Children exposed to intimate partner violence twice as likely to experience poor health

  • Children who witness their mothers abused by their romantic partners have a higher chance of developing poor health
  • These children are more likely to have poor mental health, physical health, cognitive and language development by the age of 10
  • They may also develop anxiety, sleeping problem and asthma

Children who witnessed their mothers being abused by their romantic partners were twice as likely to have poorer health than their peers whose mothers reported no abuse, according to a new study.

The research published in The BMJ investigated the mental and physical health, and cognitive and language development of 10-year old children in families where mothers reported intimate partner violence (IPV) compared with children with no reported IPV exposure.

The researchers studied 1 507 first-time mothers and their first-born children. They were a mixture of mothers abused by their partners and those who did not report abuse. More than one in four women and children in the study had been exposed to intimate partner violence during the first 10 years of their child's life.

The impact of IPV on children 

The findings show that children exposed to IPV from infancy were twice as likely to have a psychiatric diagnosis, emotional and behavioural difficulties, and impaired language skills at age 10. They were also more likely to develop asthma and sleeping problems.

Children exposed to IPV at age 10 had a two to three times higher chance of poor mental health outcomes, elevated blood pressure and sleep problems. Early-life exposure to IPV in kids between the ages of one and four years was three times more likely to lead to a general language problem and asthma at age 10.

"Intimate partner is the most common form of violence against women and their children and is a global public health issue. It's not limited to physical and sexual violence and is often characterised by a pattern of psychological control and coercion. Children may pick up on this and experience constant fear or anxiety at home," study co-author Prof Stephanie Brown said in a statement.

The researchers also found that many women experiencing IPV were unsure about seeking support from family health and social care services.

"Services need to aware of the impact of intimate partner violence on children's health and wellbeing and work to overcome barriers that may get in the way of women seeking support for themselves and their children," Brown added.

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