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Exposure to domestic violence a form of child abuse



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THE HON ROBERT McCLELLAND MP  ATTORNEY‐GENERAL    THE HON BRENDAN O’CONNOR MP  MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS AND JUSTICE    MEDIA RELEASE    EMBARGOED: 12.01am, Monday 27 June 2011      Exposure to domestic violence a form of child abuse    A new Australian Institute of Criminology report that says witnessing domestic violence  should be recognised as a for m of child abuse show the Gillard Government’s reforms to the  family law system are critical to the safety of children.     Attorney‐General Robert McClelland and Minister for Justice Brendan O’Connor today  released an Australian Institute of Criminology report Children’s exposure to domestic  violence in Australia.     The report u nderlines the harm to children from growing up in a violent household and  emphasises the need for the Gillard Government’s reforms to the family law system to  protect children at risk of family violence and child abuse.    “The study finds that there is growing local and international recognition that hearing or  seeing domes

tic violence is damaging to children and constitutes abuse. The report also  looks at measures to better assist children who have grown up in violent household,” Mr  O’Connor said.    “The report shows that children who are exposed to domestic violence at home can suffer  many problems including acting violently the mselves, as children or as they grow up.    “Domestic violence is a criminal offence, but it’s also a social problem that has long lasting  effects on victims, their families and communities across Australia,” Mr O’Connor said.    “By learning more about domestic violence and its effects, we can better address it and  improve the ways we try to protect the most vulnera

ble in our community - especially 

children.    “The report shows that a substantial amount of domestic violence is witnessed by children,  ranging from a child hearing violence or having to defend a parent against the violence, to  “patching up” a parent after a violent incident,” Mr O ’Connor said.    Attorney‐General Robert McClelland said the Government’s Family Law Legislation  Amendment (Family Violence and Other Measures) Bill 2011 contains key measures to create  a safer and fairer family law system and prioritise the safety of children.   

“This report builds on the body of evidence that shows that family violence and child abuse  remain real concerns in our community. Family violence and child abuse are completely  unacceptable and that is why the Government has introduced the Family Violence Bill.    “The Family Violence Bill prioritises the safety of children, en courages people to bring  forward evidence of family violence and child abuse, and helps families, professionals and  the courts to better identify harmful behaviour through new definitions of ‘family violence’  and ‘child abuse’,” he said.    “There are clearly serious, and often long‐term, negative effects of exposure to violence on a  child’s physical and social developme

nt.  In recognition of this, the Family Violence Bill 

expands the definition of child abuse to include a child’s exposure to family violence.”    The Family Violence Bill is currently being considered by the Senate Legal and Constitutional  Affairs Committee, and will then be considered in the Senate.    “This legislati

on will significantly improve the protections in place to ensure the safety of  children in the family law system,” Mr McClelland said.    “It will help people within the system to understand and recognise family violence and child  abuse, and encourage them to act.    “There is a growing body of evidence th at these reforms are urgently needed to protect  children and families and I would strongly encourage Senators to support this important  legislation.”    Children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia documents the effects that exposure  to domestic violence can have on children, including psychological, behavioural, health and  socio‐economic effects, as well as the li nk with the intergenerational transmission of  violence and re‐victimisation.     The report notes that more policies and programs to address domestic violence and child  abuse have been introduced in recent years through COAG’s National Framework for  Protecting Australia’s Children and the National Council’s Plan for A ustralia to Reduce  Violence against Women and their Children.     Children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia by Dr Kelly Richards is available at  www.aic.gov.au      Media Adviser (O’Connor): Jayne Stinson 0458 547 512 jayne.stinson@ag.gov.au    Media Adviser (McClelland): Ryan Liddell 0427 225 763 

Australia’s national research and knowledge centre on crime and justice

Trends & issuesin crime and criminal justiceNo. 419 May 2011 Children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia

Kelly Richards

Children who live in homes characterised by violence between parents, or directed at one

parent by another, have been called the ‘silent’, ‘forgotten’, ‘unintended’, ‘invisible’ and/or

‘secondary’ victims of domestic violence (Edleson 1999; Kovacs & Tomison 2003; Tomison

2000). Recently, however, children’s exposure to domestic violence, and the effects that this

exposure can have, has been increasingly recognised (Humphreys 2008).

The concept of ‘witnessing’ domestic violence has, until recently, been only narrowly

defined and there has increasingly been controversy about the use of this term. Although

the stereotypical view of a child witnessing domestic violence is

a child watching a fight between the mother and a male adult where there is both verbal

and physical abuse, and the child is emotionally traumatized by the event (Kaufman

Kantor & Little 2003: 346)

The research literature (such as Edleson 1999; Humphreys 2007) demonstrates that

witnessing can involve a much broader range of incidents, including the child:

• hearing the violence;

• being used as a physical weapon;

• being forced to watch or participate in assaults;

• being forced to spy on a parent;

• being informed that they are to blame for the violence because of their behaviour;

• being used as a hostage;

• defending a parent against the violence; and/or

• intervening to stop the violence.

The research literature (eg Bedi & Goddard 2007; Edleson 1999; Gewirtz & Medhanie 2008;

Kaufman Kantor & Little 2003; Tomison 2000) shows that in the aftermath of a violent

incident, children’s exposure to domestic violence can involve:

• having to telephone for emergency assistance;

• seeing a parent’s injuries after the violence and having to assist in ‘patching up’ a parent;

• having their own injuries and/or trauma to cope with;

• dealing with a parent who alternates between violence and a caring role;

• seeing the parents being arrested; and

Foreword | Children’s ‘witnessing’ or exposure to domestic violence has been increasingly recognised as a form of child abuse, both in Australia and internationally. Although it is difficult to accurately assess the scope of the problem, research has demonstrated that a substantial amount of domestic violence is witnessed by children. As this paper outlines, witnessing domestic violence can involve a range of incidents, ranging from the child ‘only’ hearing the violence, to the child being forced to participate in the violence or being used as part of a violent incident.

In this paper, current knowledge about the extent of children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia is described, along with the documented impacts that this exposure can have on children. This includes psychological and behavioural impacts, health and socioeconomic impacts, and its link to the intergenerational transmission of violence and re-victimisation. Current legislative and policy initiatives are then described and some community-based programs that have been introduced in Australia to address the problem of children’s exposure to domestic violence are highlighted. The paper concludes that initiatives focused on early intervention and holistic approaches to preventing and responding to children’s exposure to domestic violence should be considered as part of strategies

developed to address this problem.

Adam Tomison

Director

2 | Australian Institute of Criminology

(Bedi & Goddard 2007; Fantuzzo et al.

2007; Zerk, Mertin & Proeve 2009) and

that violent households have a significantly

higher proportion of children aged five years

and under (Tomison 2000). Indeed, children

are often a factor in women’s decisions

to stay in violent relationships (Victorian

Department of Justice 2009). Children can

be exposed to violence from birth, or even

in utero (Bunston 2008), as pregnancy is a

time of increased risk of violence for women,

with 17 percent of women who experience

domestic violence doing so for the first time

while pregnant (Morgan & Chadwick 2009).

Child abuse and exposure to domestic violence

Distinguishing children who suffer abuse

in the home from those who are ‘only’

exposed to domestic violence presents

a considerable methodological and

conceptual challenge, as these two

phenomena are rarely discrete (Edleson

1999; Flood & Fergus 2008; Herrenkohl

et al. 2008; Jouriles et al. 2008). The rate

of co-occurrence of Australian children

experiencing physical abuse and being

exposed to domestic violence, and

experiencing sexual abuse and being

exposed to domestic violence have been

estimated at 55 percent and 40 percent

respectively (Bedi & Goddard 2007).

Although they argue that these figures

are likely to be an under-representation

of the prevalence of the co-occurrence of

exposure to domestic violence and other

types of child abuse, Bedi and Goddard

(2007: 67) claim that ‘families in which child

abuse and I[ntimate] P[artner] V[iolence]

co-occur clearly represent a significant

proportion of those in which either is

present’. This highlights that children’s

exposure to domestic violence may

frequently be one feature of families in which

other types of violence are also present and

underscores the importance of considering

children’s exposure to domestic violence in

a holistic way.

The likelihood of the co-occurrence of

child abuse and domestic violence varies

according to a range of factors (Tomison

2000), including the severity and frequency

of domestic violence (Kaufman Kantor &

Little 2003). One American study by Ross

Indigenous families, given the history

of government removal of children

(Humphreys 2008, 2007).

Despite these difficulties, a number of

estimates about the extent of children’s

exposure to domestic violence have been

made in recent years. Pinheiro’s (2006)

report for UNICEF estimated that between

133 million and 275 million children around

the world witness frequent domestic

violence each year.

In Australia, the Australian Bureau of

Statistics’ (2005) Personal Safety Survey

found that of all women who had

experienced partner violence since the age

of 15 years and had children in their care

during the relationship, 59 percent reported

that the violence had been witnessed by

children, 37 percent that the violence had

not been witnessed by children and four

percent that they did not know whether

the violence had been witnessed by children

in their care (n=11,800). The Australian

component of the International Violence

Against Women Survey found that of

women who had experienced partner

violence and had children living with them

at the time, 36 percent reported that their

children had witnessed a domestic violence

incident (n=1,730; Mouzos & Makkai 2004).

Taylor’s (2006) analysis of data from the

ACT’s Family Violence Intervention Program

database revealed that for the year 2003-

04, children were recorded as being present

at 44 percent of domestic violence incidents

(n=2,793).

A Secretariat of National Aboriginal and

Islander Child Care study (cited in Flood &

Fergus 2008) found that Indigenous children

were significantly more likely to have

witnessed physical violence against their

mother or stepmother than the ‘average’

child respondent (ie compared with all

child respondents). Forty-two percent

of Indigenous young people reported

witnessing violence against their mother

or stepmother, compared with 23 percent

of all children.

Although estimates vary considerably,

research has consistently shown that violent

households are significantly more likely to

have children than non-violent households

• having to leave home with a parent and/or

dislocation from family, friends and school.

As Humphreys (2007: 12) argues,

‘describing this range of violent experiences

as “witnessing” fails to capture the extent

to which children may become embroiled

in domestic violence’. In recent years, a

range of terms, including ‘being exposed

to violence’, ‘living with violence’ and ‘being

affected by violence’ have emerged to

describe the experiences of children from

violent homes (Powell & Murray 2008).

The extent of children’s exposure to domestic violence

There are a number of difficulties associated

with assessing the extent of children’s

exposure to domestic violence, including:

• this type of data is rarely collected by

police (Gewirtz & Medhanie 2008). This

may partly be because children are not

usually considered ‘ideal’ witnesses in

court proceedings, for a variety of reasons

(see Richards 2009) and because the

focus has traditionally been on the primary

victim of violence. Despite this, there are

some signs that this is changing, in part

because of an increased recognition of

the impacts of children’s exposure to

domestic violence and the increased use

of mandatory reporting and interventions

with families where adults and/or children

are exposed to domestic violence;

• domestic violence incidents themselves

being under-reported, resulting in a dearth

of data on children’s involvement in such

incidents (Gewirtz & Medhanie 2008);

• parents underestimating the extent of

children’s exposure to domestic violence

(Edleson 1999; see also Brown &

Endekov 2005);

• researchers focusing only on those cases

known to professional services and

therefore providing skewed assessments

(Tomison 2000);

• researchers relying only on parental

reports of violence (Edleson 1999); and

• under-reporting due to fear of family

separation (Clements, Oxtoby & Ogle

2008; Meyer 2010). This may be

particularly the case in relation to

Australian Institute of Criminology | 3

health conditions, including alcohol and

drug abuse and depression, and even early

death.

Research has shown that women and

children escaping domestic violence are the

prevailing face of homelessness in Australia.

During 2003-04, children of women

escaping domestic violence comprised

two-thirds of child clients of Supported

Accommodation Assistance Program

services (Macdonald 2007).

As Flood and Fergus (2008) demonstrate,

domestic violence, and its impact on

children, also have a significant and

long-term economic cost to the Australian

community as a result of reduced

productivity, welfare receipt, medical costs,

unemployment and a range of other factors

(see also Aldemir 2009).

Inter-generational transmission of violence

Much research has focused on whether and

to what extent children who are exposed to

domestic violence become perpetrators or

victims of family violence as adults (see

Flood & Fergus 2008). Given the apparent

pervasiveness of the problem of childhood

exposure to domestic violence, this is an

important area for social, legal and public

policy concern.

Although results have been mixed, studies

have indicated that children from violent

homes may be likely to exhibit attitudes

and behaviours that reflect their childhood

experiences of witnessing domestic

violence. Research has suggested, for

example, that children’s exposure to

domestic violence may result in attitudes

that justify their own use of violence and that

boys who witness domestic violence are

more likely to approve of violence (Edleson

1999). There is thus ‘some support for the

hypothesis that children from violent families

of origin carry violent and violence-tolerant

roles to their adult intimate relationships’

(Edleson 1999: 861; see also Kovacs &

Tomison 2003).

It is important to stress, however, that

research findings in this field have been

mixed and that ‘most children growing up

with violence will become adults who are

(Bedi & Goddard 2007; Clements, Oxtoby &

Ogle 2008; Edleson 1999; Ernst et al. 2008;

Fantuzzo & Fusco 2007; Humphreys 2007;

Spilsbury et al. 2008) documents the

following psychological and/or behavioural

impacts:

• depression;

• anxiety;

• trauma symptoms;

• increased aggression;

• antisocial behaviour;

• lower social competence;

• temperament problems;

• low self-esteem;

• the presence of pervasive fear;

• mood problems;

• loneliness;

• school difficulties;

• peer conflict;

• impaired cognitive functioning; and/or

• increased likelihood of substance abuse.

Herrenkohl et al. (2008) also list eating

disorders, teenage pregnancy, leaving

school early, suicide attempts, delinquency

and violence as potential consequences of

child abuse and/or childhood exposure to

domestic violence.

Health and socioeconomic impacts

Research has also indicated that there are

significant health and socioeconomic

problems resulting from childhood exposure

to domestic violence.

The physical impacts of exposure to

domestic violence on children have rarely

been documented, due to the difficulty of

differentiating children exposed to domestic

violence from victims of other forms of child

abuse. This is particularly problematic given

that children often intervene in episodes of

domestic violence (Bedi & Goddard 2007).

A study by Saltzman et al. (cited in

Clements, Oxtoby & Ogle 2008) found,

however, that children from violent homes

had significantly higher heart rates than

other children, even after direct child abuse

was controlled for.

Pinheiro’s (2006) study found that living

in a violent home could be a significant

contributing factor to a range of serious

(cited in Kaufman Kantor & Little 2003)

found that in families where there had

been almost weekly episodes of domestic

violence, the probability of child abuse by

the male perpetrator was a virtual certainty

(see also Humphreys 2007).

Few data exist on the proportion of child

abuse notifications and/or substantiations

that relate to exposure to domestic violence,

compared with other forms of child abuse

and neglect. In some jurisdictions, exposure

to domestic violence may be considered

an element of emotional or physical abuse,

depending on the nature of the exposure. In

these cases, exposure to domestic violence

may be captured as data on other types of

child abuse.

Faulkner’s (2008) study of referrals to one of

Queensland’s Suspected Child Abuse and

Neglect teams found that between 1980

and 2005, seven percent of referrals related

to exposure to domestic violence.

Importantly, however, by comparison with

physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional

abuse and neglect, referrals relating to

children’s exposure to domestic violence

had increased during the period at a

substantially higher rate. Referrals relating

to domestic violence increased 867 percent,

compared with 247 percent for emotional

abuse, 128 percent for neglect, 77 percent

for physical abuse and eight percent for

sexual abuse (Faulkner 2008). The dramatic

increase in referrals relating to domestic

violence exposure is likely to be the result

of a variety of factors, including growing

community awareness of domestic violence

and its impacts on children.

Impacts of childhood exposure to domestic violence

Research on children exposed to domestic

violence indicates that there are a range of

impacts that such children are likely to

experience.

Psychological and behavioural impacts

Most research has focused on the

psychological and/or behavioural impacts

experienced by children exposed to

domestic violence. The research literature

4 | Australian Institute of Criminology

Australian jurisdictions do not have

mandatory reporting requirements for

domestic violence. Under the Northern

Territory’s Domestic and Family Violence

Act, however, any adult must report

domestic violence to the police if they

reasonably believe that a person has or

is likely to suffer serious physical harm. On

receiving a report of domestic violence, a

police officer must take reasonable steps to

ensure that the report is investigated. Similar

reporting requirements exist in international

jurisdictions (eg see Bledsoe et al. 2004).

Mandatory reporting requirements in relation

to childhood exposure to domestic violence

have been criticised on a number of

grounds. First, as domestic violence and

child abuse are addressed by legislation

and/or policy relating to various domains

(such as health, criminal justice and

education), mandatory reporting

requirements may relate only to particular

groups of professionals, while others are

not mandated to report. Police and other

professionals may not be mandated to

report the presence of children at domestic

violence incidents and exposure to domestic

violence may not be included in definitions

of child abuse. As a result, children from

violent homes may not be brought to

the attention of police or child protection

authorities, even in jurisdictions in which

mandatory reporting requirements exist in

relation to both child abuse and domestic

violence.

Second, a lack of awareness among

professionals about the potential impacts

of childhood exposure to domestic violence

may prevent reports being made. A study of

Queensland nurses, who are required by law

to report suspected cases of child abuse

and neglect, found that in a hypothetical

scenario in which a mother had been badly

beaten by her husband and a three year old

child was residing in the home, 78 percent

thought they were required by legislation

to report the case and 89 percent of

respondents claimed that they would report

the case (Mathews et al. 2008). Ninety-two

percent of nurses agreed, however, that

the facts of the scenario indicated that child

abuse was likely to occur in the future. A

small proportion of nurses who recognised

Initiatives to address childhood exposure to domestic violence

The traumatisation of children exposed to

domestic violence presents an important

challenge to legislators, policymakers and

community welfare providers. Children

exposed to domestic violence have, over

the last decade in particular, become the

target of a range of interventions aimed

at minimising the impacts of exposure to

domestic violence. This section outlines

some examples of the initiatives that have

been introduced to address this problem.

Each of Australia’s jurisdictions has

legislative provisions designed to address

children’s exposure to domestic violence

(see Table 1). These provisions are not

outlined in detail here; see Powell and

Murray (2008) for a detailed discussion of

the legislative and policy context in Australia

and New Zealand.

Table 1 Legislation including provisions for children exposed to domestic violence NSW Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007

ACT Children and Young People Act 2008

Vic Family Violence Protection Act 2008

Qld Domestic and Family Violence Protection Act 1989

WA Restraining Orders Act 1997

SA Intervention Orders (Prevention of Abuse) Act 2009

Tas Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1997

Family Violence Act 2004

NT Care and Protection of Children Act 2007

Domestic and Family Violence Act 2007

Mandatory reporting

In recent years, mandatory reporting

requirements have been introduced in

many Western jurisdictions in relation to

suspected child abuse and in some cases

domestic violence; this has been a key

feature of legislation and policy in this

domain. Both child protection and domestic

violence mandatory reporting requirements

vary considerably among Australia’s states

and territories (eg see AIHW 2009). Under

mandatory child protection reporting

requirements, a range of professionals,

such as health professionals, teachers and

welfare workers are required to report to

the police or child protection authorities any

child they suspect is being abused. Most

neither perpetrators nor victims of violence’

(Elizabeth 2005: 2; see also Tomison 2000).

Moreover, it is possible that children from

violent homes display diverse attitudinal and

behavioural responses to violence against

women. A study by VicHealth (cited in Flood

& Fergus 2008) found that adults who had

been exposed to violence as children could

be classified into two ‘attitudinal categories’—

those who were significantly more tolerant

than average of relationship violence and

those who were significantly less tolerant

than average of relationship violence.

Children’s resilience against violence

It is also important to recognise that a growing body of research indicates that many children from violent homes do not exhibit any signs of traumatisation—‘in any sample of children who are affected by domestic violence, there are generally about 50% who do as well as the control group’ (Humphreys 2007: 10). A meta-analysis of 118 studies of childhood exposure to domestic violence by Kitzmann et al. (cited in Humphreys 2007) found that over one-third of children exposed to domestic violence demonstrated wellbeing comparable with, or better than, children from non-violent homes. As Humphreys (2007:10) stresses, children from violent homes are a heterogeneous group, who live in ‘different contexts of both severity and protection’. It is important to note, however, that children who do not display overt signs of traumatisation may still be traumatised by exposure to domestic violence.

Bedi and Goddard (2007) and Clements, Oxtoby and Ogle (2008) argue that a range of ‘mediating factors’ such as children’s age, gender, coping ability and social support, influence the extent of the trauma suffered by children exposed to domestic violence. Research has also indicated that children’s ability to cope with the adversity of living in a violent home is linked to their mothers’ ability to maintain mothering functions, to model assertive and non-violent responses to abuse and to maintain positive mental health (Humphreys 2007). High levels of extended familial and social support have also been demonstrated to positively impact children’s coping capacity (Humphreys 2007).

Australian Institute of Criminology | 5

applicants, defendants and children. The

Division also provides referrals to address

longer term needs, such as children’s

support programs (Victorian Department

of Justice 2009).

A small number of programs and strategies

that focus specifically on children’s exposure

to domestic violence have been implemented

in recent years. The Royal Children’s

Hospital Mental Health Service’s Addressing

Family Violence Program in Melbourne

has developed a number of programs

for children from violent homes (Bunston

& Heynatz 2006), which are considered

pioneering programs in Australia (Bunston

2008). The objectives of the Addressing

Family Violence program are to:

• provide a safe space to acknowledge

children’s experiences of living with

violence;

• build a safe connection between infants/

children and their mothers/carers;

• educate parents about the impacts

of family violence on children;

• enable constructive expression of feelings;

and

• challenge power, control and gender

issues inherent in violent relationships

(Bunston 2006a).

The Service operates three separate

programs for children exposed to domestic

violence:

• PARKAS (Parents Accepting

Responsibility—Kids Are Safe);

• JFK (Just For Kids), and;

• Peek a Boo Club (Bunston 2006a, 2006b;

Pavlidis 2006).

The PARKAS program is aimed at children

aged eight to 12 years affected by family

violence and their parents (Bunston 2006b).

Although separate groups are run for

children and mothers, common themes

are explored, including safety, dealing with

loss and caring for self and others (Bunston

2006b).

JFK also focuses on children aged eight to

12 years affected by domestic violence. As

its name suggests, the program does not

involve the children’s parents. The program

uses a combination of discussion, games,

creative arts, storytelling, drama, dance and

the likelihood of future child abuse therefore

would not have reported this case to an

authority. While Mathews et al. (2008: 303)

concede that the scenario contained no

direct evidence of the man’s propensity to

be violent towards the child, they argue that

nurses need to be trained so they

develop an awareness that intrafamilial

violence correlates strongly with child

abuse, and…the possibility of significant

harm being caused simply by exposure

to domestic violence.

A lack of awareness among professionals

about the potential impacts of children’s

exposure to domestic violence, combined

with the sometimes haphazard nature of

mandatory reporting requirements, may

therefore result in large numbers of children

from violent homes being excluded from

child protection interventions.

Although the under-reporting of children’s

exposure to domestic violence may be a

valid concern, increased awareness of and

willingness to report child abuse, as well

as expanding definitions of child abuse

and mandatory reporting requirements are

likely to contribute towards the flooding of

resource-limited child protection departments

and consequently make it difficult for child

protection workers to identify the most

serious cases of child abuse (Humphreys

2008, 2007; Powell & Murray 2008).

Mandatory reporting requirements in relation

to childhood exposure to domestic violence

have also been criticised for their capacity

to blame adult female victims of domestic

violence for ‘allowing’ their children to

witness violence in the home (Humphreys

2008). In the United States, a number of

jurisdictions have, in recent years, passed

legislation that defines domestic violence

in the presence of a child as a form of child

abuse (see Kaufman Kantor & Little 2003 for

a discussion of these laws) and a number of

child protection departments have redefined

exposure to domestic violence as a type

of child maltreatment (Edleson 1999). Such

legislation and policy has been criticised for

placing an unfair burden on female victims

of violence and casting battered women as

perpetrators of child abuse (Edleson 1999;

Flood & Fergus 2008; Kaufman Kantor &

Little 2003).

Policy and legislative approaches that

mandate the reporting of children’s

exposure to domestic violence may also

discourage women from reporting their own

victimisation for fear of losing their children

(Edleson 1999; Flood & Fergus 2008). This

is particularly concerning for Indigenous

women, given past government practices of

removing children from Indigenous families

(Adams & Hunter 2007; Humphreys 2008,

2007) and given the current over-representation of Indigenous children in

out-of-home care (Humphreys 2010, 2008;

for a detailed discussion of the reasons for

under-reporting of violence in Indigenous

communities see Willis 2011). Recent

research has shown, conversely, that having

children who are exposed to violence in the

home is a significant predictor of women’s

decisions to seek formal support following

intimate partner violence (Meyer 2010).

Other approaches

In 2009, the Australian Government

released the National Framework for

Protecting Australia’s Children (COAG 2009)

and the National Council’s Plan for Australia

to Reduce Violence against Women and

their Children (NCRVWC 2009). These

strategies both recognise the potential

impacts of children’s exposure to domestic

violence. Recommendation Nine of the

National Council’s Plan for Australia to

Reduce Violence against Women and

their Children is that

the Australian Government work with

State and Territory governments to

ensure the National Framework for

Protecting Australia’s Children meets

the needs of children who witness and/

or experience domestic and family

violence (NCRVWC 2009: 27).

Victoria’s Family Violence Court Division,

which commenced sitting at the Magistrates

Court at Heidelberg and Ballarat in 2005,

aims to promote the safety of persons,

including children, who have been exposed

to domestic violence (Victorian Department

of Justice 2009). The Division deals with

a range of matters relevant to domestic

violence, including intervention orders, child

support and compensation, and provides

support in relation to these matters to

6 | Australian Institute of Criminology

Brown D & Endekov Z 2005. Childhood abused: The pandemic nature and effects of abuse and domestic violence on children in Australia. South Melbourne: The Alannah and Madeline Foundation

Bunston W 2008. Baby lead the way: Mental health group work for infants, children and mothers affected by family violence. Journal of Family Studies 14: 334-341

Bunston W 2006a. The principles, theories & practice of ‘addressing family violence programs’ (AVFP), in Bunston W & Heynatz A (eds), Addressing family violence programs: Groupwork interventions for infants, children and their parents. Melbourne: Royal Children’s Hospital: 13-23

Bunston W 2006b. One way of responding to family violence: ‘Putting on a PARKAS’, in Bunston W & Heynatz A (eds), Addressing family violence programs: Groupwork interventions for infants, children and their parents. Melbourne: Royal Children’s Hospital: 24-39

Bunston W & Heynatz A 2006 (eds) Addressing family violence programs: Groupwork interventions for infants, children and their parents. Melbourne: Royal Children’s Hospital

Clements C, Oxtoby C & Ogle R 2008. Methodological issues in assessing psychological adjustment in child witnesses of intimate partner violence. Trauma, Violence & Abuse 9(2): 114-127

Council of Australian Governments (COAG) 2009. Protecting children is everyone’s business: National framework for protecting Australia’s children 2009-2020. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia

Edleson J 1999. Children’s witnessing of adult domestic violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 14(8): 839-870

Elizabeth V 2005. Children in the frontline of family violence prevention: A site of unease? Paper presented at the Australian Institute of Family Studies conference, Melbourne

Ernst A, Weiss S, Enright-Smith S & Hansen J 2008. Positive outcomes from an immediate and ongoing intervention for child witnesses of intimate partner violence. American Journal of Emergency Medicine 26: 389-394

Fantuzzo J & Fusco R 2007. Children’s direct exposure to types of domestic violence crime: A population-based investigation. Journal of Family Violence 22: 543-552

Fantuzzo J, Fusco R, Mohr W & Perry M 2007. Domestic violence and children’s presence: A population-based study of law enforcement surveillance of domestic violence. Journal of Family Violence 22: 331-340

Faulkner M 2008. Understanding child maltreatment trends: Reflections on 25 years of data from the Royal Children’s Hospital Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect team. Child Abuse Prevention Newsletter 16(2): 3-8

Flood M & Fergus L 2008. An assault on our future: The impact of violence on young people and their relationships. Sydney: White Ribbon Foundation

above, children’s exposure to domestic

violence often co-occurs alongside other

types of violence within families, making

holistic approaches to addressing

violence within families vital; and

• community education strategies. Although

these are scarce, and must be carefully

managed (Aldemir 2009), community

education campaigns can promote

positive social and attitudinal change

(Homel & Carroll 2009; see Elizabeth

2005 for an example of a community

education campaign about children’s

exposure to domestic violence in New

Zealand). Changing community attitudes

towards violence has been identified as

an important area for further development

(Tomison 2000). This is particularly

important in light of recent research that

shows that young people in particular

hold views that are supportive of violence

against women (VicHealth 2009).

Finally, programs that address the needs

of children from violent homes are under-researched. For example, few programs

identified by Kovacs and Tomison’s (2003)

review of Australia’s Child Abuse Prevention

Programs database had been the subject of

a detailed evaluation. Investing in research

that evaluates the effectiveness of strategies

designed to address children’s exposure

to domestic violence could lead to more

effective evidence-based practice in this area.

References All URLs correct at April 2011

Adams R & Hunter Y 2007. Surviving justice: Family violence, sexual assault and child sexual assault in remote Aboriginal communities in NSW. Indigenous Law Bulletin 7(1): 26-28

Aldemir H 2009. Rethinking the place of children in the nexus between domestic violence and homelessness. Parity 22(10): 48-49

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2005. Personal safety survey. cat. no. 4906.0. Canberra: ABS

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2009. Child protection Australia 2007-08. Canberra: AIHW

Bedi G & Goddard C 2007. Intimate partner violence: What are the impacts on children? Australian Psychologist 42(1): 66-77

Bledsoe L, Yankeelov P, Barbee A & Antle B 2004. Understanding the impact of intimate partner violence mandatory reporting law. Violence Against Women 10(5): 534-560

movement to explore ‘issues such as power

and control, respectful expression of feelings,

understanding the culture of violence and

creating safety’ (Pavlidis 2006: 41).

The Peek a Boo Club is a group work

program for mothers and infants who

have experienced domestic violence,

which aims to ‘positively realign the infant/

mother relationship and subsequently,

the developmental pathways of infants’

(Bunston 2006a: 14). This program

acknowledges the psychological

vulnerability of infants exposed to violent

environments (Bunston 2006a). These

programs have been evaluated and have

been found to foster positive relationships

between children exposed to domestic

violence and their mothers (Bunston 2008).

Conclusion

Although there are a range of policy

initiatives and programs that seek to

address domestic violence and/or child

abuse, few seek to specifically address

children’s exposure to domestic violence. As

the above description of programs suggests,

programs remain scarce (Powell & Murray

2008) and often service only limited

geographical areas.

Research indicates that there are a number

of strategies that could inform effective

responses to this problem, including:

• increased awareness of children’s

exposure to domestic violence as a

form of child abuse;

• early intervention, which has been

identified as crucial to disrupting the

intergenerational transmission of domestic

violence (Bunston 2008; Humphreys

2008);

• holistic and multidisciplinary approaches

that involve police, domestic violence

workers, child protection workers and

other relevant professionals, at both

the policy and service provision levels

(Tomison 2000). Although these

approaches may not necessarily be

domestic violence specific, they may

nonetheless have positive outcomes for

children exposed to domestic violence

(Humphreys 2007). Further, as outlined

www.aic.gov.au

General editor, Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice series: Dr Adam M Tomison, Director, Australian Institute of Criminology

Note: Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice papers are peer reviewed

For a complete list and the full text of the papers in the Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice series, visit the AIC website at: http://www.aic.gov.au

Kelly Richards is an Acting Senior Research Analyst at the Australian Institute of Criminology

ISSN 0817-8542 (Print) 1836-2206 (Online)

© Australian Institute of Criminology 2011

GPO Box 2944 Canberra ACT 2601, Australia Tel: 02 6260 9200 Fax: 02 6260 9299

Disclaimer: This research paper does not necessarily reflect the policy position of the Australian Government

Project no. 0152

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