Children Exposed to Partner Violence
Chapter Summary by
Symptoms of Children Exposed to Partner Violence
Behavioral problems include aggression, cruelty to animals, tantrums, "acting out," immaturity, truancy, delinquency, and attention deficit disorder/hyperactivity (Ascione, in press; Davies, 1991; Dodge, Pettit, & Bates, 1994; Graham-Bermann, 1996c; Hershorn & Rosenbaum, 1985; Hughes & Barad, 1983; Joriles, Murphy, & O'Leary, 1989; McCloskey et al., 1995, Sternberg et al., 1993). Common emotional problems are anxiety, anger, depression, withdrawal, and low self-esteem (Carlson, 1990; Davis & Carlson, 1987; Graham-Bermann, 1996c; Hughes, 1988; Jaffe, Wolfe, Wilson, & Zak, 1986). Social problems are poor social skills, peer rejection, and an inability to empathize with others (Graham-Bermann, 1996c; Strassberg & Dodge, 1992). Cognitive difficulties generally include language lag, developmental delays, and poor school performance (Kerouac, Taggart, Lescop, & Fortin, 1986; Wildin, Williamson, & Wilson, 1991). Physical problems include failure to thrive, difficulty sleeping and eating, regressive behaviors, poor motor skills, and psychosomatic symptoms such as eczema and bed-wetting (Copping, 1996; Jaffe et al., 1990; Layzer, Goodson, & Delange, 1986).
Most of the research cited used various standardized instruments that measure psychological and other problems. Researchers compared scores of children exposed to partner violence with normed scores or with scores of control groups. Most, but not all, of this body of research found that children who witness violence are significantly more likely to have problems in one or more of the five areas cited than children who do not.
These findings do not imply that every child who witnesses partner violence, even frequent and severe violence, will have problems. Many children are able to cope successfully with disturbing events. Moreover, this body of research is relatively recent, and its findings are limited by methodological and other difficulties detailed later in this chapter. At this point, researchers are uncertain whether the problems of these children are attributable to exposure to partner violence alone or to the cumulative effect of exposure and other difficulties prevalent in violent homes.
Table 3.1 Symptoms of Children Exposed to Partner Violence
NOTE: Researchers are uncertain whether these types of problems are attributable to exposure to partner violence alone or to the cumulative effect of exposure and other problems prevalent in violent homes.
General Implications for Public Policy
Moreover the realization that children can be traumatized by violence from a variety of possible sources suggests that screening should be as broad as possible and not limited to one or two narrow forms of violence or abuse. In addition to child abuse and parental violence, children are traumatized by exposure to peer and sibling violence, encounter violence at the hands of nonfamily caretakers, and in some communities witness a great deal of violence in their streets and neighborhoods. Discussions are available on the wide range of children's violence exposure (Finkelhor & Dziuba-Leatherman, 1994), and protocols exist for screening systematically for such exposure (Martinez &Richters, 1993).
Table 3.2 Guidelines for Practitioners
Guidelines for Crisis Intervention
Conduct lethality assessment
Guidelines for Noncrisis Situations and General Practice
Carlson, B.E. (1990). Adolescent observers of marital violence. Journal of Family Violence, 5(4), 285-299.
Copping, V.E. (1996). Beyond over- and undercontrol: Behavioral observations of shelter children. Journal of Family Violence, 11(1), 41-57.
Davies, D. (1991). Intervention with male toddlers who have witnessed parental violence. Families in Society, 515-524.
Davis L.V. & Carlson, B.E. (1987). Observation of spousal abuse: What happens to the children? Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 2(3), 278-291.
Dodge, K.A., Pettit, G.S., & Bates, J.E. (1994). Socialization mediators of the relation between socioeconomic status and child conduct problems. Child Development,65, 649-665.
Finkelhor, D. & Dziuba-Leatherman, J. (1994). The Victimization of Children. American Psychologist, 49(3).
Graham-Bermann, S.A. (1996c). The social functioning of preschool-age children whose mothers are emotionally and physically abused. Manuscript submitted for publication.
Hershorn, M., & Rosenbaum, A. (1985). Children of marital violence: A closer look at unintended victims. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 55(2), 260-266.
Hughes, H.M. (1988). Psychological and behavioral correlates of family violence in child witnesses and victims. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 58(1), 77-90.
Jaffe, P., Wolfe, D., Wilson, S., & Zak, L. (1986). Similarities in behavioral and social maladjustment among child victims and witnesses to family violence. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 56(1), 142-146.
Jaffe P.G., Wolfe, D.A., & Wilson, S.K. (1990). Children of battered women. Newbury Park, CA:Sage.
Kerouac, S., Taggart, M.E., Lescop, J., & Fortin, M.F. (1986). Dimensions of health in violent families. Health Care for Women International, 7, 413-426.
Kolbo, J.R., Blakely, E.H., & Engleman, D. (1996). Children who witness domestic violence: A review of empirical literature. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 11(2), 281-293.
Martinez, P. & Richters, J.E. (1993). The NIMH community violence project: Children as victims of and witnesses to violence. Psychiatry, 56, 7-21.
Sternberg, K.J., Lamb, M.E., Greenbaum, C., Cicchetti, D., Dawund, S., Cortes, R.M., Krispin, O. & Lorey, F. (1993). Effects of domestic violence on children's behavioral problems and depression. Developmental Psychology, 29(1), 44-52.
Strassberg, Z., & Dodge, K.A. (1992). The longtitudinal relationship between parental conflict strategies and children's sociometric standing in kindergarten. Merril-Palmer Quarterly, 38(4), 477-493.
Wildin, S.R., Williamson, W.D., & Wilson, G.S. (1991). Children of battered women: Developmental and learning profiles. Clinical Pediatrics, 30(5), 299-304.