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How family violence affects babies and children

5-minute read

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:

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:

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.

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

Last reviewed: August 2022


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Need more information?

Family violence: effects on parents & kids | Raising Children Network

If you’re experiencing family violence, it harms you, your children and your ability to be the parent you want to be. Don’t be afraid to seek help.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

How violence and abusive behaviour affects children — Relationships Australia

The forgotten victims of family violence are often the children. The impact is long term and difficult to erase.

Read more on Relationships Australia website

Keeping children safe | eSafety Commissioner

Advice on safety planning with children and support and help for children in domestic and family violence situations.

Read more on Office of the eSafety Commissioner website

Kids fighting: children and siblings | Raising Children Network

Children fight because they’re still learning skills to manage emotions and sort out disagreements. When fights work out fairly, children build life skills.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Abuse or family violence in pregnancy - COPE

COPE's purpose is to prevent and improve the quality of life of those living with emotional and mental health problems that occur prior to and within the perinatal period.

Read more on COPE - Centre of Perinatal Excellence website

Abuse, Neglect & Violence - The Trauma and Grief Network (TGN)

All families go through tough times and can argue and fight

Read more on Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network (ACATLGN) website

Online abuse | eSafety Commissioner

How to deal with online abuse in domestic and family violence situations

Read more on Office of the eSafety Commissioner website

Know the facts | eSafety Commissioner

Learn more about the statistics surrounding domestic and family violence.

Read more on Office of the eSafety Commissioner website

Sibling fights: eight tips to prevent them | Raising Children Network

The key to fewer sibling fights? Help your children learn to get along. You can do this by using family rules, routines and praise for good behaviour.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Domestic and family violence - controlling and violent relationships — Relationships Australia

Some relationships involve behaviour that is damaging to the other partner and, in some cases, may be criminal. Healthy relationships are based on equality and respect between partners.

Read more on Relationships Australia website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

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