Impact of Domestic Violence on Children

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Contents

Introduction

Chapter 2: The impacts of domestic violence on children

Chapter 3: Protecting children from domestic violence

Chapter 5: The multi-agency approach to child protection

Chapter 6: Policies to protect children against domestic violence

Conclusions and Recommendations

References

Introduction

This dissertation looks at domestic violence and the impacts domestic violence has on children and child protection issues. The dissertation begins with a description of domestic violence, including an estimation of the extent of the problem, illustrated with statistics. The dissertation then moves on to analyse the immediate and long-term impacts of domestic violence on children’s health, education, personality, socialising and future relationships. The dissertation then moves on to the issue of protecting children from domestic violence in terms of the child protection issues that need to be taken into consideration. The dissertation then moves on to a discussion of the role of the mother and why her socio-economic status and culture is important. Protecting the mother, in terms of protecting the child, is then discussed, in terms of whether, for example, it is best for children to live with both parents, even when there is domestic violence occurring.

The dissertation then moves on to an analysis of the multi-agency approach to child protection, examining its advantages and disadvantages. The available services for children living with domestic violence are also discussed, as are the policy and legislation against domestic violence and pro child protection in the UK. Through this, the dissertation moves on to analyse the intervention strategies that are available to protect children, in terms of the extent to which prevention is possible and how. The dissertation then moves on to a critically analysis of the roles of policies, legislation, agencies and professionals in protecting children, in terms of whether the legislation enhances or hinders the effectiveness of professional intervention, and what should happen next. The dissertation ends with a conclusions and recommendations section, which provides recommendations as to how child protection can become more effective.

This section presents a description of domestic violence, including an estimation of the extent of the problem, illustrated with statistics.

Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, or interpersonal partner abuse, as it is also commonly known, is a pattern of aggressive behaviours, either physical, sexual or psychological (or all three) that adult partners use against their intimate partners (Ganley, 1995). The Home Office classifies domestic violence as, “Any violence which occurs between current or former partners in an intimate relationship, wherever and whenever this violence occurs. The violence may include physical, sexual, emotional or financial abuse” (Home Office, 1998).

It is known that domestic violence is mostly perpetrated by men against women victims and that it often begins, or gets worse, around pregnancy (Nicolson et al., 2006). Domestic violence is generally repetitive, in that once it has occurred once, it is likely to be repeated, either in the same manner or utilising a different form (psychological, sexual or physical), with each form of the violence interacting with the other form and causing problems for the victim(s) of the violence, who are not only the partner but also any children that may be present in the household (see Ganley, 1995).

Shockingly, a high proportion of children living with domestic violence are themselves being abused, with almost 80% of the children who are on the ‘at-risk’ register coming from homes where domestic violence is known to occur (see, for example, Mullender and Morley, 1994; Department of Health, 2002). In addition, research has shown that there is a correlation between being an abusive partner and having witnessed abusive behaviour in one’s childhood (see O’Leary, 1987).

In terms of the theoretical models that have been posited to explain domestic violence, social exchange theory suggests that human interactions are guided by seeking rewards and avoiding costs and punishment (see Blau, 1964), with domestic violence tending to occur when being violent does not outweigh the rewards on offer (see Gelles and Cornell, 1985; 1990). Following this reasoning, therefore, one of the ways to reduce the prevalence of domestic violence is to increase the cost attached to being a ‘batterer’ (i.e., a person who inflicts violence on an intimate partner) through, for example, creating and enforcing criminal laws against domestic violence (see Danis, 2003). Deterrence can, after all, be defined as, “the state’s ability to diminish the incidence of a prohibited action through legal threats which clearly indicate that the costs of an action would be greater than any benefits derived from it” (Dutton, 1995; p.242).

Other theories suggested to explain the prevalence of domestic violence include social learning theory, which suggests that people learn to be violent through reinforcement (i.e., receiving a reward or being punished directly after an aggressive act has taken place) or through modelling (i.e., basing one’s actions on what one has witnessed) (see Bandura, 1973). As has been seen, intergenerational transmission of the behaviour that leads to domestic violence is possible and, indeed, occurs in many situations (see O’Leary, 1987 and Mihalic and Elliott, 1997). On this basis, many ‘batterers’ are treated, attempting to reverse the behaviour that leads to domestic violence on the premise that what has been learned can be un-learned (see Danis, 2003).

The British Crime Survey, and annual survey of crime conducted in the UK, can be used to find prevalence data of domestic violence. Mirrlees-Black and Byron (1996) showed that, in 1996, around 4% of women interviewed admitted some form of domestic violence in the year previous to the survey, with women twice as likely as men to have been injured by a partner in the year previous to the survey. In addition, Mirrlees-Black and Byron (1996) found that 23% of women had experienced some form of domestic violence at some point in their lives, with those most at risk being the under 25s and those in financial difficulties. It was found that only half of the victims had reported the domestic violence, and of the half that had reported the domestic violence, this was to a friend of family, with police and medical staff being notified only in a small proportion of cases (Mirrlees-Black and Byron, 1996).

Mirrlees-Black (1999) again used the British Crime Survey data to analyse the prevalence of domestic violence, finding that, similarly to the 1996 survey (Mirrlees-Black and Byron, 1996), around 4% of women reported some form of domestic violence in the year previous to the study, with women twice as likely as men to be the subject of domestic violence. Mirrlees-Black (1999) estimated that there were 6.6 million incidents of domestic violence in the year previous to the survey, with 2.9 million of these incidents involving actual physical injury. This survey (Mirrlees-Black, 1999) revealed that 12% of women had been assaulted on three or more occasions, which Mirrlees-Black referred to as chronic victims.

Similarly to the 1996 survey (Mirrlees-Black and Byron, 1996), women under 25 were most likely to report domestic violence, with 34% of women in this category reporting some form of domestic violence, higher than in the previous, 1996, survey (Mirrlees-Black and Byron, 1996). In terms of the actual domestic violence perpetrated against these women, pushing, shoving and grabbing were the most common types of assault with injury occurring in 41% of the domestic violence episodes (Mirrlees-Black, 1999). Alarmingly, around a third of the women surveyed who reported domestic violence episodes revealed that their children had been aware of the last violent episode (Mirrlees-Black, 1999). In addition, chronic victims of domestic violence were usually the victims of more serious types of attack (Mirrlees-Black, 1999).

Walby and Allen (2004) present the most recent survey of domestic violence using the British Crime Survey, showing that domestic violence is still widespread with 36% of women reporting some sort of domestic violence episode, although this figure represents concentrated episodes of chronic domestic violence and/or multiple episodes of domestic violence throughout their lives. The study found that 13% of women had experienced some form of domestic violence in the year prior to the survey (up from 4% in the 1999 survey reported by Mirrlees-Black (1999) and that for women subjected to domestic violence, the average number of domestic violence episodes per year was twenty (Walby and Allen, 2004). On this basis, Walby and Allen (2004) estimated that there had been 12.9 million domestic violence episodes in the year prior to the survey, up from 6.6 million in the 1999 survey (Mirrlees-Black, 1999). The 2004 survey also revealed that 2% of women who admitted domestic violence had been the subject of a serious sexual assault inside the home (Walby and Allen, 2004).

Walby and Allen (2004) found that those women who lived in a household earning less than £10,000 were three and a half more times likely to be the subject of domestic violence than a women in a household earning more than £20,000, although it was admitted that the correlations between domestic violence and poverty are unclear. For example, poverty could be the cause of domestic violence, or could be the outcome of domestic violence, in that women who have fled domestic violence often end up living on low income (Walby and Allen, 2004).

In terms of assessing the prevalence of domestic violence, studies have shown that it is difficult to provide a realistic estimate, in reality, as many women do not seek help and even when faced with medical professionals with whom they could speak, for example their GP’s, most women do not willingly discuss their problems (see, for example, Bonds et al., 2006). Indeed, research has shown (see, for example, Boyle and Jones, 2006) that women who are the subject of domestic violence frequently only disclose when healthcare staff directly enquire about this possibility, many of whom actively stated, when interviewed, that they do not ask about such matters so as not to offend the patient, even though evidence shows that women who are not the subject of domestic violence are unlikely to be offended by such a question (Boyle and Jones, 2006).

One of the most comprehensive studies of the reported frequency of domestic violence against women has been reported by Bradley et al. (2002), who surveyed 1871 women attending general practice through a cross-sectional, self-administered anonymous survey. 40% of the women surveyed had, at some point in their lives, experienced domestic violence by a partner, with 12% of women reporting that their GP had approached them about possible domestic violence (Bradley et al., 2002). In addition, a worrying 69% of the women surveyed reported controlling behaviour from their partner, with 28% admitting to feeling afraid of their current partner (Bradley et al., 2002). Most of the women surveyed voiced support for routine enquiry about domestic violence as part of regular check-ups with their GP, suggesting one route for monitoring the presence of domestic violence in the community (Bradley et al., 2002). Elliott et al. (2002) suggested that better GP training in this issue would lead to higher detection rates and better care for the victims of domestic violence.

As Gerbert et al. (2002) suggest, other risk behaviours that were once considered taboo (such as HIV and alcohol and drug abuse) have been tackled, in that medical professionals routinely ask about such matters in consultations. It is thus not acceptable that domestic violence is not addressed in such a manner, given the high prevalence of this and the deleterious effects this can have on the victims and any children who are present in the household (Gerbert et al., 2002). It is suggested that it is a general lack of training that stops medical professionals from enquiring about such violence, and that the lower domestic violence screening rates, compared to the screening rates of other risk behaviours, may reflect the medical professionals beliefs that they do not know how to screen or intervene or their belief that such interventions may not be successful (Gerbert et al., 2002). It is suggested that screening rates can be improved by educating medical professionals as to the many benefits that identifying domestic violence can bring to the victims (Gerbert et al., 2002).

This section of the dissertation analyses the immediate and long-term impacts of domestic violence on children’s health, education, personality, socialising and future relationships.

In terms of children’s exposure to domestic violence and maltreatment, Osofsyky (2003) looked at this issue in terms of prevention and intervention, showing that on the basis of available research, there is no doubt that huge numbers of children are being abused as part of the presence of domestic violence in the household, although the effects on children of this abuse, as a result of domestic violence, depends greatly on the child’s individual circumstances, on their additional risk factors and their susceptibility. Herrenkohl et al. (2008) reported similar results, showing a massive overlap in physical child abuse and domestic violence, which was especially prevalent in situations with other stressors, such as adverse socio-economic conditions, for example.

Hartley (2002) also looked at this issue, and found that there is a substantial overlap between domestic violence and child maltreatment, finding that adverse socioeconomic factors were more likely to correlate with domestic violence and child neglect than with child abuse per se, although child abuse was present in a shockingly high number of cases, suggesting, as Osofsky (2002), that domestic violence goes hand-in-hand with child maltreatment, either through child neglect as a result of domestic violence or child abuse by the perpetrator of the violence as part and parcel of the domestic violence (Hartley, 2002).

Hester and Pearson (1998) looked at domestic violence in the course of their work with abused children, finding that domestic violence was present in 70% of the cases of child abuse they dealt with, showing that the presence of domestic violence is a major factor in child abuse cases. It was suggested, as a result of this, that it might be useful to screen for domestic violence as routine practice, in terms of this being a possible predictor of child abuse, either current, in which case it could be identified and treated, or future, in which case, if the domestic violence is dealt with, might never occur.

Gorin (2004) looked at understanding what children say about living with domestic violence, showing that children are often more aware of domestic violence than is realised, although they don’t often understand what is happening, nor why it is happening (Mullender et al., 2002). It was also reported that children worry about their parents more than is recognised, even though most children choose not to talk about this to anyone, and actively try to avoid the problem by distracting themselves physically and emotionally (Gorin, 2004). When asked about why they chose not to share their experiences with others, a fear of not being believed by professionals was the generally reported concern, with the fear that help will not be forthcoming when asked for being another commonly reported concern (Gorin, 2004). In addition, children report not having any idea of where they can go to get help, which stops them asking for help, although the majority of children affected by domestic violence reported that they long for someone to talk to about the violence, in terms of having someone to listen to them and to provide comfort and reassurance to them (Gorin, 2004). During the course of the research, it was found that children most asked for information to help them understand what was happening to their parents, and why they weren’t able to stop the violence (Gorin, 2004).

In practical terms, this responsibility, of knowing about the violence but not being able to do anything to stop it, and feeling they do not have anywhere to turn to report the violence, can lead to many problems for the children. Children who have experienced domestic violence generally feel they have to be more responsible in the home than othert children, in terms of undertaking more practical tasks around the home, often as a way of trying to avoid the violence by pre-empting arguments, for example (Gorin, 2004). This responsibility, or knowing about the violence but feeling there is nothing that can be done about it, and the responsibility of taking on extra tasks, can lead to children developing sleep problems, being tired, and not paying as much attention as they need at school, leading to problems with their education (Gorin, 2004).

Fantuzzo et al. (1997) looked at the effect of domestic violence on children, showing a myriad of adverse effects in children exposed to domestic violence, especially amongst those children who are already exposed to other risk factors such as drug abuse and/or adverse socioeconomic conditions. Fantuzzo and Mohr (1999) continued the work of Fantuzzo et al. (1997), looking at the effects of domestic violence on children, showing that domestic violence has many adverse effects on children, which are modified according to many factors, such as the child’s age, the nature of the violence, the severity of the violence and the existence of other risk factors in the children’s lives (such as poverty and substance abuse, for example), but which are, nonetheless severe. Childhood exposure to domestic violence can lead to aggressive behaviour, to increased emotional problems, such as the onset of depression and anxiety, to lower academic achievement and to lower levels of social skills (see Fantuzzo and Mohr, 1999).

Baldry (2003) looked at bullying in schools following exposure to domestic violence, through a cross-sectional study of 1059 Italian school students using a self-report anonymous questionnaire. It was found that those children who had been subjected to domestic violence (i.e., interparental violence) were far more likely to bully whilst at school than those children who had never been subjected to any form of domestic violence, thus showing a direct negative effect of domestic violence on children’s behaviour (Baldry, 2003). Bauer et al. (2006) also looked at the relationship between bullying and intimate partner violence, through a self-report questionnaire of 112 children, and found, similarly to Baldry (2003) that children who had been exposed to intimate partner violence in a home setting were more at risk of developing physical aggression and internalised behaviours than children who had never experienced intimate partner violence in the home setting.

Hall and Lynch (1998) looked at the lifelong effects of domestic violence on children, finding that separating the causes of domestic violence from its effects and from other correlated factors, such as poor parenting, poverty, substance abuse, for example, is difficult and that, as such, pinpointing the specific effects of domestic violence on children can be difficult. Hall and Lynch (1998) report, however, that children in violent households are three to nine times more likely to be injured and abused, either directly or in the course of trying to protect their parent. In addition, children from violent households are more likely to suffer a range of emotional and psychological problems, including self-harm, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide, along with stress-related health complaints, such as insomnia and irritable bowel syndrome (Hall and Lynch, 1998).

In addition, these behavioural and psychological problems can lead to other problems, such as involvement in violence and/or bullying (as seen, see Baldry, 2003 and Fantuzzo et al., 1997), educational failure and/or dropping out of, or being excluded from, school (Woodward et al., 1998) (Hall and Lynch, 1998). In addition, it has been found that if a mother decides to leave her partner and go in to a shelter for the victims of domestic violence, this can lead to the children feeling isolated from their previous friends and their established social networks, leading to further problems for these children who were already exposed to a high level of stress and emotional and psychological problems (Hall and Lynch, 1998).

In addition, it is also known that being exposed to violence in the home can lead to juvenile crime, with many child victims of juvenile crime being the subject of youth criminal sentences (Hall and Lynch, 1998). In addition, the effects of domestic violence on children are long-lasting, with anti-social behaviour at the age of seven being highly correlated with violent behaviour towards partners in later life (Hall and Lynch, 1998), mediated, as has been seen, through the process of social learning theory (Bandura, 1973).

Chapter 3: Protecting children from domestic violence

This section of the dissertation addresses the issue of protecting children from domestic violence in terms of the child protection issues that need to be taken into consideration.

As children suffer many and varied consequences of domestic violence, including direct child abuse by the perpetrator of the violence and indirect consequences of witnessing the violence, such as emotional, psychological and physical ill-health, the child protection issues that need to be taken in to consideration are many and varied. In those cases where child abuse is suspected, the child needs to be protected against this abuse. This could mean removing the child in to care, or working with the mother to encourage the mother to move, with the child, in to a refuge to avoid the domestic violence. The particular option chosen by social workers depends on the risks assessed in the particular situation.

In terms of protecting children more generally, in terms of identifying possible negative effects on children from domestic violence, for example, all health professionals should be aware of the effects of domestic violence, and possible symptoms of domestic violence on children, which, if not physical, can be noted in the child’s behaviour. Medical professionals who come in to contact with children should be trained in detecting these signs of domestic violence in children, with adequate screening programmes in place to detect such signs and to enable children to deal with the problems that domestic violence presents to them, in terms of being given the opportunity, in a safe and confidential manner, to talk about what is happening in their household, how they feel about this, what problems this is presenting to them and what needs to be done about the situation. Children are perhaps more likely to want to talk to the school nurse, or to a GP than to any other professionals, as there is some previous relationship established and some form of trust that has already been built up (Hall and Lynch, 1998). It is essential that teaching about domestic violence be mandatory for all professionals involved in multi-agency teams dealing with child protection issues (see Hendry, 1999).

This section of the dissertation presents a discussion of the role of the mother and why her socio-economic status and culture is important. Protecting the mother, in terms of protecting the child, is then discussed, in terms of whether, for example, it is best for children to live with both parents, even when there is domestic violence occurring.

It has been found that there is a substantial overlap between domestic violence and child maltreatment (see Hartley, 2002), in that adverse socioeconomic factors are more likely to correlate with domestic violence and child neglect (including child abuse). Walby and Allen (2004) also found that those women who lived in a household earning less than £10,000 were three and a half more times likely to be the subject of domestic violence than a women in a household earning more than £20,000, although it was admitted that the correlations between domestic violence and poverty are unclear. For example, poverty could be the cause of domestic violence, or could be the outcome of domestic violence, in that women who have fled domestic violence often end up living on low income (Walby and Allen, 2004).

Thus, whilst there are some correlations as to the socioeconomic status of the mother and the probability of being the subject of domestic violence, the links have not been researched fully and, as such, no causal relationships can be found. What is clear, however, is that where there is poverty, or perceived financial problems, there is more likely to be domestic violence, and that where there is domestic violence, there is likely to be some form of child neglect or child abuse also going on. Mothers, therefore, have a responsibility, within the framework of them being victims themselves, to their children, in terms of protecting them, as far as possible, from the violence.

This is itself a complicated issue, however, as many women have nowhere to flee to when they leave a violent partner, meaning the women often end up in temporary refuges or low-standard rented accommodation, often outside of the area where their children go to school, often leading to further psychological problems for their children, who then feel isolated from their friends and support networks, which can lead to further emotional and psychological problems for these children (Gorin, 2004; Hall and Lynch, 1998). It is reported that the mother often stays in the household and subjects herself to domestic violence because of fear of what leaving the household would do to their children (see Nicolson et al., 2006).

Hazen et al. (2006) looked at female care-givers experiences of domestic violence and behaviour problems in their children, finding that serious problems are faced by children when the mother is subjected to domestic violence, and that these children need to be helped as far as possible in terms of addressing the problems that these children face. If the mother decides not to leave the abusive partner, therefore, the mother has a responsibility to her child(ren) that she will ensure that they are treated as far as possible for these problems. Again, however, this is complicated by the fact that mothers often want to hide the fact that they are being abused from their children, and, as such, do not discuss this with their children. This is a fallacy, however, as shown by Gorin (2004), as children are often far more aware of what is happening than they are given credit for, and the untreated consequences of the domestic violence can lead to major future health and behaviour problems for children (see, for example, Hall and Lynch, 1998).

The problems facing mothers who are the victims of domestic violence are many and varied. They are the subject of abuse themselves, which can leave them feeling ashamed and not willing to discuss this with anyone, not even their children. Their children, aware of what is going on, but unable to talk to their mothers then begin to develop problems, which – if the mother even recognises these problems – are then not treated, as they are viewed, by the mother, as part and parcel of the same humiliating violence they are subject to. The effects of the violence are thus perpetrated, often with severe long-term consequences (Hall and Lynch, 1998).

It will be argued, however, that is the responsibility of the mother to protect her child, as the child’s care-giver, against domestic violence and against the effects of domestic violence. However, this is not as straight-forward as it seems, for, in addition to the humiliation that women feel when being abused, there are also financial concerns about how the mother would support her child(ren) if she left the violent partner. Many women victims of domestic violence argue that subjecting their children to poverty is worse than having them witness domestic violence (Gorin, 2004) and so they stay with the partner who is violent towards them, subjecting their children to the range of emotional, psychological and physical health problems already discussed (see, for example, Hall and Lynch, 1998).

Thus, the responsibility of a mother to protect her child(ren) against domestic violence and against the effects of domestic violence is a complicated issue. If there is child abuse present, it is obviously the mother’s responsibility to involve the police, and to ensure that the perpetrator is brought to justice, although, as has been seen, this is not as easy as it sounds, as women often have difficulty in approaching the police, witnessed by the low reporting rates of serious instances of criminal domestic violence to the police reported in Walby and Allen (2004).

If, however, as has been seen, the violence is mainly directed against the mother, and the mother feels it is better for the sake of the children, on balance, to stay in the violent household, whilst the violence is only directed towards her, then that is the mother’s decision, as a balance between the effects of the domestic violence on the children and the potential effects of moving to a new place and living in worse conditions than their current conditions, and the further emotional and psychological problems this would present to the child(ren).

If the mother makes the decision to stay with the violent partner as this is, on balance, the best option out of two possible sub-optimal options, then, in these situations, where the violence is not thought to be serious enough, by the victim, to warrant reporting or to warrant leaving the partner, even though the child(ren) is/are being affected by domestic violence, the question then becomes how to protect the mother, in order to ensure the best protection of the child. This question will be elaborated on in the next sections of the dissertation.

Chapter 5: The multi-agency approach to child protection

This section provides an analysis of the multi-agency approach to child protection, examining its advantages and disadvantages. The available services for children living with domestic violence are also discussed, as are the policy and legislation against domestic violence and pro child protection in the UK. Through this, the dissertation moves on to analyse the intervention strategies that are available to protect children, in terms of the extent to which prevention is possible and how.

As shown by Mirrlees-Black (1999), only about half of the victims of domestic violence told someone about the violence, most likely to be a friend or relative, with the police being notified of an attack in only about 12% of the violent episodes reported in the survey. Medical staff were the next likely to hear about the domestic violence, in about 10% of the violent episodes reported, and were reported to have been more likely to offer help and advice than the police (Mirrlees-Black, 1999). Overall, Mirrlees-Black, (1999) found it more likely that the victims of serious attacks (i.e., those regarded as a crime) would report these attacks to the police, with those women who felt responsible in some way for the attack being less likely to report the attack, even if the attack was criminal in manifestation (Mirrlees-Black, 1999). There is, thus, a massive problem with reporting domestic violence, something that

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