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More than a witness: noticing a child's experiences

You will come across the terms ‘witness to’ or ‘exposed to’ when describing children who live with domestic violence. These words do not capture how a man’s violence and control against a mother has a negative impact on the child’s entire being.

These words make the child seem passive and detached from the fear and pain. They make children’s acts of protection and ways of coping invisible.

Children can and will talk about the violence they see or hear. They do this because they want to be safe and listened to. They are the experts in their lives and safety. It is your role to give them a voice, make them visible, and listen to them.

‘We grew up in a very dangerous environment and would lay awake to shouting and screaming. Over time it became usual for us. It wasn’t unusual to have police come over, and then it would start all over again.’

Child survivor of domestic violence from What's Okay at Home?

How a child’s voice is silenced by violence

Our conversations with children are often incident-based and triggered by them—such as when they tell us they have been physically harmed as a result of a violent assault. Children must be included every time we respond to a family and as often as possible, for as long as Child Safety is working with the family.

‘Children’s voices are so not heard, we are so not listening to the plight of children who are caught up in family violence.’

Rosie Batty, Australian of the Year

cited Ong and Hawke (2015).

The Safe and Together model of practice adjusts our lens (how we look at the situation), so we can focus on children by seeing the many and complex ways a perpetrator’s violence ruptures family life and the child’s world. Central to this model is the participation of children in our work.

It is likely to be difficult and scary for children who have been hurt by violence to trust you. You’ll learn more about how to listen, ask children questions and observe their experiences in the Responding section of this part.

Practice prompt

You can start engaging with the child in even the earliest years. Children tell us about their experiences of violence in a variety of ways, beyond just words. You can begin to understand their world through their play, behaviours, their responses to the people around them, and how they respond to noises, touch and voice.

Watch this video on children's perspectives of domestic and family violence from the support and advocacy group, Women's Crisis Services.

What About Us? Perspectives of the children of domestic violence

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