Children and young people as victim survivors in their own right

Research priority.

Children and young people with lived experience of family violence should be ongoing partners in design and implementation, with their voices sought, listened to and acted upon. This is an important area of improvement to ensure systems and services are designed in a way that directly considers the needs of children and young people.

Family violence has particularly significant consequences for children and young people.

Children and young people must be recognised as victim survivors in their own right whether they:

  • are directly targeted
  • have witnessed violence toward another family member
  • are exposed to the effects of violence such as:
    • living with constant tension and fear
    • instability due to needing to seek refuge
    • broken property and injured family members.

Children and young people’s experiences of family violence differs from those of adults. Including because children are dependent on adults to meet their physical, emotional and development needs, and this dependency can add an additional power dynamic. Children and young people may also be subject to violence from more than one perpetrator within their family, including from siblings.

Family violence can impact children and young people’s physical and mental health; neurological and emotional development and cognitive, behavioural functioning and their ability to cope and adapt to different situations. This may impact their attachment to primary caregivers and relationships with family members and peers. Children and young people who have experienced family violence may display behaviours of concern or that are unexpected for their age and stage of development including emotional dysregulation, hypervigilance and withdrawal. These experiences can also vary across age groups, communities, and within the same family or household.

As victim survivors in their own right, we need to recognise children and young people’s unique experiences, additional vulnerabilities, and consider these in the contexts of their ages and stages of development. Equally, some groups of children and young people have a particularly limited voice and may be additionally vulnerable, for example, infants and very young children, and children and young people from certain communities. Research delivered under this agenda must find ways for children and young people to participate in research for and about them.

We need to intervene as early as possible and to deliver high quality and timely supports to children and young people in order to mitigate short- and long-term impacts and assist with recovery. To achieve this, we need to comprehend children and young people’s experiences of family violence from their perspective, including through the lens of an adult-child power dynamic. We need to hear their voices regarding support and recovery needs and service experience. We also need to recognise how these may vary depending on their individual needs.

The following research areas are proposed in consideration of these factors and the Victorian reform context.

  • Prevalence of family violence involving children and young people and connections between family violence and other risks and issues effecting children and young people’s safety, for example sexual abuse and neglect.
  • Protective factors within or surrounding families that decrease the likelihood of children and young people experiencing family violence.
  • Research that assists to better understand children and young people’s experience of family violence and its impacts including on:
    • family and interpersonal relationships, social inclusion, and connections to community
    • substance abuse
    • youth offending
    • educational attainment and participation in formal education
    • how these experiences and impacts differ across age groups and communities, and from adult victim survivors
  • Research on technology-facilitated abuse, and other emerging methods of violence and abuse, and their specific manifestations and impacts when used against children and young people.
  • Increasing our understanding of access to and effectiveness of services for children and young people who experience family violence, including:
    • identifying key settings or circumstances that support early identification and intervention
    • the extent to which children and young people are receiving appropriate supports for family violence, including barriers to service access and ways to address this
    • how children and young people’s experience of supports differ based on factors such as age and stage of development, gender, family composition and social and economic circumstances.
    • effective trauma-informed therapeutic approaches that support immediate and long-term recovery, including multi-disciplinary approaches
    • responding to children who may have experiences of repeated current or historical violence and abuse

All research regarding children and young people who are victim survivors should consider differences in experiences across cohorts and communities, this includes:

  • Unborn children, infants and very young children
  • Aboriginal children and young people
  • Children and young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
  • Children and young people who identify as LGBTIQ+
  • Children and young people with disability
  • Children and young people with mental health concerns
  • Siblings (and children from the same households)

A deeper understanding of how children and young people experience family violence and its impacts is essential in identifying risk and improving our ability to intervene early. Children and young people’s needs and experiences are unique and differ not only from adults but also from each other. By recognising how these needs vary in connection to such factors as age and stage, culture, gender, identity and community of origin, government, universal and specialist services can tailor programs to specifically meet children and young people’s needs and help them to recover and thrive.