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Domestic abuse as a predictor of harm for children and young people

Children and young people are at significant risk from domestic abuse in the home. Alongside mental health and substance misuse, the presence of domestic abuse is frequently a key aggravating factor when a child has been killed or seriously injured in the home. (See: 29 Child Homicides)

The Adoption and Children Act 2002 (section 120) extended the definition of "harm" as stated in the Children Act 1989, to include "impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another". This came into effect in January 2005.

Children suffer harm from domestic abuse; whether or not they are present in the room when an incident occurs.

Domestic abuse is known to pose the following risks to children and young people:

  • There is a direct correlation between the presence of domestic abuse and child abuse, which means professionals should always consider the possibility of both forms of abuse where one is identified. The presence of domestic abuse increases the risk of abuse toward children, including of emotional abuse and neglect.
  • Children may be at risk from physical abuse from the victimised parent in efforts to reduce the severity of punishment from the perpetrator.
  • Domestic abuse is an aggravating factor in cases of child sexual abuse, with coercion and violence used as a tool to obtain and maintain compliance.
  • Parents experiencing domestic abuse are at significant risk of mental health difficulties, which may impact their ability to nurture and care for children in the short term.
  • Research has shown that unborn children are subject to physical harm and emotional distress from domestic abuse, causing damage to foetal development and increasing risk of miscarriage. Also see: Pregnant Women.