Children Affected by Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse can have a devastating impact on children, young people and their families. It is much more common and widespread than many people realise and all practitioners should have a basic awareness of the potential signs and effects of abuse. This section provides information for all staff and volunteers who work with children and young people, including signposting to local agencies and links to further guidance.

What is Domestic Abuse?

According to the North Yorkshire & York Domestic Abuse Strategy, domestic abuse is 'any violent or abusive behaviour - whether physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, verbal or financial - which is used by one adult to control and dominate another with whom they have or have had a personal or family relationship regardless of gender'. Domestic abuse is mainly but not exclusively the abuse of women by their male partner or ex-partner, although abuse can occur in any personal or family relationship including straight, gay and transgender relationships. This definition also includes honour based violence.

How Common is Domestic Abuse?

Abuse often takes place 'behind closed doors' and is a lot more common than many people realise. National research suggests that 1 in 4 women will be affected by domestic abuse at some point in their lives. Police figures show that 830 incidents of domestic abuse were recorded in North Yorkshire and York for December 2010 alone, with children present for 118 (14%) of these.

How Can Domestic Abuse Affect Children and Young People?

Domestic abuse can have a devastating impact on children and young people, affecting their health, well being and development, as well as their educational achievement.

Children and young people may experience direct emotional abuse or physical injury from witnessing or hearing the abuse including:

  • Hearing arguments between adults in the household
  • Hearing or seeing the abusive partner verbally abuse, humiliate, threaten or carry out violence
  • Hearing the victim's screams and pleas for help
  • Seeing the victim's bruises and injuries
  • Seeing the abusive partner being removed and taken into police custody
  • Seeing the victim being taken to hospital by ambulance
  • Attempting to intervene in a violent assault
  • Being used as part of the abuse against the victim (for example being forced to take part in the abuse, or being used as pawns or 'spies' in attempts to control the victim)

There is also an increased risk of direct physical, emotional or sexual abuse of the child. Whilst the impact of domestic abuse on children may be similar to the effects of any other abuse or trauma, evidence suggests that children as individuals respond differently to witnessing domestic abuse. Children may exhibit:

  • poor school performance
  • low self-esteem
  • anxiety, depression, anger and fear
  • aggressive and violent behaviours, including bullying or anti-social behaviour
  • lack of empathy and poor peer relationships
  • risky behaviour (including teenage or early pregnancy / alcohol and substance misuse)
  • self blame
  • shame and anxiety
  • post traumatic stress disorder

What Do I Do If I Suspect a Child or Young Person is Experiencing Domestic Abuse?

If you are worried about any child please refer to the North Yorkshire Safeguarding Children Partnership Practice Guidance: Safeguarding Children Abused through Domestic Abuse for guidance on carrying out further assessment to determine the level of risk and appropriate response. A referral to Children's Social Care or the police may be required:

North Yorkshire Children's Social Care: 0845 034 9410


Emergency Duty Team (for evenings, weekends and bank holidays): 0845 034 9417

Police: 0845 60 60 247

For those children whose situation does not require intervention from Children's Social Care, but for whom domestic abuse is a persistent feature of their lives, services will still be required.

Where can I find further information on domestic abuse in North Yorkshire?

For more information on the impact of domestic abuse on children, unborn children and parents/victims please see the NYSCP (

For more frequently asked questions on domestic abuse please see the North Yorkshire Local Safeguarding Children Partnership  website: NYSCP (

If you or someone you know is directly affected by Domestic Abuse, the Independent Domestic Abuse Services webpage [new window]  provides further information and support.

Useful Downloads

Domestic Abuse Reference Pack for Schools

York and North Yorkshire Domestic Abuse Strategy 2009-2013

Domestic Abuse - Children Centre Reference Pack