What is the Nature of the Problem?

What is it Like for Children?

That was the only time I saw it. It was behind closed doors. But I used to know and I would see the bruises that she had before that. - 12yr old girl, p93

Do you want to know how I feel about it? It gets me all confused and muddled up. When it happens, I feel as if things are growing in my head, outwards and pressing on my head. Do you want me to give you an example? I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you a good example, but you’ll have to have lots of paper to write on when you write it down!. - anon, p95

I wasn’t really sure what was happening at the time….but I know my mam and dad were fighting every day. I understand more now. - 13yr old boy, p95

Yeah, but that made things worse actually….he would start shouting at me and everything. Most of the time I used to scream at him to leave my mum alone. -17yr old girl, p98

I don’t really want to remember those times too much – they upset me. I used to feel I was bleeding inside. -15yr old girl, p110

Well, I am not going to get married – never! It hasn’t affected me really, I’m ok. - 14yr old girl, p110

I can’t bear it that he hits her. I feel so ashamed. I always worry that the neighbours will hear or that the teachers will find out at school….I feel really nervous about talking to you, and guilty because my mum and dad are wonderful…..I don’t want you or the researchers to think badly of them, because they are very good parents and they love me a lot…….it’s not their fault, it’s just the way it is with them.´
-14yr old girl, p109


All quotes are from Mullender et al.’s 2002 book ‘Children’s Perspectives on Domestic Violence’

A lot of the research in this area, much of which comes from the UK, has already been summarised elsewhere.

› Read from ENCARE main site on parental domestic abuse

For example, the work of Audrey Mullender and her colleagues (published widely, including in a book published in 2002 and called ‘Children’s Perspectives on Domestic Violence’) is unique in its focus and includes the UK’s first ever general population survey of children’s experiences of domestic violence.

The book includes a discussion on the barriers of racism, ethnicity and culture as well as how domestic violence can negatively affect the mother-child relationship. To avoid repetition with the information that is elsewhere on the main ENCARE website, the key conclusions which have emerged from the work that has been undertaken, and which are pertinent to the UK, can be summarised as follows:

  • Children can be greatly affected in a whole range of ways through living with parental domestic abuse, which is rarely the only problem present for many of these families.
  • Children are at risk through being directly involved in the violence and abuse (including choosing to intervene to try and stop the abuse), or by witnessing it (sometimes through force). It is believed that witnessing domestic abuse or violence can be as harmful for a child as experiencing physical abuse.
  • Worrying, there are believed to be particularly high numbers of children under 5 years of age affected through living in a home where domestic abuse occurs.
  • Parental domestic abuse can particularly affect the quality and consistency of parenting, thus impacting upon family environment and child development.
  • As a result, children are at increased risk of experiencing harm, both in the short- and the long-term, including problems with physical and mental health, behavioural problems and substance use/misuse.
  • The full extent of problems associated with domestic abuse is often kept ‘behind closed doors’, usually because of shame, guilt, fear and embarrassment, meaning that children can find it incredibly difficult to seek help or to talk openly about what is going on.
  • Domestic abuse will have a differential impact on children according to the child’s gender, age, developmental level, ethnic group and social class. Siblings in the same family very often experience the problems very differently, meaning that the impact on them should not be assumed to be the same. Further, living with domestic abuse challenges what children learn in terms of how adults treat one another and how conflict is resolved.
  • Children are at risk, when they are older, of themselves being perpetrators or victims of domestic abuse, and of other forms of aggressive and violent behaviour such as bullying, offending and anti-social behaviour.
  • It is becoming increasingly recognised that children are not always as greatly affected by parental domestic abuse as might be predicted. There is believed to be a range of protective factors and processes which, if present or introduced, can promote resilience thereby ‘buffering’ a child from such negative consequences and reducing short- and long-term harm.

It is far less common for men to be the victims of domestic abuse. A report by the Scottish Government (Domestic Abuse Against Men in Scotland, 2002)  is an important publication on this topic. It provides a helpful summary of available literature on the topic as well as discussing how male victims may experience domestic abuse differently to female victims and the impact that this might have for their needs and the response of services. There is little discussion about how children may be differentially affected by domestic abuse where their father is the victim.

To understand more about identifying children who are living with parental alcohol misuse and who may need help, you can to find out more about common signs to look out for, and ideas of how to talk to children to find out if they are living with parental alcohol misuse by following this link

Is it Bad News for All Children?

I had to stand by my mum because she was not in the wrong. That pulled us through and had made us stronger and better. We have been through a lot. We can feel for others and are better human beings. (14yr old, p109 in Mullender et al., 2002)

There is growing evidence that some children are not always as adversely affected by parental alcohol problems as suggested by the research in this area. Increased recognition is being given to a set of protective factors and processes (individual, familial and environmental) that, if present, can buffer children against the negative effects of parental alcohol misuse thus reducing the risks of harm in the short- and the long-term. This phenomenon is commonly called resilience. It is discussed in more detail elsewhere in this website .

› Read more on resilience from ENCARE main site

› Relevance to UK practice is also discussed elsewhere under What can I do