Domestic violence leave will be transformative for young children and families
The Sector > Workforce > Advocacy > Domestic violence leave will be transformative for young children and families

Domestic violence leave will be transformative for young children and families

by Dr Marg Rogers (University of New England), Professor Navjot Bhullar (Edith Cowan University)

February 21, 2023

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.

Backlash to the Federal Government’s new paid domestic violence (DV) leave shows the need for more community education. DV leave will transform the lives of young children and families, and early childhood educators are well placed to advocate for families.


The statistics on DV in Australia are appalling by any standards. One Australian woman a week is killed. Many more are injured to the point that they need health services. Not all abuse is physical: victims are also subject to financial, emotional, social, sexual, spiritual, verbal, and child and elder abuse. Any form of abuse has consequences for the abused and society in general.


For women, the statistics are shocking, with 16 per cent experiencing physical and/or sexual abuse, 25 per cent of women experiencing  emotional abuse and 20 per cent of women experiencing sexual violence.


All this is apparently lost on those who have been commenting on media sites. Their comments neatly illustrate common misconceptions about the impact and cost of DV on the whole community, especially women and children.


While such comments can be dismissed as coming from a place of privilege and a lack of understanding and empathy, it reveals an urgent need for a public education campaign. The campaign would need to explain the negative impacts of family and DV on children and family and how costly this trauma is to our society and its subsequent impact on businesses (e.g., lost productivity, lower participation of female workforce).


Although men can be the victims of DV, the statistics show that 86 per cent of reported violence is perpetrated against women in Australia. The silent victims are often children who either witness the events or are subject to the abuse. Parents might not recognise the signs of their children being impacted by trauma. Additionally, trauma can be passed on within families as well as exacerbated by other socio-demographic factors (ethnicity, living in remote areas, sexual orientation, gender identity to name a few) that place vulnerable groups at even greater risk.


Supporting women to leave earlier by reducing barriers


Economic support and reducing isolation


When women are supported to leave a difficult situation, they are more likely to leave at an earlier stage, reducing the impact of abuse. This way, they are better able to support their children and continue working.


There are many barriers to someone leaving a DV situation, but a chief constraint is finances. Having to take time off work to organise new accommodation and relocate is very difficult when there are already multiple stressors in a woman’s life. By keeping a victim linked to their job, they are less likely to go back to the abusive situation due to financial strain. It also keeps them connected with their colleagues.


When children are removed from abusive homes earlier, it reduces their exposure to trauma and improves their wellbeing. Childhood trauma has lifelong negative impacts into adulthood. Affected children are more likely to:



Shame and fear of not being believed


Another barrier to women leaving unsafe households is that they are ashamed of what has happened to them. Their perpetrator often makes them believe, slowly but surely, that the fault lies with them.


The new DV laws make it easier for women to get the support that they need in their workplace. The new national laws have brought the issue into the spotlight, making it an issue the whole community needs to support.


Educators can support families by noticing children’s behaviours and supporting families in need. They can also advocate for the family and let them know about their entitlements and how they can access support.


A community education program is needed


About the impacts of DV


While those complaining about this type of leave say it is costly to small businesses, the impacts of DV are costly to the community. Victims need extra professional mental health care and therapeutic responses for themselves and their children. The longer they are exposed to abusive relationships the more support they will need.


Additionally, women who are victims of DV are likely to have poorer productivity.


About the nature of abuse


These types of comments also show a misunderstanding of the nature of abuse. For example:


  •       those who grow up in abusive households are less able to spot red flags
  •       due to epigenetics victims can pass trauma to family members for up to three generations
  •       abusers make it very difficult for partners to leave.
  •       partners can become abusive later in relationships, and this causes many women to believe the behaviour will stop.
  •     victims can become perpetrators as they learn violence as a way of coping with stress.


A whole- of-community approach


DV is insidious. The damage is wrought in private, but the effects ripple out into the community. A whole-of-community approach is needed to help everyone understand that this pathology, hidden in plain sight, exacts costs from us all.


Educators can lead the charge by advocating for families and letting them know about the new laws in their newsletters. They can also support parents and children and provide safe places where they can discuss what is happening in their families.


Getting support


For more information on impacts of family and DV, please visit AIHW or DSS.


If this article has raised any concerns, please contact 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) or 13YARN (13 92 76) for support and counselling. 


Dr Marg Rogers (University of New England) is a Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood. Marg is a Postdoctoral Fellow with the Manna Institute that aims to improve place-based research capacity to improve mental health in regional, rural, and remote Australia.


Professor Navjot Bhullar (Edith Cowan University) is a research-focussed Professor in Psychology specialising in wellbeing and the psychosocial and environmental influences on mental health.

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