How family violence affects babies and children
How does family violence impact babies and children?
Babies and children who live with family or domestic violence can experience both physical and emotional harm. It can impact their health and wellbeing for a long time. But there are things you can do if you or someone you know is in this situation. You don’t have to get through this on your own.
Family or domestic violence affects children because they are surrounded by uncertainty and fear.
Children can experience family violence in many different ways:
- they may be shouted at, or threatened
- they may see or hear fighting, crying, yelling
- they may see someone getting hurt or get injured themself
Family violence can affect an unborn baby. The baby may be injured in the womb due to the impact of physical violence.
Or they may be exposed to drugs and alcohol if their mother is using. A mother may use drugs or alcohol to cope with stress, or have a pre-existing addiction.
Family violence can cause physical and emotional harm to children and young people. This can show up in the following ways:
- poor ability to socialise with others
- increased irritability
- difficulty making or keeping friends
- being a bully or be bullied
- having anxiety and depression
- sleeping problems
- eating problems
- have headaches and stomach aches
- difficulty concentrating
- struggle going to school
Young people who are exposed to family violence are more likely to:
- have ongoing difficulty with everyday functioning (e.g. engaging in school or work)
- suffer from depression
- be homeless
- abuse drugs and alcohol
- take part in risk-taking activities
How can I help a baby or child in this situation?
The signs above may help you decide whether a child is exposed to family violence. You can also read more here about signs that a child may be experiencing abuse. There are also some tips to help them.
Some signs that a child’s parent may be experiencing domestic violence include:
- they seem quiet, scared or nervous in front of their partner
- they say their partner is checking up on them a lot, including phone calls, texts and emails
- you notice that their partner criticises or puts them down a lot
- they seem to be trying to please their partner too much
- they have bruises, injuries or broken bones
- they seem isolated from family and friends
- they say they don’t have access to money or their partner controls their money
- they seem to be limited from going to places by their partner
They might also wear long sleeves and trousers in hot weather. Or wear heavy makeup and sunglasses to cover bruises.
If you think a parent is experiencing family violence, speak with them when they are by themselves. Speak to them in a safe place with enough time for a chat.
You may not be able to help much straight away but keep offering your support. Let them know you believe them, want to help, and are also concerned about their baby or child. Tell them about the support service options (see below). Tell them that you will go with them to the support service if they would like you to.
It’s important to help the parent who is going through the abuse. You can help them if you are a grandparent, friend or community member. Supporting them will also help their baby or child.
Who do I call if I am experiencing family violence?
If you are in immediate danger, call the police on triple zero (000).
Other support organisations include the following:
- Call the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800 RESPECT or 1800 737 732.
- In the Australian Capital Territory, call Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT on (02) 6280 0900 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
- In New South Wales, call the Domestic violence line on 1800 65 64 63 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- In the Northern Territory, call Dawn House on (08) 8945 1388.
- In Queensland, call DV Connect on 1800 811 811 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
- In South Australia, call the Domestic Violence Crisis Line on 1800 800 098 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
- In Tasmania, call the Family Violence Counselling and Support Service on 1800 608 122 (9am to midnight weekdays and 4pm to midnight weekends and public holidays).
- In Victoria, call Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre on 1800 015 188 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week).
- In Western Australia, call the Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline on 1800 007 339 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) or (08) 9223 1188.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: August 2022