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Violence at home has a negative impact on kids

Most people would agree that witnessing violent actions committed on (or by) trusted adults can negatively impact a child’s development.

What most people do not know is that violent physical outbursts are but one facet of Intimate Partner (Domestic) Violence.  According to the Family Violence Prevention Fund, Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) “encompasses a pattern of coercive or manipulative behaviors perpetrated by one of the partners onto the other in order to gain and maintain control in the relationship.”  In addition to physical and sexual aggression, control can be exerted through psychological, verbal and financial abuse.

Predictable, sensitive and responsive caregiving during times of stress is critical for optimal emotional development in babies and small children.  Infants who hear or see unresolved angry conflict or witness a caregiver being hurt may show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Symptoms include refusing to eat or having problems keeping food down, experiencing trouble falling asleep or waking frequently during the night, and generally not allowing adults to soothe and provide comfort due to heightened irritability.

Even when children do not directly witness IPV, they can still be victims.  Due to the lack of stability in their caregivers’ lives, these children are often neglected and abused, suffer severe stress and can develop dysfunctional behaviors.

Older children who are aware of the underlying tension between their caregivers typically react in one of three ways:

  1. Trying to diffuse family tension to avoid violence.  These children may attempt to manipulate their caregivers’ feelings or behaviors to stop aggressive actions.  They also may draw attention to themselves by engaging in risky behaviors to refocus the abuser’s attention
  2. Becoming passive and withdrawn.  When children learn that they cannot control the violence in their families, they may withdraw to protect themselves.  They may also incorrectly perceive non-violent, non-coercive displays of disagreement as being additional instances of Intimate Partner Violence.
  3. Learning to use violence to control others.  Children from violent homes often bully their friends, classmates, siblings, and their “weaker” caregiver.  They learn that violence, both real and threatened, is an effective means of gaining control over others.

A 2003 study showed that half of all Intimate Partner Violence occurs in homes with a child under the age of 12, reflecting that nearly 300,000 children across the country were exposed to IPV in one year. Another study showed that between 30%-60% of children served by child welfare agencies experienced Intimate Partner Violence.

Training on how to recognize Intimate Partner Violence and its effects on children is needed across the spectrum for those who make decisions regarding the placement of children—both the ones brought to the attention of child welfare agencies and the ones who remain in their homes.

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