Domestic violence leaving children traumatised with mental health problems

April 10, 2015

Original article published in Canberra Times on 8 April 2015 by Henry Belot

Children traumatised by domestic violence are being burdened with anxiety, sleep disorders, behavioural issues and are more likely to be exposed to mental illness.With waiting lists for some children’s mental health services growing to more than three months, counsellors and academics are calling for greater awareness and support programs in primary schools. Amanda Harris, director of the Australian Child & Adolescent Trauma Loss & Grief Network, said the breadth of challenges faced by children had not been widely recognised.”We know that the impact of witnessing domestic violence on young kids can be just as serious as the impact of actual physical violence,” she said.”In those first few years they can be smothered with stress and that can impact on their development leading to emotional, behavioural or even learning difficulties.”

Angie Piubello, who has worked as the child support worker for Beryl Women Inc shelter for six years, said children at her refuge reacted differently to domestic violence depending on their age.

“For older children there will be issues of having to cut relationships and leaving whatever connections they may have made along with managing their safety,” she said.

“We’ve got a younger person who has had to change her name and that has meant a whole lot of things for her as a young person.”

Fiona MacGregor, who oversees YWCA Canberra mental health services, said many young children did not feel safe in their homes after witnessing domestic violence.

“Some of the children we see have been traumatised because of domestic violence and they are in need of therapeutic help,” she said.

“Quite often when a mother becomes a victim of domestic violence her capacity – through no fault of her own – to protect her children can be diminished.”

Ms Harris said her network was working with four ACT primary schools to educate senior staff on the influence of domestic violence with plans to expand the program later this year.

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