Children and Domestic Violence
Presentation by: Steve Cohen, MPAS, PA-C (Ft. Lauderdale FL) firstname.lastname@example.org
Based on: National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information (DHHS)
Reprinted with permission.
Scope of the Problem
Domestic violence is a devastating social problem that impacts every segment of the
population. While system responses are primarily targeted toward adult victims of abuse,
increased attention is now being focused on the children who witness domestic violence
Studies estimate that 10 to 20 percent of children are at risk for exposure to domestic
violence (Carlson, 2000). These findings translate into approximately 3.3 to 10 million
children who witness the abuse of a parent or adult caregiver each year (Carlson, 1984;
Straus and Gelles, 1990). Research also indicates children exposed to domestic violence
are at an increased risk of being abused or neglected
. A majority of studies reveal there
are adult and child victims in 30 to 60 percent of families experiencing domestic violence
(Appel and Holden, 1998; Edleson, 1999; Jaffe and Wolfe, 1990).
Impact of Domestic Violence on Children
Children who live with domestic violence face increased risks: the risk of exposure to
traumatic events, the risk of neglect, the risk of being directly abused, and the risk of
losing one or both of their parents. All of these may lead to negative outcomes for
children and may affect their well-being, safety, and stability (Carlson, 2000; Edleson,
1999; Rossman, 2001). Childhood problems associated with exposure to domestic
violence fall into three primary categories
Behavioral, social, and emotional problems.
Higher levels of aggression, anger,
hostility, oppositional behavior, and disobedience; fear, anxiety, withdrawal, and
depression; poor peer, sibling, and social relationships; and low self-esteem.
Cognitive and attitudinal problems.
Lower cognitive functioning, poor school
performance, lack of conflict resolution skills, limited problem solving skills, pro-
violence attitudes, and belief in rigid gender stereotypes and male privilege.
Higher levels of adult depression and trauma symptoms
and increased tolerance for and use of violence in adult relationships.
Children's risk levels and reactions to domestic violence exist on a continuum where
some children demonstrate enormous resiliency while others show signs of significant
maladaptive adjustment (Carlson, 2000; Edleson, 1999; Hughes, Graham-Bermann &
Gruber, 2001). Protective factors, such as social competence, intelligence, high self-
esteem, outgoing temperament, strong sibling and peer relationships, and a supportive
relationship with an adult, can help protect children from the adverse affects of exposure
to domestic violence.
Comprehensive assessment regarding the protective factors of children and the effects of