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More than half of the children who witness the abuse of their mothers will grow up to be abused themselves. In families where woman battering occurs, the rate of child abuse or serious neglect is 1500% higher than the national average.  Research indicates that woman abuse in a family may be the single most important risk factor for child maltreatment. When mothers are battered, the father is about three times more likely to be the children’s abuser than in families where woman battering does not occur. Older children may be harmed while trying to protect their mothers. Children in homes where domestic violence occurs may “indirectly” receive injuries. They may be hurt when household items are thrown or weapons are used.  Infants may be injured if being held by their mother when the abuser strikes out. Men who batter often use the children to control the behavior of their female partners.  For example, an abuser may threaten to harm the children to stop his partner from leaving him.

Whether or not the children are physically abused, they often suffer emotional and psychological trauma from living in homes where their fathers abuse their mothers. Although children may not observe the violence, they almost always are aware that it is occurring

Even babies are known to be affected by domestic violence

Battering can disrupt children’s eating and sleeping patterns, and make them suffer from inadequate rest and nutrition. The stress of domestic violence may cause children to revert to behaviors such as thumb-sucking, nail-biting, and bed-wetting.

Children whose mothers are abused are denied the kind of home life that fosters healthy development.  These children more frequently have stress-related physical ailments, like headaches, ulcers, and rashes. Children from violent homes often experience depression, anxiety, fear, and guilt.  These children live in constant fear of injury to their mothers and themselves.  They may feel guilty about loving or hating the abuser, blame themselves for causing the violence, or feel utterly helpless about being able to stop the violence. Domestic violence may prevent children from concentrating on or doing homework.  These children frequently have problems performing in school and may be held back. Children from violent homes may be overly aggressive and difficult to control.  Or they may be unusually passive and withdrawn. Men who batter often keep their partners and children from having contact with other family and friends.  Lack of interaction with others outside the home makes it difficult for these children to get along with peers and adults.  Frequent changes in residence are not uncommon among these families and can be very traumatic for children.

Violence may pass from generation to generation.Most experts believe that children who are raised in abusive homes learn that violence is an effective way to resolve conflicts and problems. Boys who witness their mothers’ abuse are more likely to batter their female partners as adults than boys raised in nonviolent homes. There is no evidence, however, that girls who witness their mothers’ abuse are at higher risk of being battered as an adult.  In fact, research studies have shown that the most common characteristic among battered women is the fact that they are female.

The entire community feels the negative effects of domestic violence on children.
Children from violent homes have higher risks of alcohol/drug abuse and juvenile delinquency. Some of our country’s “missing children” are actually being hidden by their mothers to protect them from violent fathers.  Conversely, abusers sometimes kidnap their children to punish their partners for leaving them or to get them to come back.
Today’s child growing up in a violent home may be tomorrow’s prison inmate.  A great majority of violent criminals were raised in abusive homes.


Abuse may begin during pregnancy, with concentrated blows on the woman’s breasts and abdomen.  It is not only the adults who suffer.  The children in the family are often observers or victims of violence as well.  As observer, the child may feel a sense of guilt and responsibility for the violence and may act out through truancy, sickness, or other behaviors to draw attention away from the spousal violence.

During the course of family violence, a child is likely to be harmed.  Children may become targets in the fury of an attack.  They are safe targets because they are not strong enough to fight back and generally cannot seek help outside the family.

Children may suffer physical harm in cases where they attempt to help the abused spouse.  The victim may even turn on the children to vent anger and frustration after suffering abuse herself.  Children may also be abused when a spouse is jealous of attention that is given to a child; this often results in anger, and violence may occur.  Children may be neglected because the parents lack energy to cope with their needs due to the emotional strain of the marital relationship.  In any of these cases, the child may be victimized, frequently suffering long-term physical and emotional effects.

Child Maltreatment as a Result of Domestic Violence

There are various types of child maltreatment, which may result from incidents of family violence.  They include physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect and sexual abuse.


  1. Physical abuse to children may occur;
  2. during the course of parental fighting, when violence shifts directly onto the child
  3. accidentally during the course of parental fighting (for example, a mother drops her infant during a fight or a parent accidentally hits the child.)
  4. when a frustrated parent projects blame for his or her marital problems onto the child
  5. when the disappointment in the relationship shifts to disappointment in the child
  6. when a victim of family violence cannot retaliate against the abusive spouse and takes aggression out on the child
  7. when the abusive spouse includes the child, as well as the partner, as a target for violence.
  8. when a woman is battered during her pregnancy.


Emotional abuse of children in violent families may occur more often than physical abuse and may cause severe psychological damage to the child.  In general, children in a violent family will experience emotional abuse, deprivation, and potentially long-lasting psychological problems. In particular, emotional abuse may occur when:

1.      the child is accused of being responsible for the adults’ relationship problems;

2.      the abusive adult accuses the child of making them angry or abusive;

3.      threats to the child that they may suffer physical abuse;

4.      the child is called names, suffers put-downs.


Children may be neglected due to the parent’s lack of energy or inability to meet their needs.  Neglect of the child may take the form of emotional deprivation, lack of supervision, failure to provide adequate medical care, or failure to provide adequate nutrition. It can also take place when the mother does not know how to provide a positive consistent structure for the child and does not have the skills to play with the children.


Sexual abuse may occur when:

1.      the abuser feels the child is there to serve adult sexual needs;

2.      there are older children in the home who have been sexually abused.



Children in domestic violence situations are found in all socio-economic, educational, ethnic, racial and age groups.  They are psychologically abused and may be verbally, physically and sexually abused.  Often they engage in excessive minimization and denial.

Children in violent homes may be characterized by:

  •  a combination of limited tolerance for frustration, poor impulse control and martyr like suffering externalized/internalized anger.
  •  sadness, depression, stress disorders and psychosomatic complaints; absences from school, pre-delinquent and delinquent behavior.
  • combination of poor impulse control & continual hopefulness that the situation will improve.
  •  economic and emotional dependence; high risk for alcohol/drugs, sexual acting out, running away, isolation, loneliness and fear.
  • very shaky definition of self – grappling with childlike responses of parents for modeling; poor definition of self and defines self in parenting role (role reversal).
  • low self-esteem, seeing self and siblings with few options or expectations to succeed.
  • mixture of hope/depression that there is no way out; peer group can be most important contact, if available.
  • increased social isolation, increased peer isolation or complete identification with peers.  Poor social skills.
  • bargaining behavior with parents; attempts to prove self; compliant, but may run away, feeling powerless.
  • constant fear and terror for own life as well as parents’; confusion and insecurity.
  • increasing deceptiveness; lying, excuses for outings, stealing, cheating.
  • poor definition of personal boundaries, violation of others’ personal boundaries accepting or projecting blame.
  • little or no understanding of the dynamics of violence; often assumes it to be the norm.
  • self-blame (depending on age) for family fighting, separations, divorce and internal conflicts.
  • continuation of abuse pattern in adult life.
  •  frequently participating in battering (maim or kill animals, batter siblings); often batters parents in later years.
  •  poor problem solving skills; may use violence as problem-solving technique in school, with peers, with family (appears as early as pre-school); demonstrates aggression or passivity.
  •  poor sexual image, uncertainty about appropriate behavior; confused mode identification, immaturity in peer relationships.
  • being at higher risk for assaults (either as witnesses or victims) during mother’s pregnancy.
  • heightened suicide risks and attempts –increased thoughts of suicide and/or murdering parents, prone to negligence and carelessness.
  •  feeling used and powerless in all decisions (age specific) regarding custody issues.

Mandatory Reporting vs Ethical Reporting

About Reporting Child Abuse

Advocates for Domestic Violence Services are not mandatory reporters. If a survivor discloses child abuse, or there is suspicion of child abuse, immediately contact your backup after the hotline call. Your backup will ask you questions regarding the information disclosed and then assess the situation. If a report is necessary, the backup will make the report for you. 

If you are a mandatory reporter outside of DVS, we encourage you to tell the caller you are a mandatory reporter if you feel she may be close to disclosing child abuse during the call. By telling the survivor you are a mandatory reporter you offer her the option of disclosing and preparing for the safety of herself and her children if a report is made. If the survivor discloses anyway, remind her that you will be making a report, ask her if she has any safety concerns (she may need shelter once a report is made, etc.), and call your backup before making the report (the backup always needs to be informed of this situation).

Definitions of Abuse

Child Abuse is defined in the Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act as the“physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child under the age of 18 by a person who is responsible for the child’s welfare under circumstances which indicate that the child’s health or welfare is harmed or threatened.”

Physical Abuse

We define abuse as any act that results in non-accidental injury to a child. It may involve slapping, biting, beating, burning, shaking, throwing, punching, etc.—any action that harms a child. This abuse may stem from the belief that children need harsh punishment; may be a direct result of violence in the home against the mother, or may be the abuser’s need to exert control over the child. Physical abuse may lead to painful injuries and serious medical problems. This damage may lead to disability or even death.

Emotional Maltreatment

Emotional abuse involves the deliberate presence of rejecting, terrorizing, ignoring, 
isolating, corrupting, and other actions and/or language that harm the child. It also involves the absence of love and acceptance for the child. These behaviors occur deliberately and consistently over time. Emotional abuse often accompanies other forms of abuse and may
 be a warning sign for abuse happening in the home. Children may have low self-esteem, undeveloped emotional growth and expression, and may not trust others.


We define neglect as the willful omission of acts that protect a child or permits the child’s health or welfare to be in jeopardy. This often results in lack of adequate supervision, education, food, clothing, medical attention, and shelter. It is important to not confuse neglect with low-income or poverty—concentrate on the parent’s negligence. Children depend on adults for security, guidance, and acceptance, and when adults neglect children—their world can seem uncertain and frightening.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse includes many behaviors directed at or involving a child: abuse of sexuality, seductive sexualization, inappropriate relationship with an older person, intrusive actions, and identifiable abuse such as touching, oral sex, penetration, etc. Children are most often abused by someone they know and often intimidated into keeping the abuse a secret. Sexual abuse may lead to physical and somatic complaints, childhood to adulthood depression, intimacy problems in peer relationships, and memory lapses due to repression. Being believed and supported is the most important factor in the child’s recovery from the abuse. 


 At Domestic Violence Services, we expect you to be knowledgeable of your mandatory reporting requirements and NOT make reports that are not valid. Our philosophy is that we attempt to empower a parent to get help on their own (or with our assistance) to address their children's issues. Our position is to support our clients in a positive manner and not superimpose our belief systems or bias over our clients.


When talking to children who have suffered from domestic/sexual violence, advocates must be very careful not to interrogate or interview. Our function is to empathize and give information, not investigate or report. 

We can support children by creating a connection that shows them that an adult in the world cares about how they feel or what they think. This can be done by something as simple as asking "How was school today?" or, "Are you excited to get a new home?". Sometimes children will approach us with questions about what is going on and why they are displaced. CAUTION: It is not appropriate to discuss serious matters with children without their parent there. If a child says something that requires their parent to be privy, say to them "You know, I understand why you would ask me that question, let's go and talk with your mom." Discuss with their parent that they are confused and anxious and wondering what is going on and let them know that you are available to help explain things, if they need help. 

In the role of an advocate, safety planning with children could include describing what non-violent behavior looks like. Letting children know that it is never appropriate to yell or threaten someone with violence, or to hit someone in anger. Sometimes this may include describing the difference between discipline and violence.

Occasionally we meet families with children who need specialized counseling. Our counseling referrals are to Lifeways or CCAF (commission on children and families) who work with the school counselors. Do not hesitate to give information to a parent requesting help.

Building Healthy Coping Skills

Talking with children about anger and violence is a good way to start/build upon their coping skills. Asking them what they think and  giving them healthy options to use as outlets for their feelings encourages them to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. As advocates, we understand that violence is a choice, but that with healthy coping skills the likelihood of making those choices can be reduced.


If and ONLY if a parent asks you to safety plan with their children, make sure that the safety plan coincides with the parents current safety plan. Alternatively; you can include the child in the parents safety plan. Let them know what to do if something "bad" happens. Who they can call or where they can go.