Domestic violence puts children at risk

With one in four Australian women affected by family and domestic violence, a new initiative is targeting front-line health and welfare workers working with families and children.

Flinders University Professor of Social Work Dr Sarah Wendt says a new online course, launched by Emerging Minds: National Workforce Centre for Child Mental Health, will help community and health workers – from GPs to hospital staff, educators and drug and alcohol counsellors – to better recognise and respond to domestic violence to address children’s safety and mental health.

Professor Wendt, a leading domestic violence researcher, says current knowledge gaps are limiting how ‘first-to-know’ workers can support those impacted by family and domestic violence.

“Every practitioner in Australia needs a specialist understanding of how to recognise the signs of family and domestic violence so they can address the issue with a parent and find support for the entire family,” says Professor Wendt, who helped to develop the new resources along with specialist violence services, women’s safety services, general adult and child services, child mental health experts and mothers with lived experience of family and domestic violence.

“When violence, abuse, fear and control are present in a household, a child suffers and the parent-child relationship is compromised, impacting on a child’s mental health now and in the future.

“If these specialist skills form part of front-line workers’ capability, they will be able to open the door on the subject so children can be better protected to support their ongoing health and safety,” says Professor Wendt, who is part of the Social Work Innovation Research Living Space (SWIRLS) initiative at Flinders University.

The recent Mission Australia Out of the Shadows report recommends that all staff working with families receive training and information to better support women and children at risk of family and domestic violence along with homelessness.

Photo: Getty Images

The federally funded Emerging Minds training program focuses on how children are affected by family and domestic violence and gives practitioners information and advice on how to discuss the topic with parents.

The course highlights how a child’s relationships, physical health and social and emotional wellbeing are affected and how to respond to prevent immediate and long-term consequences for children’s mental health.

Emerging Minds’ Workforce Development Manager Dan Moss says silence is the leading cause of adverse impacts on children affected by family and domestic violence.

Mr Moss says a violent and abusive family environment often results in the mother trying to coerce or control the child out of fear of the perpetrator’s reaction.

“Children often blame themselves for what is happening and without help to make sense of the situation, their self-esteem and sense of self is affected and the impact can be lifelong,” he says.

“We know that both men and women impacted by family and domestic violence are seeking support but if practitioners don’t ask questions, then those affected don’t have the confidence to disclose the violence and make plans to improve their children’s safety.

“That results in women and children staying in the violent environment for longer and once they leave and seek specialist women’s services, it’s too late.”

Those impacted by sexual assault, family and domestic violence can obtain advice and referrals from 1800RESPECT – phone 1800 737 732 or visit

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College of Education, Psychology and Social Work Social Work Innovation Research Living Space