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Michelle Barratt Psychology is a Toowong and Redland Bay / Wynnum – Manly Clinical Psychology Practice, and aims to provide treatment for Domestic Violence in Brisbane at the highest standard. The practice values implementing support and treatment that not only endeavours to support all children and adolescents feel safe, heard and understood, but also strives to offer effective treatment that will empower clients to learn new skills to support them in the future. If you are unsure about what you are dealing with, please don’t hesitate to contact us to support you through the next step of either working out what to do or how to proceed with an appointment.
Family Violence and The Impact on Our Children and Adolescents
Family Violence (also known as Domestic Violence or Intimate Partner Violence) is behaviour which is carried out by a family member or other significant relationship member that is threatening or harmful to other members of the family or relationship. Violence can include physical violence; psychological/ emotional violence; sexual violence; financial violence and cultural and religious violence. The violence often involves the use of power and control by one person over others, and results in fear, distress, isolation, serious physical injury and even death (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018). Children and adolescents are at a higher risk of experiencing domestic and family violence, either as a witness or victim during and after parental separation (Campo, 2015).
Violent childhoods immersed in anxiety and stress within the home can have long-term impacts on a child and adolescents’ development, mental health, behaviour, and learning (Campo 2015). Emotional abuse (e.g., name calling, humiliating, screaming, insulting, swearing) can be extremely upsetting for a child and adolescent and lead to ongoing issues with feelings of negative self-worth and fear for their safety. Physical abuse that witnessed by a child or adolescent against someone they love can create feelings of fear and helplessness. Although a child may not “see” the violence, violence is often noisy with shouting, screaming, things breaking, and this can create immense fear, worry, and stress for a child or adolescent. Violence increases anxiety and stress levels within the home and school environment. Children and adolescents become highly attuned to changes in the mood, atmosphere and stress levels in the house which can lead to them constantly on the lookout for signs of danger (Australian Child & Adolescent Trauma, Loss & Grief Network Stepping Up for Kids, 2016).
Family Violence can affect a child’s understanding of what normal interactions with parents and friends look like and it can normalize violence as an integral part of the community. Family The younger the child when exposed to family violence, the more profound the impact can be (Australian Child & Adolescent Trauma, Loss & Grief Network Stepping Up for Kids, 2016). Ongoing exposure of a mother to ‘chronic stress’ related to family violence can have serious implications for her unborn child’s development, particularly brain development. Infants who are living in homes where family violence is occurring are much more likely to develop insecure bonding which can negatively impact their relationships during their lives.
Often a child or adolescents experience of the violence is not considered by the adults living or working with the child and they do not acknowledge the active role a child can take in managing the lives and the safety of themselves, their siblings and even their parents. As a direct result of the violence the child or adolescent may experience financial insecurity, housing instability, loss of contact with extended family and educational disruptions. It is important as adults to be curious about a child’s safety if we notice aggressive or violent behaviour in settings outside of the home however this is not always an indication that a child is unsafe. Not all children that are unsafe ‘act out’ and it is important that we also understand what distress looks like when it is not “messy and noisy” (Australian Child & Adolescent Trauma, Loss & Grief Network Stepping Up for Kids, 2016).
Not all children and adolescents are impacted by family violence in the same way. ‘Protective’ factors that may provide better mental health outcomes include:
- a non-violent parent that provides structure, warmth, emotional support, and positive reinforcement
- positive support from other adults outside their immediate family, such as relatives, family friends and teachers
- close and supportive sibling relationships
- a child’s unique characteristics (e.g., personality, resilience, age)
- being able to maintain regular routines such as attendance at school and extracurricular activities.
- whether the child received an adequate response/treatment following the domestic and family violence
Providing children and adolescents with physically and psychologically safe environments and family violence prevention strategies must be a priority. It is important our children have the critical skills to questions gender norms and violence-supportive attitudes (Campo, 2015), so we, as a community, can provide them with the skills to form healthy and respectful relationships in adulthood.
Author: Dee Pakendorf