The Impact of Exposure to Domestic Violence on Children and Young People: A Review of the Literature

Child Abuse Negl. 2008 Aug;32(8):797-810. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2008.02.004. Epub 2008 Aug 26.

Abstract

Objective: This article reviews the literature concerning the impact of exposure to domestic violence on the health and developmental well-being of children and young people. Impact is explored across four separate yet inter-related domains (domestic violence exposure and child abuse; impact on parental capacity; impact on child and adolescent development; and exposure to additional adversities), with potential outcomes and key messages concerning best practice responses to children's needs highlighted.

Method: A comprehensive search of identified databases was conducted within an 11-year framework (1995-2006). This yielded a vast literature which was selectively organized and analyzed according to the four domains identified above.

Results: This review finds that children and adolescents living with domestic violence are at increased risk of experiencing emotional, physical and sexual abuse, of developing emotional and behavioral problems and of increased exposure to the presence of other adversities in their lives. It also highlights a range of protective factors that can mitigate against this impact, in particular a strong relationship with and attachment to a caring adult, usually the mother.

Conclusion: Children and young people may be significantly affected by living with domestic violence, and impact can endure even after measures have been taken to secure their safety. It also concludes that there is rarely a direct causal pathway leading to a particular outcome and that children are active in constructing their own social world. Implications for interventions suggest that timely, appropriate and individually tailored responses need to build on the resilient blocks in the child's life.

Practice implications: This study illustrate the links between exposure to domestic violence, various forms of child abuse and other related adversities, concluding that such exposure may have a differential yet potentially deleterious impact for children and young people. From a resilient perspective this review also highlights range of protective factors that influence the extent of the impact of exposure and the subsequent outcomes for the child. This review advocates for a holistic and child-centered approach to service delivery, derived from an informed assessment, designed to capture a picture of the individual child's experience, and responsive to their individual needs.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology
  • Child Development
  • Crime Victims / psychology
  • Domestic Violence / psychology*
  • Domestic Violence / statistics & numerical data
  • Family Characteristics
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Life Change Events
  • Male
  • Resilience, Psychological
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Violence / psychology