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Emerging Responses to Children Exposed to Domestic Violence

NRCDV Publications
General Material
General Material
Published Date
July, 2011

Public attention to the effects of children's exposure to adult domestic violence has increased over the last decade. This attention focuses on both the impact of the exposure on children's development and on the likelihood that exposed children may be at greater risk for becoming either a child victim of physical or sexual abuse or an adult perpetrator of domestic violence. New research, policies, and programs focused on these children have resulted. These new efforts are reviewed in this document and an argument is made that the diversity of children's experiences requires equally diverse responses from our communities.

"Exposure to adult domestic violence" describes the multiple experiences of children living in homes where an adult is using physically violent behavior in a pattern of coercion against an intimate partner. Several studies on children exposed to adult domestic violence have indicated children's responses to violence may vary. Many exposed children show more aggressive and antisocial as well as fearful and inhibited behaviors, exhibit lower social competence, and have poorer academic performance (Kitzmann, Gaylord, Holt & Kenny, 2003; Wolfe, Crooks, Lee, McIntyre-Smith & Jaffe, 2003). Children also show similar emotional health to those of physically abused children (Kitzmann et al., 2003). Other children display more resiliency to the negative effects of exposure and have no greater social or emotional problems than those not exposed to domestic violence (Graham-Bermann, 2001). The more social support networks and family members in protective roles available to the child, the more resilient a child may become (Masten & Reed, 2002).

Laws relating to child exposure to adult domestic violence have changed considerably in the last decade. These laws focus most often on criminal prosecution of violent assaults, custody and visitation decision-making, and the child welfare system's response (Lemon, 1999; Mathews, 1999; Weithorn, 2001).

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