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Research shows that living with domestic abuse between parents is as psychologically harmful to children as when they are direct victims of physical abuse themselves.
Kitzmann et al. (2003; 339-352)
Recent statistics provided by the British Crime Survey suggests that more than one million women suffer domestic abuse. However fewer than one in four victims who suffer abuse from their partner report it to the police. Research by Radford et al (2011) suggests that one in seven under 18s will have lived with domestic abuse at some point in their childhood.
Research published in 2012 by the Centre for Social Justice identified that the way domestic abuse is tackled on a multi-agency basis is failing to break abusive cycles in families, with the impact on children through witnessing domestic abuse tending to be underplayed both in terms of immediate and longer term impacts (e.g. potential impact on development of physical and mental health, impact on their education and the potential to distort their views about the role of violence within a relationship meaning they become victim and / or perpetrator).
As practitioners we must be alert to the possibility of a relationship being abusive. There is no stereotype of a victim of domestic abuse, and as shown in the statistics above, the abuse is often minimised, with their experiences often complicated by feelings of love and a belief that the perpetrator can change.
A research review published in 2011 (Research in Practice) identifies screening questions that can encourage disclosure of domestic violence, including asking how things are at home, how arguments are settled, how decisions are reached and what happens if the adults argue. The review goes on to identify a number of open-ended questions that can be used to explore the impact of domestic abuse on children in a non-frightening way. These include asking how they sleep, if they have nightmares (and if so what are the nightmares about), what the scariest thing that has ever happened to them is, whether they get so angry they want to hurt someone and how they control anger.
A growing issue is abuse from children to their parents. The signs of parental abuse are often excused as teenage behaviour, however often there is a lack of empathy and compassion from the young person. As with domestic abuse, victims will often minimise what is happening, although this may be through fear of being seen as not coping with being a parent or being labelled a 'bad parent'. Research in this area is limited at present, however practitioners should remain mindful of parental abuse as an issue.
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