We’ve been calling on the Government to recognise and address the impact of domestic abuse on children.

When we talk about the impact of domestic abuse on children, we mean the effect that living in a household where one adult is being abusive and possibly violent to another adult would have on a child. We do not generally mean the direct abuse of a child, but more the impact of exposure to abuse, violence and coercive and controlling behaviours, and this should not be underestimated.


However, the two can overlap: children can also be directly affected by a parent’s (or a parent’s partner’s) controlling and coercive treatment of another parent. For example, a perpetrator of domestic abuse might, in their abuse of another adult, prevent a child from visiting their grandmother, or going over to a friend’s house for a sleepover, or participating in extracurricular activities. [1]

There can also be major overlap between domestic abuse and the direct harm of children, for example, through neglect or physical or emotional abuse. [2]


As many as one in five children have been exposed to domestic abuse.[3] 

Domestic violence is also the most common factor identified at the end of social care assessments for children in need; in 2018/19, more than half of all assessments had domestic violence identified as a factor.[4]

Action for Children is part of a group of leading organisations from the children’s, domestic abuse and Violence Against Women and Girls sectors, who have come together to urge Government to address the needs of children affected by domestic abuse.

The Domestic Abuse Bill, currently passing through Parliament, is a crucial opportunity to ensure children affected by domestic abuse get the help they need. Action for Children is calling for the Bill to ensure that:

  • Specialist support services for children are made available in all local areas. Our recent report found that children affected by domestic abuse faced barriers to accessing support in at least two thirds of the local authorities that took part in the research.

  • Frontline practitioners and public authorities recognise children as victims of the domestic abuse that occurs in their household. This could be achieved by changing the proposed statutory definition of domestic abuse to recognise that children experience domestic abuse too.

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Why is this important?

Children affected by domestic abuse need support to process their experiences, and to develop an understanding of healthy relationships. Research by SafeLives demonstrates that specialist children’s services, like Children’s Independent Domestic Violence Advisors offering emotional and practical support, reduce the impact of domestic abuse and improve children’s safety and health outcomes.[5] Their role in early intervention and prevention is particularly crucial: abusive behaviour in children exposed to domestic abuse dropped from 24% to 7% after receiving appropriate support. [6]

However, the percentage of specialist domestic abuse services providing dedicated support to children and young people fell from 62% in 2010 to 52% in 2017.[7] Our recent report showed that the provision of support for children affected by domestic abuse across England and Wales is patchy, piecemeal and precarious. Services now have to deal with the challenges presented by COVID-19 as well. A recent SafeLives survey of frontline services showing that 42% felt that they are not able to effectively support child victims of abuse at this time.[8]

Government must ensure that effective, specialist services are available for all children who have experienced domestic abuse. 


Action for Children’s services

Action for Children provides crucial support to children who have experienced domestic abuse. We deliver a small number of dedicated domestic abuse services, including one offering specialist counselling to children aged four to 16. We also support survivors and their children through our more general family support services and children’s centres.

Children using our counselling service report that their emotional wellbeing and family relationships have improved since the counselling sessions.

"In the sessions, I have learned to forget the bad things and concentrate on the good things in my life."

Young Person

Grace’s story

Grace's story demonstrates the impact that domestic abuse can have on children.

Please note that this video contains references to rape and suicide.

[1] Katz, E. (2015) ‘Beyond the Physical Incident Model: How Children Living with Domestic Violence are Harmed By and Resist Regimes of Coercive Control’, Child Abuse Review 25(1), pp. 46-59.]

[2] SafeLives [formerly Caada] (2014) In plain sight: the evidence from children exposed to domestic abuse.

[3] NSPCC (2011), Child Abuse and Neglect in the UK Today.

[4] Department for Education (2018), ‘Characteristics of children in need: 2017 to 2018’. 

[5] Safe Lives (2014), In plain sight: Effective help for children exposed to domestic abuse.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Women’s Aid (2018), Survival and Beyond: The Domestic Abuse Report 2017. Bristol: Women’s Aid. 

[8] SafeLives domestic abuse frontline service COVID-19 survey results