Impact on Children

Each year in the U.S., 1 in 15 children live in homes in which one of the adults abuses the other adult; 90% of these children are eyewitnesses to the violence15, and some experience abuse to themselves directly. Children are not passive witnesses to what happens in their homes. Instead, they are actively involved in what is happening in the environment around them.

For example, the abusive adult may:

  • Tell the children that they are responsible for the violence.
  • Threaten to take the children away from the parent who protects them.
  • Turn the children against the safe adult, or undermine the safe adult’s ability to parent successfully.
  • Use the children to monitor the other parent’s actions.
  • Directly abuse the children, either emotionally, verbally, physically, or sexually.

All children are impacted differently by their experiences with domestic abuse, and not all are traumatized. Their resiliency depends upon factors such as age, gender, relationship with parents, and proximity to the violence.

Children who live with or witness abuse may:

  • Side with the abusive adult in order to stay safe, recognizing where the power lies in the family.
  • Have a difficult time focusing at school because they are worried about what is happening at home.
  • Worry about the future, or feel anxiety over never knowing what is coming next.
  • Experience confusion and damage to their ability to trust the people in their lives.
  • Try to protect the abused parent, even to the point of physically coming between the adults.
  • Have an impulse to get away because home feels like a dangerous place.
  • Feel guilty, or believe that the abuse is their fault.
  • Experiment with alcohol, drugs, overeating, or self-harm to numb their feelings.

With the right supports, children have immense capacity to be resilient. The single most important protective factor for a child who has experienced domestic abuse is having at least one loving and supportive adult in their life16. Our resource centers work with adult survivors to strengthen their ability to be that person for their children for the long haul.

At our Coalition office, we work closely with our member resource centers and with the Department of Health and Human Services around the Domestic Violence-Child Protective Services Program, which has fundamentally shifted the way the Department views cases involving domestic abuse and violence. Our goal, whenever possible, is to find ways for protective parents and their children to be supported in healing together, while we hold the person who has done the harm accountable.

15 Hamby, Finkelhor, et al. “Children’s Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence and Other Family Violence.” 2011.
16 Osofsky, J. D. (1999). The impact of violence on children. The Future of Children: Domestic Violence and Children, 9 (3), 38.