Children exposed to family violence may have behaviour issues
The Sector > Research > Children exposed to intimate partner violence at higher risk of behaviour problems

Children exposed to intimate partner violence at higher risk of behaviour problems

by Freya Lucas

May 26, 2023

Children who are repeatedly exposed to intimate partner violence (IPV) are at higher risk of behavioural problems, a University of Queensland (UQ) study has found. 


IPV is a pattern of behaviour between adults that includes physical, sexual, psychological violence and threats of violence which can have negative impacts on children who witness it.


Researchers examined the IPV experiences of 2,163 mothers born between 1973-1978 using data from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH) to reach their findings, using three time points; pre-conception, when their child turned one, and again when the child was four years of age.


Lead researcher Dr Katrina Moss explained: “We then linked reports of child behavioural problems to 3,697 eight-year-olds which showed 32 per cent had been exposed to IPV, and of these, 45 per cent were repeatedly exposed.”


The study found the number of exposures was more important than when it occurred in a child’s life, with the risk of behaviour problems increasing on each occasion.


“It’s clear that IPV exposure is bad for a child at any time, but it’s worse the more times it happens,” Dr Moss said.


“We also found middle childhood, between three and six years of age, was a critical time for internalising problems in boys who were particularly vulnerable to IPV exposure during that time.”


Between 30-50 per cent of women and 25 per cent of children in Australia will experience IPV, and two thirds of the children who are exposed to it will have poorer outcomes than their peers. 


“It can cause behavioural problems in children, which may be internalised through anxiety, fear, depression, and withdrawal, or externalised with aggression, hyperactivity, impulsivity, drug use, and attention problems,” Dr Moss said.


“Problem behaviours in early childhood can establish poor developmental pathways which lead to aggression in middle childhood and crime in adolescence.”


“The sooner we detect IPV and intervene, the better it is for children and parents,” she continued.


“A reduction in the length of time a child is exposed to IPV will lessen the negative impacts on their behaviour.”


Access the study in full here

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