This guide is designed to help practitioners better support children and young people with experiences of family violence. It was co-produced with Berry Street’s Y-Change Lived Experience Consultants.
Family violence has significant consequences for infants, children and young people.
Children and young people can be both directly and indirectly affected by family violence. It’s important to recognise children and young people not just as extensions of their parents or caregivers, or ‘secondary victims’ of family violence, but as victim survivors in their own right.
Perpetrators may subject a child to threatening, coercive and controlling behaviours including physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Children may also be used by perpetrators in tactics of control directed at their parent, carer or family member.
Filicides (where a parent or step-parent kills a child) are the second most common form of family violence homicide, following intimate partner homicide (AIHW, 2019).
Family violence also occurs when a child or young person hears, witnesses or is exposed to the effects of the violence.[i] For example, if a child senses their parent’s fear or lives with the impacts of violence on a family member’s health.
Ways family violence affects children and young people
While children can be incredibly resilient, the impacts of family violence can potentially have long-term consequences for their friendships and relationships, as well as participation in social and civic life. Evidence demonstrates that family violence can have a lasting and significant impact on infants (including in utero), children, and young people. They can be impacted whether they are directly targeted with abuse, they witness abuse or violence towards their parent or carer, or they are exposed to the effects of family violence in their environment (DHHS, 2014).
Direct and indirect exposure to family violence can have serious, long-term impacts on the physical, spiritual, psychological, developmental, emotional safety and wellbeing of children and young people.[ii]
Family violence negatively and cumulatively impacts children’s:
- physical, neurological and emotional development
- sense of security and attachment in relationships
- mental health and cognitive and behavioural functioning
- ability to cope and adapt to different situations and contexts (Family Safety Victoria (2019c, Appendix 1);
Children growing up in environments where family violence occurs may also be more likely to require additional support to meet milestones, regulate their emotions and behaviours, engage in education and sustain positive relationships with others. Related to this is the significant impact of family violence on the development of positive attachment and bonds between children and their parents or carers.
Signs a child may be experiencing family violence
The signs below may prompt you to assess a child or young person’s level of family violence risk.[iii] Keep in mind these signs will vary depending on the child’s age and stage of development.
Have you observed the child or young person:
- Presents physical injuries, such as cuts, fractures or bruises.
- Is overly clingy with or eager to please certain adults, including their parent/carer.
- Has delayed speech or social development.
- Seems to be getting ill frequently.
- Has started suddenly wetting the bed.
- Is showing signs of depression, anxiety or suicidal ideation.
- Has started “acting out” and engaging in risky behaviours
- Has started showing aggression, violence or cruelty towards others, including pets.
- Has lost interest in social activities and isn’t spending time with their peers.
- Has stopped going to school or is suddenly disengaged or not performing well academically.
- Has a sexual knowledge that’s beyond their years.
See the MARAM Practice Guides for more information.
- Children and young people must be viewed as victim survivors in their own right, with their own unique experiences, risks, protective factors and strengths. Each child you support requires their own risk assessment, safety plan and case plan goals.[iv]
- Your response to a child or young person, including the language you use to communicate or the activities you do together to build rapport, should always be trauma-informed and tailored to their age and stage of development.
- Centre the child or young person’s experiences by engaging with them directly, wherever appropriate. If not possible, interact with the parent/carer who is not using violence or professionals in the child’s life (e.g. teachers) to collect information about their experiences.[v]
- Promote children’s participation in planning, goal setting and decisions that affect their lives, wherever safe and reasonable to do so.
- Ensure your service environment is welcoming, safe, inclusive to children of all abilities and stages of development.
- Recognise that family violence is a form of structural oppression. Children and young people from refugee/migrant communities, who are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, living with disability, or who are LGBTIQA+ may face additional risks and barriers to safety.
- Collaborate with other services, as appropriate, to support the child’s needs. These may include Child FIRST, family services, child protection, maternal and child health services, schools, child-care services, youth services, and therapeutic services for children and young people.[vi] Apply the information sharing schemes to proactively share and request relevant information with services.
“Family violence is rarely seen or understood through the eyes of children and young people. Way too often, we are the ones you left behind.”
The voices of children and young people impacted by family violence are often missed. This guide for family violence practitioners has been co-designed with Berry Street’s Y-Change Lived Experience Consultants aged between 18-30 with lived experiences of socioeconomic and systemic disadvantage.
For anyone working to support children and young people, the guide explores key considerations for supporting children and young people with lived experiences of family violence. It also features a number of practical activities you can do with children or young people accessing your service.
[i] Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic)
[ii] Family Safety Victoria (2019). MARAM Practice Guides: Foundation Knowledge Guide. Melbourne, Vic: State of Victoria, page 8.
[iii] Family Safety Victoria (2019). MARAM Practice Guides: Appendix 1: Observable signs of trauma. Melbourne, Vic: State of Victoria.
[iv] Family Safety Victoria (2019). MARAM Practice Guides: Foundation Knowledge Guide. Melbourne, Vic: State of Victoria, page 44.
[v] Family Safety Victoria (2019). MARAM Practice Guides: Foundation Knowledge Guide. Melbourne, Vic: State of Victoria, page 44.
[vi] Domestic Violence Victoria (2020). Code of Practice: Principles and Standards for Specialist Family Violence Services for Victim-Survivors. 2nd Edition. Melbourne: DV Vic.
See the MARAM Practice Guides and the Code of Practice for Specialist Family Violence Services [link] for further guidance.