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Family and Domestic Violence: Enhancing Protective Factors Research Paper

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The extent of children’s exposure to domestic violence in Australia

Statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicate that about 444, 000 women in Australia were subjected to family violence. The graph below indicates the proportion of children who witnessed the family fighting in 2005.

Total children engaged in family violence
Figure 1: Total children engaged in family violence (000)
  • Current partner
  • Previous partner
  • Percentage of children (ABS, 2005, p. 40)

Impact of exposure to violence on children

When children are exposed to violence, they encounter numerous difficulties in their various levels of development.

Table 1: Impact of family violence on developmental outcomes for infants/toddlers, school-aged children, and adolescents

Area of development Infants/ Toddlers School-aged children Adolescents
Behavioral Behavioral distress may lead to excessive irritability, regressed behavior around language development, and toilet training. Complexity in verbal development. Aggressive behavior and greed.
Absorbing guilt and blame thereby developing anti-social rationales for their abusive behavior. Poor verbal skills compromise child learning difficulties.
Problems in creating lasting attachments or close relationships. Male insulting conduct and female victimization in an intimate relationship.
Emotional Sleep disorders, disturbing distress, and panic of being alone. Effect on toddlers on emotional reflection. Problems in forming a logical approach for getting comfort, and development of disoriented attachments to their mothers as a source of consolation. Intellectual and emotional involvement.
Psychological Stress symptoms. Temper tantrums and aggression, weeping and objecting comfort as well as depression and nervousness. More difficulty developing empathy, poor self-worth than nonwitnesses of violence. Complete dependence on their mothers for all areas of their care hence prone to witness more violence. Development of resentment and irritation.
Psychosomatic Problematic attachments: difficulties separating with parents during birth. Intense fear leads to stomach pain, headaches, restlessness, nightmares, asthma attack, enuresis, and sleepwalking in these children. Unhappiness and hopelessness. Depression and despair.

Impact of family violence (Holt, Buckley, & Whelan, 2008, pp. 802-803)

Risk factors associated with domestic violence

Table 2: The modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors for family violence (both as a perpetrator and as a victim)

Type of risk factor Modifiable Non-modifiable
Attitudes –excessive consumption of alcohol
-notions of masculinity
– men as breadwinners and women as housekeepers
-exposure to pornography and media
Situational factors -Family/ relationship problems
-seasonal factors
Early exposure -presence of children
-willing to excuse the application of violence against women
-cognitive, emotional, and social development
-job-related issues
Access to support areas and services -Lack of available services
-limited transport
-limited awareness
-shame and embarrassment
-perception that services will not be of assistance

Risk factors (Bedi & Goddard, 2007, p. 7)

Impact of exposure on children’s emotional and biological development

Biological development

Domestic and family violence have far-reaching effects on the biological development of a child. The procedure of organizing some internal illustration of information relies on the structure, extent, and rate of the neuronal process through recognizing, relaying, and storing signals (Edleson, 1999). Normally, distressed children show deep sensitization of the neural response structures related to their disturbing incidents. The outcome is that full-brown response patterns can be evoked by seemingly minor stressors. Deficiency of vital experiences during growth is the most disparaging area of child abuse. This implies that there are different times during which various areas of the central nervous system are growing and hence these are the most receptive stages. Violence interruptions of neurochemical signals during these stages may result in permanent mental defectiveness in neurodevelopment (Kovacs & Tomison, 2003).

Emotional development

Lack of effective neurodevelopment in children due to violent disruptions has far-reaching adversities on a child’s emotional development. Studies have proved that a sensitive period exists during which certain sensory experience is needed for optimal organizational and growth of the section of the brain relaying a certain function. Anomalous micro-environment prompts and a distinctive structure of neural action during serious and susceptible stages can lead to an endangered function in brain-related activities of attachment, hilarity, regulation, and sympathy. Some of the most renowned medical cases of this experience are concerned with the lack of attachment experiences early in child maturity (AIFS, 2000). A child who has become psychologically abandoned early in life will show intense attachment difficulties, which are enormously insensible to any alternate experiences afterward, even treatment. These children may also find it hard to develop friendships for several reasons, such as fear of inviting their friends to their homes due to the violence and holding back from others. Children that observe family violence may also be at an increased likelihood of relationship troubles especially relationship violence.


The research proposes that efficient involvement strategies for vulnerable families should concentrate on minimizing modifiable risk elements and enhancing protective factors. Since risk and caring factors are habitually interconnected within families, the strengths-based intervention approach will effectively tackle numerous risks and factors. Interventions that concern several areas of functioning, for instance, the child, family, and society, potentially have a better impact on attaining better results (Clements, Oxtoby, & Ogle, 2008). Another effective model of solving modifiable risk factors is the signs of safety model to child defense. In latest years, this model has relished significant attention and power, both in Australia and globally (AIFS, 2000).


As a future family counselor, I found that the topic “family and domestic violence” enhanced my understanding of the impacts of domestic violence on child development and this will be useful in family counseling. Children that observe family violence are normally impacted in different areas of their development. Information on the topic of domestic violence has evidenced that these children are affected in terms of physical, emotional, and psychological functioning. As a family counselor, I will ensure that apart from the programs aimed at approaching the different impacts of witnessing violence and interventions are needed to assist children who witness family violence (Holt et al., 2008). Attributable to the systematic orientation of counselors, I will be well suited for such work, and I will include domestic violence prevention as part of my clinical practice. Additionally, because family counselors are required to practice within the scope of their training and be experienced in matters about domestic violence, the knowledge from this topic will be of paramount importance in solving family and issues related to child witnesses of violence.

The knowledge about the impacts of violence on a child’s development has assisted me in understanding that the basic ethical consideration for a family counselor working with children who have experienced family violence pertains to the child’s safety and mandated reporting of child abuse. The knowledge about the impacts of child abuse on children is far-reaching, and the realization of this will assist me in correctly reporting any form of domestic violence based on its influence on the child. Additionally, to reduce the possibility of domestic problems arising from mandated reporting guidelines, as a counselor, I will make such requirements explicit to families and children quickest possible.


Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2005). Australia: Government Press.

Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS). (2000). Exploring family violence: Links between child maltreatment and domestic violence. Issues in Child Abuse Prevention.

Bedi, G., & Goddard, C. (2007). Intimate partner violence: What are the impacts on children? Australian Psychologist, 42(1), 66-77.

Clements, C. M., Oxtoby, C., & Ogle, R. L. (2008). Methodological issues in assessing psychological adjustment in child witnesses of intimate partner violence. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 9(2), 114-127.

Edleson, J. L. (1999). Children’s witnessing of adult domestic violence. Journal of interpersonal violence, 14(8), 839-870.

Holt, S., Buckley, H., & Whelan, S. (2008). The impact of exposure to domestic violence on children and young people: A review of the literature. Child abuse & neglect, 32(8), 797-810.

Kovacs, K., & Tomison, A. (2003). An analysis of current Australian program initiatives for children exposed to domestic violence. Australian Journal of Social Issues, 38(4), 513.

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