Children Experiencing Domestic Abuse

Children living in a household where there is domestic abuse experience the abuse. This can have serious impact on the child’s mental and physical wellbeing as well as their behaviour; the affects can last into adulthood.


  • At the time of starting school at least one child in every class room will have been living with DA since they were born (SafeLives)
  • 130 000 children live in households with high risk DA
  • A third of children witnessing DA also experience another form of abuse.
  • 1 in 5 teenagers have been physically abused by their boyfriends or girlfriends.
  • DA is a factor in over half of all serious case reviews
  • Last year 400 children were heard at Central Bedfordshire Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC)

How children experience domestic abuse

  • Children living in a household where there is domestic abuse are experiencing emotional abuse
  • The children will be affected by what they have seen, although they might not behave in a way that suggests that there is on going emotional distress
  • Children might have ambivalent feelings towards the abusive parent and the non-abusive parent
  • If parents are not in the same household contact can be used to continue domestic abuse and control the parent who is being abused.
  • Sometimes children think that they are to blame for the abuse that they witness, they may try to intervene and risk being injured
  • Children might fake illness to stay at home from school to protect their parent from the abuse
  • Children hear the abuse; this can be an extremely frightening experience for them as they hear but cannot see what it happening and may become more anxious and afraid
  • The abusive parent might try to encourage the child/ren to behave abusively to the other parent – children may ‘side’ with the abusive parent to keep themselves safe, causing further trauma to the child as well as feelings of guilt and responsibility.

Signs of domestic abuse in children

Unborn Babies

  • Risk of early labour or miscarriage

Babies and Toddlers/Young Children

  • Inconsolable
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Startles easily
  • Fretful or more distressed in general
  • Failing to thrive - not gaining weight/growing as expected
  • No reaction to loud noises or conflict
  • Digestive problems
  • Frequent illnesses
  • Stranger or separation anxiety
  • Injuries
  • Immaturity/regression
  • Poor general health
  • Aggressive, withdrawn or temper tantrums

School Age Children and Young People

  • Poor school attendance and/or performance
  • Bed wetting
  • Nightmares
  • Temper tantrums
  • Aggressive behaviour, hostility or anger
  • Injuries
  • Regressive behaviour
  • Insomnia
  • Mental health issues
  • Eating disorders
  • Sadness and/or depression
  • Use of alcohol and drugs
  • Self-harming
  • Behavioural and/or anti social issues
  • Increased risk of gang involvement, sexual abuse or child sexual exploitation
  • Drug and/or alcohol misuse

Support for children

If the young person is under 18 a referral to the appropriate Safeguarding Hub for the local authority where they live in can be made, to access support for them:

Local Support

  • Schools, GPs and parents can refer to CHUMS or CAMH
  • Schools offer children pastoral support, speak to your child's class teacher or a support worker
  • Young Central Bedfordshire has support services for children and young people including emotional health and wellbeing
  • Bedford Borough Council information for children and young people can be found here
  • Sorted counselling service has the Fortis Project for children and young people (5-18) affected by domestic abuse,
  • Tokko Youth Space based in Luton 01582 544990
  • Bedford Open Door is a counselling service that supports young people 13-25 who live in Bedford or the North of Central Bedfordshire 01234 360388

National Support

  • The Hideout is an online space for children and young people
  • Childline 0800 1111 children can contact to speak to a counsellor or for advice