Head Start and Early Head Start programs can use this resource to learn what domestic violence is, how it affects children and families, and where to find resources for children and families experiencing domestic violence.
Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior that one partner in a romantic or intimate relationship uses to gain and maintain power and control over another partner. It is not an isolated, individual event. Domestic violence can involve several tactics such as: physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse.
Domestic violence can happen to anyone of any age, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, religion, education level, or socioeconomic background. It doesn’t matter whether couples are married, living together, dating, or hooking-up.
Relationships where one partner is using violence to control another partner can also involve stalking and sexual assault and rape.
Children of either partner may be a direct victim of abuse or suffer from exposure to the violence. Learn more about science of childhood trauma.
Who Is Affected by Domestic Violence?
- More than one-third of women in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner at some point in their lifetimes.
- Approximately one in seven men have experienced severe physical violence from an intimate partner during their lifetime.
- One in five children is exposed to family violence in their lifetime, including witnessing violence against a parent or sibling. By age 17, approximately one-third of youth in the United States have witnessed family violence.
(Black et al., 2011)
Explore the facts about domestic violence.
How Does Domestic Violence Affect Children and Families?
It is important to remember that the impacts of domestic violence may look different for every individual and family. Research shows that all young children who experience domestic violence are affected. Children may experience different effects depending on exposure and genetic and environmental buffers. Therefore, it is important to partner with parent and child survivors to tailor your support.
Young children's response to experiencing domestic violence depends on a number of factors, including age, severity of the violence experienced, gender, temperament, and access to protective factors.
Protective factors are conditions or attributes of individuals, families, communities, or the larger society that mitigate or eliminate risk and promote well-being. The presence of stronger protective factors in families increases the probability of achieving positive outcomes, even in the face of adversity.
Domestic violence can affect children's ability to learn and grow. It can lead to developmental delays, inability to manage their emotions, impaired ability to focus, and trouble learning (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, n.d.).
Young children from birth to age 5 who witness or experience domestic violence may also experience:
- Generalized anxiety
- Trouble sleeping or nightmares
- Inability to sit still or hyperactivity
- Increased aggression or withdrawal
- Increased separation anxiety and worries about their parent's safety
- Increased startle response and increased fussiness
- Trouble nursing or eating
- Loss of acquired skills
- Disrupted attachment relationship with their parent
(The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, n.d.)
There is a significant relationship between prolonged childhood experiences of abuse and violence, and the resulting toxic stress response. This includes a host of negative adult physical and mental health outcomes, such as heart disease, stroke, depression, suicide attempts, sexually transmitted diseases, and substance abuse.
A person's identity—race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and immigration or refugee status—influences how the person experiences and responds to domestic violence. Support for families should take into consideration their cultures, identities, and life experiences.
Relationships with supportive adults are key to help children who have experienced domestic violence heal and thrive.
Children who have the ability to do well or develop resilience often have a combination of biological resistance to adversity and strong relationships with the adults in their lives such as parents, other family members, teachers, coaches, and health care providers who can offer support. Learn more about the science of resilience.
For Providers Partnering with Families
- Childhood Trauma: Changing Minds™
- The Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian, and Gay Survivors of Abuse
- Ujima, Inc.: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community
- Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence (API-GBV)
- National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities, Casa de Esperanza
Hotlines and Crisis Counseling for Families
- National Domestic Violence Hotline (24/7, multiple languages offered) 800-799-7233
- StrongHearts Native Helpline: 844-762-8483
- National Network to End Domestic Violence: Find Services in Your State
- Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 800-422-4453
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
- National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline: 866‐331‐9474
- National Latin@ Network 24 hour bi-lingual helpline: 651-772-1611
Black, M. C., Basile, K. C., Breiding, M. J., Smith, S. G., Walters, M. L., Merrick, M. T., Chen, J., & Stevens, M. R. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010 summary report. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Atlanta, GA, 2011.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Effects. n.d. Retrieved from https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/intimate-partner-violence/effects
« Go to Preventing and Responding to Domestic Violence
Resource Type: Publication
National Centers: Parent, Family and Community Engagement
Last Updated: December 17, 2022