- If you, a child or another person is in immediate danger call 000 now
- There are practical things you can do to support a child who is exposed to domestic or family violence
- The right support can make a child safer and provide a pathway to recovery.
How to support children impacted by violence
The effects of domestic and family violence on a child’s wellbeing and development can be long-lasting and complex. Witnessing violence can include seeing a range of controlling behaviours and is not limited to physical abuse. For example, children are affected if they hear violence in another room, have to modify their behaviour to prevent outbursts, see their mother’s fear or have to comfort her following an incident or if they come home to evidence of abuse having occurred. You can find out more about the impacts of domestic and family violence by reading, Impacts of domestic and family violence on children.
This page provides practical information about things that a parent, carer, friend or family member can do to support a child who is exposed to domestic or family violence. Children exposed to domestic and family violence are encouraged to speak to a trusted adult about what is happening at home. Family and friends can also play a role in developing a safety plan for the mother and child, with the assistance of family counselling or other services. Safety planning information on this page has been developed with the support of domestic and family violence experts. It is a guide for things that can be included when developing a safety plan with a mother and child. For more information visit the Safety planning page.
How can I support children at home?
There are things you can do to counteract the effect that exposure to domestic or family violence is having on children at home.
- Help your children to know when there are warning signs of danger
- Keep the conversation practical like other safety conversations you might have around natural disaster planning or fire safety
- Practice emergency escape routes – talk about these at the same time as you talk through a fire or hurricane drill
- Teach your children that it is not their responsibility to stop the abuser when they are angry or violent
- Teach your children who they can call or where the can go in an emergency – this includes how to call 000 and ask for the police, and how to give their address
- Tell schools or childcare centres about the violence, along with school parents you can trust. They can keep a look out for signs of escalation and also help with caring for your child’s emotional needs. A community of care helps keep kids safe. Give the school or childcare centre a copy of your protection order, and a photo of the perpetrator so they know who to look out for.
How do I create a safety plan with children?
Depending on the child's age, they can play an important role in developing their own safety plan with the assistance of their mother or primary carer and a support service. Children should be able to discuss, plan and practice steps they can take to be safe in a home where there is domestic or family violence.
Support people like family and friends can help to develop and carry out a safety plan too. They can also offer a safe place to go or be ready to listen and offer support when a child asks for it. Any conversations with a child about safety planning should make clear that it is not their responsibility to stop the violence, the most important thing is their safety.
A successful safety plan will include the names of people a child can realistically turn to when they feel unsafe. Children need to have the chance to practise what they might need to do and say in certain situations and they need to have their own written or visual copy of the plan.
A safety plan developed with the support of a service should include:
- Step by step actions the child can take to increase safety at home, outside the home or in situations such as contact visits
- When would it be important to leave and how they might know this
- The safe places they could go and how to get there
- Suggestions to reduce risk of harm, such as leaving early when things feel unsafe or not stepping in to stop the violence
- Contact details for three or more people the child could turn to who would listen and take actions to assist the child
- How to contact Emergency Services and other services that may be needed
- What to take when leaving, such as money, something that they treasure or get comfort from, such as a calming toy or blanket, important numbers in an escape bag
Tell schools or childcare centres about the violence, along with school parents you can trust. They can keep a look out for signs of escalation and also help with caring for your child’s emotional needs. A community of care helps keep kids safe.
How do I offer support as a family member or friend?
There are some practical ways that a friend or family member can support a child exposed to domestic or family violence, in addition to the support received from the mother or primary carer and professional services.
- Provide lots of affection and care
- Do your best to model a positive attitude and do not burden children with negative beliefs or feelings
- Provide reassurances to the child, for example that the abuse was not their fault in any way, that mum will be all right, that child is loved and will be taken care of
- Be available to talk with the child at any time
- Ask children if they have any worries and respond to their worries in simple words
- Let the child know that they are not alone, violence happens in other families too. Tell them it is OK to be angry but it is not OK to hurt others
- Listen to and accept all the child’s feelings about the abuse and the abuser, including the positive feelings
- Talk to them about appropriate ways of showing feelings
- Allow them to cry and be sad
- Name and praise positive behaviours
- Tell the child what they are good at, highlight their strengths
- Play together, spend quality, fun time together
- Find other adults or professionals for the child to talk to about all the many feelings the abuse has stirred up
- Give teenagers information about who else they can talk to
- Express pride and gratitude that the child was brave enough to talk about the abuse and accept help