by Fulton McSwain
Family violence is a significant public health concern that demands community-wide attention. The effects of domestic violence on women have been well documented; however, the impact on children who witness domestic violence has received less attention. This is surprising, considering that an estimated three to four million children are at risk of being exposed to domestic violence each year.
These children are the silent victims of family violence
Research shows that silent victims suffer a wide range of emotional and behavioral disturbances as a result of their exposure to family violence. In fact, children who grow up in violent homes often exhibit the same psychological and behavioral problems as children who have been abused.
Studies also show that children who witness domestic violence:
• Are at greater risk of suffering from depression and anxiety,
• May suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,
• Are more likely to display oppositional, defiant behaviors than those from nonviolent homes, and
• Sometimes engage in fighting, bullying, and stealing.
Witnessing violence in the home also affects a child’s academic achievement and behavior in the classroom. Children impacted by family violence have a greater risk of suffering from lower cognitive function and limited problem-solving skills. They may also experience delays in their speech and motor skills. These cognitive issues, coupled with emotional and behavioral problems, impact performance in school. Children who witness family violence not only have poor interactions with authority figures such as teachers; they also tend to have poor relationships with peers. They lack conflict resolution skills and have difficulties with anger management.
These behaviors can have a negative effect on the overall dynamics of the classroom. Research has shown that one student who exhibits disruptive behavior can significantly increase misbehavior among the other students in the classroom. Similar studies indicate that one disruptive student can also decrease the math and reading scores of the other students in the class.
Prevention is the best defense against family violence. In cases of child silent victims early intervention can help them develop skills to cope and heal and to reduce negative consequences later in life. Family Services Child Advocacy Center provides critical services and support that can lead a young child, and the child’s family, to well-being and the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Fulton McSwain, a certified forensic interviewer at the Child Advocacy Center, has conducted hundreds of forensic interviews with children, some as young as three years old, who witnessed or were the victims of family violence, sexual assault, or abuse. Providing a full-time forensic interviewer reduces the need for a child victim to retell or revisit the traumatic experience over and over, and allows the child to begin the process of healing.