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How family violence affects babies and children

4-minute read

Babies and children who live with family or domestic violence can suffer both physical and emotional trauma. But there are still things you can do if you are in this situation or know someone else who is experiencing family violence.

Impacts of family violence on babies and children

Family or domestic violence affects children because they are exposed to an environment of uncertainty and fear. In most cases, they have witnessed abuse directed against their mother and may also have been injured by objects or blows intended for their mother. They may also have been abused themselves.

Domestic violence can affect an unborn baby, while infants who have been exposed to domestic violence are at risk of:

  • physical injury
  • lack of attachment to a caregiver and normal response to adults
  • development of post traumatic stress disorder
  • development of eating problems
  • sleep difficulties
  • delayed physical and mental development

The effects on children of exposure to family violence are similar to those for children who have been abused. The results can be:

  • poor ability to socialise with others
  • difficulty forming or maintaining friendships
  • disruptive and aggressive behaviour
  • lack of emotion
  • withdrawal from friends and family
  • sleep problems and nightmares
  • feeling worried, sad, shameful, angry and scared
  • not being able to concentrate
  • bedwetting
  • low school attendance
  • depression and anxiety
  • delayed physical and emotional development
  • thoughts of suicide
  • low self-esteem
  • self-harm and substance abuse
  • being homeless

How can I help a baby or child in this situation?

If you are a grandparent, friend or community member, it’s important to help the parent experiencing the abuse. Supporting them will help the baby or child.

The signs above may help you decide whether a child is being exposed to family violence. You can also read more here about signs that a child may be experiencing abuse, which includes exposure to family violence, plus some strategies to help them.

Some signs that a child’s parent may be experiencing domestic violence include that:

  • they seem withdrawn, scared or nervous in front of their partner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 or are told that their partner criticises or puts them down a lot
  • they seem to be excessively trying to please their partner
  • they have bruises, injuries or broken bones
  • they wear long sleeves and trousers in hot weather, or heavy makeup and sunglasses to cover bruises
  • 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 restricted from going to places by their partner

If you suspect a parent is experiencing family violence, speak with them when they are by themselves, in a safe place with enough time for a conversation. You may not be able to make a difference straight away, but continue to give 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 available below and that you will go with them to the support service if they want to leave.

Who do I call if I’m worried about my partner or 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
  • Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436
  • In the ACT, call Domestic Violence Crisis Service ACT on (02) 6280 0900 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
  • In NSW, call the Domestic violence line on 1800 65 64 63 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • In the NT, call Dawn House on (08) 8945 1388
  • In QLD, call DV Connect on 1800 811 811 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
  • In SA, call the Domestic Violence Crisis Line on 1800 800 098 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
  • In VIC, call Safe Steps Family Violence Response Centre on 1800 015 188 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)
  • In WA, call the Women’s Domestic Violence Helpline on 1800 007 339 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) or (08) 9223 1188
  • In TAS, call the Family Violence Counselling and Support Service on 1800 608 122 (9am to midnight weekdays and 4pm to midnight weekends and public holidays)

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2020


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