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UN Universal Children’s Day: Addressing the Experiences of Children and Domestic Violence

November 19, 2016

The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) recognizes November 20th as Universal Children’s Day, the day when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Some of these rights include the right to life, health, and education; to not be discriminated against; to be protected from violence; and to have their views heard. On Universal Children’s Day, NNEDV celebrates and promotes the rights of children worldwide, while noting there is much work to be done to ensure that all children can exercise these rights.

Approximately one in seven children will experience domestic violence. We use the term “experience” to recognize that children are not passive witnesses of abuse, but instead direct victims, as exemplified by these children’s experiences captured in the 10th annual Domestic Violence Counts census:

  • An advocate in California reported that a woman was brutally assaulted by her abuser. Her young daughter tried to defend her and was also assaulted.
  • An advocate in Georgia reported that a woman had to hide behind her house with her children and call the local program after her husband broke her jaw.

The short- and long-term physical, emotional, and psychological effects of domestic violence rob children of every single right they are granted under the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, including:

  • Education. Experiencing domestic abuse during childhood is directly correlated with lower academic performance, attention and memory, learning difficulties, and even dropping out of school. [1]
  • Health. Children who experience domestic violence often meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). [1] Exposure to domestic violence makes a child three times more likely to perpetuate or experience abusive behavior in future intimate partner relationships. [2]
  • Discrimination. Children who experience domestic violence may face discrimination and are more likely to be labeled as “unruly” when seeking services.
    Recognizing children as direct victims of domestic violence, and understanding the severe psychological trauma that results from abuse, could produce significant changes in the way social work and criminal justice professionals serve and respond to children. [2] By hearing and understanding the experiences of children, and the impacts of domestic abuse, we can allow them to be agents of change in service planning, delivery, and evaluation.[3,4]

NNEDV strives to create a social, political, and economic environment in which domestic violence no longer exists; this includes acknowledging that children are also victims of domestic violence, and working to develop comprehensive solutions. The 10th annual Domestic Violence Counts census found that out of 12,197 unmet requests for services, more than 4,500 requests were for services benefitting children, including requests for emergency shelter, transitional and other housing, and non-residential services such as counseling, support groups, or legal services. NNEDV continues to make domestic violence a national priority by addressing the needs of survivors and their families, and making sure those needs are heard and understood by policymakers at the national level.

[1] The Childhood Domestic Violence Association,

[2] Callaghan, J. E., Alexander, J. H., Sixsmith, J., & Fellin, L. C. (2015). Beyond “Witnessing”: Childrens Experiences of Coercive Control in Domestic Violence and Abuse. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. doi:10.1177/0886260515618946

[3] Mullender, A., Hague, G., Imam, U. F., Kelly, L., Malos, E., & Regan, L. (2003). Children’s perspectives on domestic violence. London, England: SAGE.

[4] Walsh, S., Wilson, R., Baines, S., & Martin, M. (2012). “You’re just treating us as informants!” Roles, responsibilities and relationships in the production of children’s services directories. Local Government Studies, 38, 661-680. doi:10.1080/03003930.2012.676439