Domestic violence and children


How is the abuse affecting my children?

If you have children, you have probably tried to shield them from the domestic violence as much as you possibly can. Perhaps you are hoping they do not know it is happening. However, in the majority of families where there are children, and where abuse is being perpetrated, the children will be aware of this, and will often hear it or see it going on.

Children witnessing the abuse

Children can witness domestic violence in a variety of ways. For example, they may be in the same room and may get caught in the middle of an incident, perhaps in an effort to make the violence stop; they may be in another room but be able to hear the abuse or see their mother's physical injuries following an incident of violence; or they may be forced to take part in verbally abusing the victim. Children are completely dependent on the adults around them, and if they do not feel safe in their own homes, this can have many negative physical and emotional effects.

Child abuse

Children in domestic violence situations can, in some cases, also be abused directly by the person who is abusing you. If you suspect that this is happening, or that it has happened, it is important that you raise this issue with your children and take steps to protect them, for example, by seeking support from Women's Aid1 or another local domestic violence organisation, or from social services or other agencies that are there to assist and protect children.

If your child, or a child you know, tells you that he/she has been abused, your immediate response is very important:

  • Listen carefully and let your child tell you what happened in his/her own time.
  • Reassure your child that he/she is not to blame for what happened (or is happening).
  • Let your child know he/she is very brave to tell you about it.
  • Show your child that you are concerned for him/her.
  • Try to stay calm and not let your child see how shocked you are.
  • If your child is at risk of further abuse (for example, if you are still living with the perpetrator, or if your children have regular contact with him) then you will need to take steps to protect him/her from further harm.

What can I do?

You may feel that you will be blamed for failing as a parent, or for asking for help, and you may worry that your children will be taken away from you if you report the violence. But you are never to blame for someone else's abuse. You and your children need support. Call the Women's Aid National Helpline on 1800 341 900 to help you decide what you should do next.

Parental abduction

Parental abduction is an increasing phenomenon of intercultural and mixed religion relationships. If you are worried that your children may be, or have been, abducted by their other parent this information booklet prepared by the Irish Centre for Parentally Abducted Children, may be useful. The ICPAC booklet provides basic information and advice for the Irish legal context. Download a copy here.

1 Women's Aid has a policy on child abuse in line with Children First Guidelines.