children and domestic violence. Based on qualitative interviews with 24 mothers and 54 children in the United Kingdom, the author’s found that when children are not listened and are not taken seriously as persons who are experiencing domestic violence when it happens in the family, they can feel “doubly disadvantaged.” Most children in Mullender et al.’s (2002) study did not want to hide the brutal truths about the experience. They wanted adults to keep them informed and to include them in decision-making, for example, whether to separate from the perpetrator and what interventions to implement.
This stand of agency-focused research, following in the footsteps of Mullender et al. (2002), has grown over the past fifteen years. Many researchers have explored how children respond in several agentic ways while experiencing a lot of offers due to their father’s threats and violence. This includes finding spaces, attempting the tune out frightening sounds, calling for help supporting and protecting siblings intervening to defend their mother, and many other coping strategies when violence erupts in a family. More broadly, professionals have examined how children may actively use various resources and strategies in their daily lives to help them cope, resist, and achieve some happiness. These resources include supportive friends and family, play, sport, journaling, music, and other forms of creative expression. Children also have the agentic capacity to carefully manage disclosure processes, attempting to thoroughly assess the risks involved in informing or not informing various people about their experiences (Samuels and Bailey, 2021). While some children express confusion about domestic violence and have difficulty recognizing physical violence, others are aware that gaining power and control are central motivations behind the range of abusive and violent behaviours that their parents have used. Post-separation, some children have been able that their fathers would need to show significant attitudinal and behavioural changes before they would consider having ng future contact with them.
Sigelman and Rider (2021) highlight the various forms of domestic violence witnessed in societies. They include intimate partner violence, child maltreatment, siblings’ violence, child-to-parent violence, parental alienation, and elder abuse. The most common form of domestic violence affecting children is when they witness intimate partner violence (IPV), which includes spousal abuse and violence in dating, cohabiting, and other romantic relationships. It can involve physical and psychological abuse as well as sexual coercion and rape. IPV may well be the most common form of domestic violence worldwide. It is especially prevalent in patriarchal societies where men dominate women, but it also occurs in same-sex relationships. Surveys in the U.S. indicate that over one in three women and one in four men are victimized at some time in their life. About 15 percent of couples experience physical violence in a year, ranging from pushing to using weapons. The violence is often reciprocal, but women are often victims and more likely to be injured when abused. Millions of children witness this domestic violence and are harmed by what they see.
Child maltreatment is another form of domestic violence and is often used as a broad term that refers to the child’s lack of basic needs and neglect of care. Child abuse typically implies that the child has been mistreated or harmed physically, emotionally, or sexually (Bacchus et al., 2017). Today, a significant occurrence of a child, infant, and adolescent mistreatment, physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Often, they get into activities of being beaten, bruised, suffocated, sexually abused, or otherwise abused by their caretakers. Neglected children cannot count on being fed, bathed, or given other primary care. Much child maltreatment is not often reported in open media and government. Still, the official databank for the U.S. suggests that 9 of every 1000 children under age 18 is the victim of substantial maltreatment in a year (Almış, Gümüştaş, and Kütük, 2020). Much more maltreatment goes unreported. Sibling abuse is another form of domestic violence that affects children when they witness it. Often, a significant sibling rivalry happens in our homes whereby brothers and sisters, among other close relatives, abuse each other based on a misunderstanding. Yet, this form of family violence often goes unreported, perhaps because it is viewed as kids being kids. Sibling bullying is finally being recognized as widespread and damaging.
In context, abuse often occurs in specific ecological environments. Often, abuse occurs when parents are undergoing significant stress and receiving little support, especially from the social service groups and the community. Neighbourhoods with lower economic standards, commonly characterized by social isolation, poverty, transient, and lack of relevant community services and informal support, become the victims of domestic violence (Bacchus et al., 2017). Life changes such as being laid off or moving can also disrupt family functioning and contribute to abuse or neglect. Also, the larger culture, Bronfenbrenner’s macrosystem, is essential. In most societies that seem violent, similar to the majority of developing countries, physical punishment is the norm, making it difficult to draw the line between child abuse and punishment. Arguably, societies that outlawed physical punishment experience fewer child abuse cases. Child abuse resulting from domestic violence has many causes and contributing factors. In common society, it becomes difficult to forecast the next child abuser. However, when social support is insufficient, vulnerable groups’ likelihood of abuse is much more significant. Similarly, the same finings exists within groups such as elder abuse, intimate partner abuse, and other forms of domestic abuse.
Children who witness any form of domestic violence develop problems in almost all aspects of their development, from health problems such as cognitive deficits, emotional problems, brain development, and psychological disorders. Beyond normal abuse, maltreatment of children may have significant lasting and damaging effects on the development of the brain, immune system, stress response system, and other biological systems that affect physiological and psychological functioning. Intellectual deficits and academic and academic difficulties are common among children who witness domestic violence. McTavish et al. (2016) argue that social and behavioural problems are also common, a maltreated children tend to have poor emotional understanding, experience many negative emotions, and have difficulty regulating their emotions. Even as adults, individuals who witnessed domestic violence during childhood tend to have higher-than-average rates of depression, anxiety, and other psychological problems. Many still have difficulties in processing emotions. Their marriages are more harmful and less satisfying, and their relationships with their families are less emotionally close than those of other adults. Remarkably, though, some who witness violence, between 10 and 25%, are resilient and get back on an adaptive development path.
Smith’s (2022) research demonstrates how children have agency as individuals, yet children’s agency also goes beyond their actions. Children influence and affect the people they interact with, so their agency extends to their relationships with people in their lives. This premise is central to the research reported by many scholars and children’s relational agency, especially within their parent-child relationships, which is the core theme. Smith (2022) argues that few studies explore relational agency and how some children use it to co-produce strong and supportive relationships that help themselves and others to survive the impact of witnessing violence in families. It should be acknowledged that children, like adults, can use their relational agency in harmful and destructive ways as well as positive ones. For the most part, research in the children and domestic violence field has not yet explored children’s relational agency. Though often critiqued, the trend of viewing children as passive in relational terms has since continued.
Within children and domestic violence research, children are often explicitly conceptualized as passive bystanders whose successful “adjustment” depends on the quality of their parent’s parenting (Hillis, Mercy, and Saul, 2017). Even studies that foreground children’s agency tends to focus on their agency in responding to violence as individuals. For instance, they explore how children take individual action to keep themselves safe in case of family violence, call the police, or intervene in a violent incident. The lack of focus on children’s relational agency in earlier research can largely be attributed to the dominance within the children and domestic violence field of an outdated model of parent-child relationships. This is the unilateral model of parent-child relations. The model was based on a non-recognition of children’s agency in parent-child relationships where influence is assumed to flow in one direction, from parent to child. Children’s abilities to purposefully initiate actions within parent-child relationships and to influence their parents are not accounted for.
The unilateral model exists as an unexamined assumption within the children and domestic violence field. According to Carnevale et al. (2020), the model first emerged as a theory within early developmental psychology. Although there was a formal turn away from this model in the late 1960s, there has been a tendency over the subsequent decades for it to continue to underpin research in several child-and family-related fields. The children and domestic violence field is no exception here, as many studies in the field can be viewed as implicitly grounded in the unilateral model. For instance, McTavish et al. (2016) stated that they conducted an “analysis of the relationships between parents and children exposed to domestic violence. Yet, in practice, the study only analysed one-half of this relationship; the parenting practices of mothers. Such an approach fails to account for children’s contributions to mother-child relationships.”
Conceptual framework often influences systematic reviews since they inform the research, develop viable methods, and help analyse data. Two powerful frameworks are essential in showing how domestic violence impacts children who witness it.
Typically, attachment theory evaluates the essence of a developing brain and the behaviour and emotions in one’s lifespan. John Bowlby is regarded as the most outstanding pioneer of attachment theory, having contributed immensely in connecting psychodynamic thoughts to his works on separation, attachment, and loss of close ones to an individual. According to Bowlby, attachment behaviour is a class of social behaviour having importance similar to parental and mating behaviour. Kiesel, Piescher, and Edleson (2016) emphasize that attachment happens especially by the end of the first year among all children, and its absence may imply severe other development problems. Therefore, attachment theory offers a valuable view that enhances understanding of domestic violence and its impact on child’s development since it provides a crucial understanding of the essence of attachment, relationship, and the consequent impact that emanates from an insecure relationship. Besides, attachment theory offers significant knowledge on the roles of caregivers and the child, thus providing a conceptual framework that guides systematic literature review.
Social Learning Theory
Social learning theory refers to a school of behavioural thought. Typically, the theory checks on both external and internal thought processes. This theory reveals the essence of communication and modelling and addresses verbal and non-verbal communication among children in the development stages. According to Dodaj (2020), the theory uses thorough research and experimentation, and findings indicate that children typically model the behaviours surrounding them. Albert Bandura undertook a study in 1961 using a doll named “Bobo.” The research showed that the researchers acted aggressively toward the toll under children’s watch. When they were left alone with the toll, they similarly modelled their behaviour to extend the aggression toward the toll. Much research has followed similar research, and it shows that whatever children witness, it will significantly contribute and play a pivotal role in how they socially relate to the world.
Chapter Two: Methodology
Research Aims and Objectives
The research aim intends to provide what the study hopes to achieve. On the other hand, the research objectives provide the actions taken in order to achieve the aims. Objectives act as the actions taken in order to achieve the aims. Typically, the present research primarily focuses on answering the question: What is the impact of domestic violence on children who witness it? To achieve the aim, the research is based on a systematic review analysis in which the materials sample will be drawn through a thorough database search. The data is cleaned using specificity and sensitivity analysis.
- Domestic violence and IPV have significant impacts on children who witness it.
The design method chosen for the present research is the systematic review Analysis. According to Hungerford, Ogle, and Clements (2010), a systematic review refers to a crucial evaluation and assessment of research studies that specifically address a particular issue. It is arguably a systematic method of assembling, locating, and evaluating a pool of literature on a specific topic by utilizing a set of chosen criteria. Conducting a systematic review uses two databases to search for relevant sources such as review journals and books that relate to the impact of domestic violence on children who witness it. It also searches for materials related to domestic abuse of children. The study utilized pre-determined and specific terms as keywords in searching the databases to gather source materials. Once the materials have been gathered, a specific criterion is employed to narrow down and select the articles and books to be used that focus specifically on the impact of domestic violence on children witnessing it.
The research primarily reviewed books and articles published in English with study populations drawn from European nations and the United States. Universities acted as the primary source of databases, and the critical keywords used included “impact of domestic violence on children witnessing,” “intimate partner violence,” “domestic violence,” and “impact child witnessing partner violence.” Researched materials included review articles, general documents, online accessible health journals, and meta-analyses to gather a better understanding and depth of knowledge on domestic violence. However, the systematic review under this research was limited to research studies that are qualitative, quantitative, and mixed-method. Excerpts from various participants and populations were also included, and the subjects were victims or those who at one point have been exposed to family violence.
To gain a greater understanding of the scope of literature surrounding the research question, sensitivity analysis was conducted using the PRISMA. PRISMA typically facilitates the researcher to evaluate numerous research topics. Such breadth can be discouraging since there is a large amount of available research with irrelevant articles. Therefore, with efficient sensitivity analysis, the search is narrowed to focus on the needed articles with a high relevancy percentage. On the other hand, specificity allows the search to run at risk of missing relevant materials because of the limited nature of search terms. When effectively utilized, both specificity and sensitivity search and analysis will significantly help understand the literature landscape by narrowing down the search through viable exclusion and inclusion techniques. These techniques were vital in this study.
Criteria for Inclusion and Exclusion
The source materials chosen for this study were peer-reviewed and grey literature. It included journals, books, and articles published between 2002 and 2022. To ensure the research provide the current happening, the focus was majorly based on the pa 20 years since it adapts to the current methods and theories of working with children who once witnessed domestic violence. Governments, especially the United States and the United Kingdom, have passed significant laws and grant programs tailored to prevent violence against women and widespread domestic violence. New protections were established for domestic violence victims and other violence-related issues. For instance, the new address confidentiality is among the new changes in immigration laws that are intended to protect those pattered spouses from applying for permanent residency. Majorly, keyword searches on domestic violence from several universities were utilized. Relevance of the database search was vital in establishing that it matches the relevant research question.
Articles that met the inclusion criteria through common themes were organized into groups for further analysis. Groping often allows easy re-reading, which is crucial in identifying essential data, including themes and subthemes. Groping also allowed the comparison of articles concerning each other in ascertaining differences, commonalities, relevancy, and themes. The articles’ synthesis was further conducted to reveal the overarching themes. Synthesis facilitated the evaluation of differences and similarities among the articles.
The findings of this systematic review in the initial review provided the following themes; social, caregiver-child relationship, emotional development, physical influence on adult relationships, and coping skills when a child witnesses domestic violence. The further review suggested the following themes; dysregulation in emotional and cognitive systems and the impact on behaviour systems. This entails how to internalize and externalize a particular behaviour.
Chapter Three: Findings
After conducting sensitivity and specificity analysis, inclusion criteria allowed 13 materials to be utilized in this study. Further analysis suggested that three interrelated themes were emerging from these materials. Such themes focused on domestic violence’s impacts on children witnessing it. They included: the impact on behaviour systems, dysregulation in emotional and cognitive emotions, and multi-level perspectives.
The CDC, National Canter for Injury Prevention and Control, and Division of Violence Prevention define IPV as “the occurrence between two people in a close relationship.” It includes sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, and controlling behaviours of people. However, today, scholars have various opinions on the ultimate definition of domestic violence. Primarily, most scholars refer to domestic violence as abusive or violent behaviour in a family tailored toward one or more persons. It also includes the activities conducted with intention or perceived intention to cause harm, pain, or physical injury to another family member. This research purposely considers domestic violence and intimate partner violence (IPV) as any form of violent abuse of control and power by an intimate partner in the context of coercion.
Impact of Domestic Violence and IPV on Behavioural Systems
Consistently, research by various scholars shows that witnessing IPV and domestic violence plays a significant role in the functioning of children’s behaviour. Today, family violence is a significant problem for the victims of violence and those who witness it, who are children in most cases. Witnessing domestic violence and IPV significantly affects a child’s development and behaviour. Its effects will eventually produce significant long-term intergenerational cycles of abuse if left unnoticed and untreated at early stages. behavioural systems discussed in this study include hyperarousal, aggressiveness, fearfulness, anti-social behaviours, inhibited behaviours, withdrawn behaviours, and development regressions among children exposed to domestic violence and IPV versus those not exposed to it. There are significant variations from child to a child exposed to domestic violence and IPV. With a systematic review, Carnevale et al. (2020) found that children who witness domestic violence and IPV exhibit higher internalization and externalization behaviours than those not exposed to it. For instance, some children will often excel academically. Internalizing behaviours refer to the destructive behaviours on which its focus is inward. They include depression, social withdrawal, anxiety, fearfulness, and somatic complaints.
This theory is among the significant ones in the research. The research can establish viable intervention strategies from multi-level perspectives with a framework for the therapy attached. For instance, Mullender et al. (2002) offer crucial insights into Bronfenbrenner’s theory of human development which describes how a child’s system can affect growth and development. The authors utilized the two-personnel model, which differed from earlier research. Often, the two-personnel model implies the child and his caregiver, which in most cases refers to the mother. In the case a conflict arises with the caregiver, obviously, the child’s growth and development are influenced significantly since they respond to the conflict at hand. Besides, the author highlighted Bronfenbrenner’s suggestions on the essence of having parental involvement in the process of shaping the development and behaviour of the child. Mullender’s research, on the other hand, provides the essential risk and protective factors which can connect outcomes of domestic violence exposure related to family values and believes culture and beliefs of the community, as well as its setting, environment of the village, and the characteristics of the child. Furthermore, the authors evaluated a significant mutual attachment, joint activities, emotional relationships, as well as supportive social exchanges with their caregivers.
The ecobiodevelopment perspective was assessed with different models in a journal citing the understanding of how trauma and violence have a significant impact on the development of children. The perspective in this framework considers family values and beliefs, community setting, family environment, and child’s characteristics to focus on the child’s hostility. Typically, the perspective is crucial in understanding the effects of domestic violence on children who witness it and the child’s responses according to individual neurological development (Kiesel, Piescher, and Edleson, 2016). Arguably, most of the researches using this framework has arrived at similar conclusions, which suggest that neuroscience is required in further research to better understand. Neuroscience is also considered a vital tool in considering child development since it provides that early unresolved stress on children, infants, and even toddlers can significantly influence their development. The perspective under this framework suggests that exposure to or witnessing domestic violence and IPV produce psychological and emotional effects of various forms on children in their development.
Kiesel, Piescher, and Edleson (2016) study found that more than 15 million children in the U.S. alone have lived in homes with domestic violence or IPV at least once. In the study, such children are at risk of repeating the cycle when they grow to be adults. It happens since they enter similar relations characterized by abusive family relations or can be abusers themselves. From interactive theory, for example, Vu et al. (2016) study suggest that a boy who witnesses his mother being abused will be ten times more likely to abuse his female partner when they are adults. Similarly, a girl growing up in a family where the father abuses the mother is likely to be sexually abused as a girl who grows up non-abusive family. Children witnessing domestic violence and IPV or victims of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse are at high risk for health problems at later stages of life. These impacts include having mental conditions such as anxiety and depression. The diseases include obesity, heart diseases, diabetes, and poor self-esteem.
Arai et al. (2021) study evaluating previous studies found that every child responds differently to trauma and abuse. In this regard, some children become more resilient to the situation, coping with it and recovering effectively, while others are susceptible and face the full effects of witnessing violence. Several factors determine how a child can recover from abuse or trauma at a given time. They include high self-esteem, the available support system or relationships with trusted adults, and healthy friendships. Even though it is difficult for a child to forget what they experienced or witnessed in domestic violence or IPV, there are aspects in which they can learn viable ways to address their memories and emotions as they develop into adults. Early assistance to children who witness domestic violence often offers better chances of becoming physically and mentally healthy adults.
Divorce Due to Violence and its Impacts on Children
Divorce arises due to domestic violence. According to psychology, distressed parents do not make good parents since they cannot offer the best to their children. Besides, children raised by parents under divorce are often not raised in a well-mannered way to become the best children since they often suffer witnessing violence in the family. Often, those children are angry, fearful, guilty, and depressed, especially when they know they were the subject of the chaos within the family or the cause of their parents’ separation. They may be whiny, dependent, disobedient, and disrespectful. In a classic longitudinal study, Sigelman and Rider (2021) found that stressed custodial mothers often become less authoritative and less consistent in their parenting; they occasionally try to seize control of their children with a heavy-handed, authoritarian approach, but more often, they fail to carry through in enforcing rules. Noncustodial fathers, meanwhile, are likely to be overly permissive, indulging their children during visitations. Providing good co-parenting can become challenging.
It is critical to recognize that some of the problems observed in children of divorce are evident before the divorce are the result of marital conflict rather than divorce. Couples who always fight cause their children to feel emotionally insecure, which can pave the way for psychological problems. Sigleman and Rider (2021) argue that not all families experience divorce as a major crisis, and some even thrive afterward. Some adults feel better about themselves and their lives after extracting themselves from a harmful or even abusive marriage. Besides, children may benefit when they escape a conflict-ridden two-parent family, which is more detrimental to a child’s development than living in a cohesive single-parent family.
Sigelman and Rider’s (2021) support Herman-Smith’s (2013) study citing that every child responds differently to trauma resulting from domestic violence. Some may be resilient, while others exhibit adverse effects. Children witnessing domestic abuse experience short-term and long-term behavioural, emotional, and cognitive effects felt according to the child’s resilience. The multitude of factors that determine the response to trauma among children is not limited to sex, stage of development, race, and age. Importantly, Herman-Smith (2013) recognizes that the response to trauma may be caused by things other than witnessing domestic violence and IPV.
Similarly, their responses to trauma vary, and the Royal College of Psychiatrists highlights the common effects on the responses. The majority of them may be anxious or depressed in their daily life with recurrent lack of sleep. They are also characterized by flashbacks and nightmares that last in their stages of development. They are often fond of being easily startled and frequently complain of physical symptoms such as tummy aches which may result in wetting the bed. They have frequent temper tantrums, and school problems, which often drive them to internalize their distress and withdraw from other people. At later stages of life, like adulthood, they may begin to play truant, start using alcohol, begin self-destruction by overdose, or have an eating disorder. Most children will feel guilty, angry, alone, insecure, powerless, frightened, or even become significantly confused. They may have ambivalent feelings towards the abuser and the non-abusing parent.
Perceptions of Professionals Working With Children Who Witnessed Domestic Violence
Most governments recognize children witnessing domestic violence as psychological abuse, with dramatic consequences on their psychophysical health. Therefore, it should also be noted that the professionals working with these groups of children and forming a support network play a pivotal role. Dealing with such abuse to children, the professionals must draw vital guidelines for services and make children more aware of supportive settings. The perceptions of health and welfare groups are essential in enhancing their skills and strategies that can mitigate the impacts of domestic violence on children witnessing it. Carnevale et al. (2020) note that, as mental health professionals, it is crucial to know that children “experience” domestic violence; they are living with it just as the adult who is being abused. Stating that a child is merely “exposed” to domestic violence diminishes the impact on them, therefore invalidating their experiences. Recognizing child witnesses as domestic violence victims can significantly improve the response to the needs of children, including giving them access to mental health treatment from trauma-responsive practices.
Clarke and Wydall (2015) provide some views on treatment considerations essential to professionals in providing a support network to children who witness domestic violence. Notably, the author points out that it is necessary as a profession to help children slowly shift their attention from what is not working in their lives and encourage them to focus on any area of experience, external or internal, where there is better functioning. Helping children move out of a trapped state of distress teaches elf regulation and completing fight-flight responses to stay in an empathetic response; the therapist must be able to listen to the child’s narrative even when it is distressful (Eckenrode et al., 2021). But it is equally important not to force children to share experiences when they are not properly resourced or do not want to share. Highly important, what professionals do is rational, and their processes should not be rushed; instead, time should be taken to build a therapeutic relationship. Once children feel safe in therapeutic spaces, their healing begins.
Professionals act as the main pillars in the country’s development of policy initiatives to tackle domestic violence and mitigation strategies towards its impacts on children witnessing it. It is, therefore, the experiences that they obtain by evaluating children that will be valuable in the development of such policies. Arguably, the policy makers use professionals’ awareness of the needs of children and young people living with and fleeing domestic violence. Although scholars argue that designing the best policies requires direct engagement with children, at the institutional level, reduced opportunities for working with them might be realized due to complex operational priorities and increased administrative demands. Such demand can significantly impact the development of effective multi-agency practice; therefore, the professional’s perspective is essential.
Professional perceptions often develop from two angles: children living with domestic violence and those fleeing it. According to Nicholson, Perez, and Kurtz (2018), professionals anticipate successfully balancing children’s needs with those of adult victims and perpetrators. Thus, they need to understand and appreciate the children’s actual experiences in their context. Generally, professionals are informed of the exiting variation of children’s experience of domestic violence and acknowledge that children who witness domestic violence are at greater risk of sexual, emotional, or physical abuse. They also recognize that perpetrators’ demand has a negative impact on children. Typically, to a child, a home is regarded to be the significant cornerstone of routinized daily activities that provide essential security from the outside world. However, the case is different in a home with domestic violence, with children finding the environment isolated and often not providing the sense of desired security (Orr et al., 2021). Professionals view these children as deprived of their normal childhood since they are constantly engaged with adult responsibilities. These children dislike burdening their mothers in domestic violence by raining their feelings of pain within the family situation.
The situation notable to professionals is that domestic violence significantly impacts children. Thus, responding to it is the priority, which deals not only with the children’s rights but also actions toward mitigation (Hillis, Mercy, and Saul, 2017). The action plan is developed to ensure all children are free from victimization and have homes and a supportive community that enhances their physical and emotional well-being. With evidence and incidences reported to agencies supporting children, viable policies can be developed and translated into practices (Howarth et al., 2019). To achieve this, professionals’ perceptions of recovery work with children and parents are crucial in sealing the existing gaps in the current practices. Most of the practitioner’s perceptions provide that policy agendas that can significantly help address domestic violence and its impacts on children must address how to deal with disclosure or reporting, barriers existing at the organizational level to address children’s issues, and how to empower parents.
Chapter Four: Discussion
The present research indicates that the exposure of children to domestic violence and IPV is today extremely prevalent. Studies show that infants and children can be regarded to be at higher risk for later-life problems, especially to adjusting to society when they are exposed to domestic violence. Arai et al. (2021) study suggest that IPV exposure and domestic violence is currently leading health concern in the United States and U.K. For instance, in the U.S. alone, researchers have found that 1 out of 15 children witness domestic violence and IPV yearly. Global estimates show has been found that over 275 million children and infants witness domestic violence every year.
The most prevalent forms of children exposure include their presence at an event, prenatal, aftermath witness, hearing of the occurrence, or abuse after the occurrence of the event. All these activities can significantly impact the children negatively since they experience the effects of the climate of family and the actions of violence. The exposure and witness have significant implications, often leading to mental health, physical health, changes in cognitive processing, and problems in developing social skills. Children living in homes with domestic violence and IPV are at higher risk of being abused themselves. The effects also make them vulnerable to taking responsibility for abuses that occur within their environments.
Typically, children who once have witnessed one parent or family member abused may feel anxious and fearful. Often, they are on guard, and stay in wonder about when the next violent event will happen. However, their reaction to experience varies depending on various factors such as age, race, gender, and even history of personal resilience to events. Witnessing domestic violence have both short-term effects and long-term effects. Short-term effects affect children in pre-school, school-aged children, and teens. For instance, among the free-school children, the young teens witnessing domestic violence may begin doing things they used to do when they were younger, including thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, whining and increased crying. The school-aged children may start feeling guilty regarding abuse and blame themselves for it. Arguably, domestic violence and abuse significantly hurt children’s self-esteem, affect their education activities and score grades, and may even start limiting their circle of friends. Often, they get into trouble and endure pains such as headaches and stomach-aches. Teens who witness domestic violence act out negatively, including increased fights with siblings and even parents. Teens who witness domestic violence engage in risky behaviours such as alcohol and drugs and have unprotected sex. Their self-esteem is lower significantly; hence having trouble making friends.
The long-term effects of domestic violence on children who witness it at later stages of their lives happen when they are adults. For instance, studies have shown that over 15 million children in the U.S. live in homes where domestic violence occurred at least once during childhood (Kolsky and Gee, 2021). This group of children will consequently have a greater risk of repeating the cycle when they become adults since they often enter into abusive relationships or become abusers themselves. Those who witnessed or were themselves the victims of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse are at higher risk for later-life health problems.
The current study evaluated the impacts of domestic violence on children witnessing it or the IPV. The study findings undeniably impact children’s behavioural, cognitive, and social development. Typically, the research offers significant suggestions on the correlation between witnessing domestic violence as a child and the corresponding development of that child. Data used in the study offers essential considerations that establish the impacts of domestic violence on children witnessing it, which affect the child’s development, thus contributing to viable intervention strategies that need to be taken into consideration to make policy changes.
Clifford and Feigh’s (2022) study suggest that up to 10 million children witness domestic violence annually. Men who, as children, witnessed domestic violence were two times more likely to abuse their wives than were men who were born to nonviolent parents. Children whose parents are going through a divorce can become vulnerable and susceptible to victimization because they feel alone and seek attention. Similarly, at the time of their first completed rape, 30 percent of women were the ages of 11 and 17. More than one-third of women who report being raped before the age of 18 reports being raped as an adult. Several other data sources give similar trends on the impact of domestic violence and child abuse. For instance, Clifford and Feigh’s (2022) study shows that in 2009, about one-third of arrests for internet sexual offenses in which the victim was identified involved child sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse is s a significant risk factor for developing mental health and behavioural problems in adulthood, especially depression and substance abuse. In most cases, children from lower-income families are at more risk than those from higher-income families.
Most children who often get exposed to or are victims of violence in their homes are likely to be the victims of abuse. Clifford and Feigh (2022) argue that children who witness IPV and domestic violence or become abuse victims themselves have a high risk of significant long-term mental and physical problems. The research also found that children exposed to violence are likely to be violent in later relationships. Thus, abused parents find it difficult to establish viable ways of protecting the child.
It is important to remember that young children experiencing abuse and coercive control are not footage of their parents’ experiences. They are susceptible to their surroundings, especially their parents’ emotional signals, and states. Young children experiencing domestic abuse and coercive control often find growing up difficult and may behave like younger children. This difficulty can be seen in many forms of difficulties. For instance, they are seen regulating their emotions and managing feelings and behavior be complicated. Other forms include difficulties in:
- Have reciprocal fun, interaction or laughter.
- Asking for help
- Accepting praise
- Refusal to follow instructions saying ‘No!’ or ‘Won’t.’ Often children who live in highly controlled homes will attempt to gain some control of their external environment by engaging in power struggles, mimicking the perpetrator. This sometimes comes out as bullying or being bullied and described as controlling, oppositional or defiant.
- It has exaggerated startle responses can be followed by outbursts usually indicate unbearable levels of tension in the child.
- Oversensitivity to sounds smells, and touch. This may also include eye contact from adults in case it is hostile or angry. Lack of attention and concentration. Another source of difficulties with concentration is their preoccupation with and worries about the safety of their mothers, siblings, and others at home. Hyper-alert and vigilant. Because they are on their guard, they may continually be scanning and be distracted from their play. This can cause fatigue and sleep difficulties.
- Excessive fear. This can make a child less able to engage with play activities and learning, concentrate, take in new information and reduce exploration, narrowing their learning and that of others.
- Mistrust of our clinging to adults. Some children may crave adult attention and behave in a way to get it, negative attention being better than no attention. These children can be very wearing for staff and sadly are often negatively called attention-seeking rather than this behaviour being seen as an attachment or safe contact seeking. Their behaviours impact heavily on their learning and that of others.
- Perceiving needing to keep the ordinary rules needed in nursery or school as confirmation that they are bad or not good enough and teachers as not liking them and being deliberately horrible.
- Friendship and social interactions. Children who have seen making threats and shouting as effective means of exerting control and getting their own way to repeat this behaviour in their play, in the nursery, and with friends.
Any or all of these issues can prevent a child from thriving in nursery and school. They lead to anxiety and distress and affect the entire education lifeline in various ways. Every child out of their standings has unique issues. However, studies suggest that children living with prolonged or severe abuse are often victims of challenging behaviour, which comes with significant emotional, social, and mental health issues. Likely, the victims require significantly more advanced learning to respond to the compelling challenges.
Impacts on Personal Emotional and Social Development
A framework for understanding the impact on personal emotional, and social development is broken down into three aspects. They are self-confidence and self-awareness, managing feelings and behaviour, and making relationships. This aspect is useful when assessing the impact of domestic abuse and coercive control on the holistic development of young children and whether or not they are meeting their milestones. It is not possible for there to be no impact at all when a child is living with domestic violence or coercive control. The many obvious, unmissable behaviours seen when a child is externalizing the impact have already been written about. Some children may also have witnessed or found out that it is not safe to let anyone know they are distressed and terrified. It is safer to look smiley and happy and behave in a pleasing way. They will often appear not to notice or pay attention to anything unusual that happens when other children are immediately curious and alert. Internalizing their distress in this way is shown in the research to have negative long-term physical, emotional and psychological consequences and must not be overlooked or ignored. Building trust with even just one predictable, safe, nurturing adult, even if only for a short amount of time, will sow the seeds of resilience and be a building block for future wellbeing.
Recently, there has been an increase in research into children’s lived experiences with domestic violence due significant adjoining paradigm shift. Domestic violence and practice are used to conceptualize just children as a witness or to deal with the exposure to domestic violence. However, this frames the immediate impact as the adults, with the children also viewing the practice. Levell (2022) championed the shift to looking at the experience and impact of witnessing to focus on children’s subjectivity and the multidimensional ways that children experience domestic violence. Levell (2022) noted that integrating experience and exposure serves to disrupt a passive construction of childhood that historically framed children as collateral damage who sit on the periphery of the violent relationship. This discursive shift has ignited a shift in policy, with the U.K. government having enshrined children’s status as direct victims of domestic violence in law in 2021.
However, we are yet to see this means in terms of improvements in practice. There are several critical issues related to the purpose and design of child protection provision. The provision adequately fills the support gaps, despite the dual issues being increasingly recognized in policy. The first is high-risk thresholds for support. In a study by Domestic Homicide Review, the role of child protection was analyzed and found that in many cases, children were not meeting the threshold to be considered a child-in-need upon assessment. The second is the desperate ‘planets’ in which different services operate, often with disparate languages, professional practice, and priorities, which can result in children falling through support.
Gendered coping strategies have been explored in research. Some studies have found that boys who have been exposed to domestic violence present more externalizing problems than girls, such as disruptive behaviour enacting violence, whereas other studies disagree. Other research has suggested that age of exposure was a more significant factor resulting in externalizing behavioural problems. The research found that the detrimental effects of exposure to domestic violence on externalizing behavioural problems were more remarkable for older children than for their younger peers. However, a meta-analysis by Sigelman and Rider (2021) showed that age moderated the effects of exposure to domestic violence. It is clear from this research that witnessing domestic violence affects children and young people differently but not always in a negative way. In a meta-analysis of research into the effects on children, it was found that 63 percent of children fared more poorly across a range of societal and emotional factors, the average child who had not been exposed to domestic violence. Notably, this means that around 27 percent of the children exposed to domestic violence showed similar outcomes to those who had not, presenting corundum.
A pervasive gendered social learning theory about the effects of witnessing domestic violence on children has been the cycle of violence or cross-generational transmission of violence. This theory states that violence is passed from generation to generation to the following relationships, either as victims or perpetrators. This is often the victims, with boys becoming perpetrators. Evidence of intergenerational transmission of violence comes from longitudinal and ethnographic research that observes the relationship between childhood influences and later adult behavior strongest predictors of later perpetration. This theory, however, has received criticism, mainly because it does not account for a large proportion of exposed children who do not follow this pattern (Berns, 2015). It also assumes a sense of violence or victimhood as destiny, which is a limiting prognosis for these children. The theory has been rejected by the majority of frontline agencies in that it does not explain why most children exposed to domestic violence do not go on to perpetuate abuse, as well as the fact many domestic violence perpetrators have not witnessed domestic violence in childhood.
Although these limitations have the cycle of violence into question, gendered assumptions have still impacted the perpetrators of risk that male child survivors present in domestic violence provision. Feminist activism and scholarship highlighted the gendered nature of domestic violence, which disproportionately victimizes women. Women started grass-root safe houses for survivors, which led to the development of refugees from patriarchal families. It is essential to note that families who access refugees are the tip of an iceberg in terms of domestic violence support. The majority will access community support services, which have been increasingly centred upon the provision of independent domestic violence advocates (IDVAs) who work with high-risk cases.
The use of IDVAs to assist survivors in navigating the legal system was initially promoted in Home Office-commissioned research in 2005; the report also emphasizes the necessity for more in-depth emotional support to be provided by a more comprehensive network of support workers alongside formal advocacy. However, the formalization of the IDVA role has developed alongside the development and roll-out of the Domestic Abuse Stalking and Honour-Based Violence (DASH) risk assessment tool. Since its widespread implementation by the police in 2009, it has become the customary tool used by DVA services and statutory services to assess domestic violence risk (Berns, 2015). An unintended consequence of the turn to the high-risk provision is that it has accelerated the underfunding of informal community support services and has focused resources on those identified as a high risk rather than the unfortunately named ‘standard risk.’ In reality, short-term advocacy for cases identified as at high risk of the homicide or femicide has come to the forefront of localized commissioning, with longer-term or therapeutic
The present research shows that teenage boys are often victims or are being labelled violent as accorded by age limitation limits within the refuges. Besides, the policies offer opportunities to the state to send mixed messages regarding their future as men that can significantly lead to an increase in anger, confusion, stress, and mistrust, among other things, after they have already been affected by incapacitated escape or attempt to escape the violent perpetrators. According to Berns (2015), this distrust is even stronger in the case of Black families, who already face society’s wider ‘White gaze’ on Black bodies, which renders Black men physically and sexually dangerous. This exclusionary practice has been documented as being particularly difficult for Black, Minority, Ethnic, and Refugee families, as the assumption that males are inherently prone to violence is too close to the painful realities of living in a racist society where Black males are viewed as inherently ‘suspect.’
The notion of women being inherently peaceful in opposition to male aggression has also been problematic for Black women. There has been a stronger desire for innocence in many strands of feminist politics. This has led to the lack of acknowledgment of White women’s complicity in violence against Black women, both directly and indirectly, in supporting and maintaining racism. Holt, Buckley, and Whelan (2008) noted that, as shelter intervention proceeds, as if women were unencumbered with dependants, it will fail to acknowledge mothers and their experience of refuge provision are shaped by a range of factors which include taking into account of children’s wishes.
According to Howell et al. (2016), the same way that domestic violence can harm adults psychologically, emotionally, and physically, it can also harm children. It can even have some terrible effects on a child’s physical development. The author adds that it also has side effects on the child’s learning, becoming a drug user and an alcoholic, becoming violent, stressed, and depressed, growing up to become a killer, and becoming very unstable. The health and happiness of youth or child exposed to domestic violence are at stake worldwide. It has adverse impacts and affects their developmental growth. Some of these children grow up with no love in their hearts and do not care about anybody, not even themselves. It looks like they have no feelings whatsoever. Others create their little world or isolation. They have no friends because of loneliness. They are clueless about what is acceptable or not, and they are so confused. They sleep and wake up with domestic violence notion. They witness and live it day by day either by a drunkard and crackhead father and mother; sometimes it can be an uncle or an aunt, or by adopted parents. The number of children, including youth, witnessing or abusing domestic violence around the world, is very significant (Berns, 2015). Such a negative situation puts the children in a lot of pain and suffering throughout their lives. The U.S. Department of Justice defines domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behaviour in any relationship that one partner uses to gain power or control over another intimate partner.”
Many parents think that their arguments are fights do not affect their children in any way; big mistake; you better think again (Buchanan, 2017). These parents do not understand that violence and conflict in a family affect the children considerably. And such negative behaviour from parents can and will raise the bar for children to develop severe behavioural and emotional problems. And the worse of all this is that not every parent or abusers knows or recognizes these symptoms. As a result, the children or teens do not get the attention or help they deserve. Be aware, that where domestic violence takes place, child abuse follows. Children get hurt accidentally or voluntarily in this big square of domestic violence. Thereof, their health and safety are at stake.
Children developing these symptoms should not be taken for granted. A mental health professional should immediately evaluate them; your children are not safe. They need help as soon as possible. Domestic violence comes and goes. It acts like a ghost. It will never go away for good. It will come when the least is accepted; therefore, always have a plan B such as a place to go. It does not matter; it can be a friend’s house or a negative’s place (Križ, 2020). Be prepared for the worse. According to experts, many factors are in play, and they influence every child’s response to domestic violence differently because it does not affect all children the same way. Some of the victims do not really show some apparent symptoms of depression or stress or have developed their strategies to deal with the problem. Some may be beaten down by it. For example, let’s say that two sisters have witnessed their aunt beaten down by their drunk husband and run home to the same scenario where they find their mother lay down on the floor in her blood, just beaten by their father. They will not take it in the same way, and they will not have the same reaction at all.
When you compare those two, one can feel very sad about what the aunt had gone through, and the other might not care and keep doing what they were doing. The one who acted like they do not care about what happened to the aunt would act differently, finding the mother the way she was. The child is going to be scared by thinking there is a possibility that the mother may die, which can quickly put the child into stress and depressed mood (Hardesty, Haselschwerdt, and Johnson, 2012). The other might have a different reaction to what happened to her mother. Again, it does not affect all children the same way. Children are meant to be protected; hence violence must be kept to oneself. Children do not need to be a witness to such a nightmare.
Unfortunately, children are victims of domestic violence directly or indirectly. Unfortunately, what happens between the adults in the household follows them throughout their lifetime. Some children still want to maintain a relationship with their fathers, but some do not simply because they are scared of them for what they put them through. That I exactly why they want to stay away from their fathers, these are things that need to fix. The fathers need to do better so their children can be in their lives. Every child deserves their father’s life, so they can have a real man to look up to, an actual role model.
Mothers that went through such a nightmare with their children and raised them alone need to talk to their children and let them know that what has happened in the past, and they are safe now, and it will never reproduce itself again. Let them know that having bad dreams is part of sleeping, but it is not real. It just has a dream, and there is no reason to be afraid and scared. It is crucial to say ‘I love you, and I will take good care of you, and I promise it never happens again’. By saying that you will build some solid ground for your children to stand on, knowing that there is no that theirs is no earthquake that can destroy it, talking to them make them believe that they are really safe and their mothers love very much, hugging and kissing them from time to time. They need more love and attention than ever before.
Conclusion and Recommendations
Most research in the children and domestic violence field has continued to view the “problem” in very narrow terms as children’s exposure or witness to incidences of parental violence. Phrases such as domestic or intimate partner violence, violence, and violent incident have tended to be used interchangeably in this research. This language has reflected the consensus in the field that, when it comes to children, physical violence is domestic violence or intimate partner violence. As a result, the issue of how children are impacted by the full range of perpetrators’ coercive control tactics has remained largely unexplored. The qualitative and quantitative research used in this research provided essential insights into how perpetrators’ domineering interactional style transferred to their interactions with children.
Arguably, domestic violence continues to be the most significant problem in most families. Exposure to and witnessing domestic violence among children pose a significant burden on children in almost every aspect, regardless of stage and socioeconomic status. However, with viable strategies in place, the exposure problem can be overcome and prevented. Unfortunately, the impacts of domestic violence produce long-term intergenerational cycles of abuse if left untreated at early stages. In order to break the cycle of violence, there is a need to engage various stakeholders, including family members, the entire community, and everyone impacted by domestic violence. Children are regarded to have a complex nature experiencing trauma, and thus, clinicians need to be involved to collaborate with the children in order to establish the traumatic events and check on the child’ resilience. Society plays a crucial role and has a great impact on helping the child to overcome traumatic events. The community often views domestic violence negatively; hence the victim is left unattended, ending up getting re-victimized and having an ashaming feeling. By witnessing domestic violence, children are often affected significantly and remain in the situation by traumatically and repeatedly victimized. Research undertaken by various scholars found adverse effects of witnessing domestic violence and IPV on children. Without seeking intervention by the family, community, and other stakeholders, the effects will increasingly develop. Early intervention for the victims and children witnessing it significantly breaks the cycle of violence and prevents children from any harm caused by domestic violence. Overall, the research suggests a need to establish the impacts of domestic violence and intimate partner violence (IPV). Further research should focus on the therapeutic interventions for children witnessing domestic violence.
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