Children exposed to family violence are more likely to have emotional and behavioural difficulties in middle childhood, according to new research funded by Australian Rotary Health.

Professor Stephanie Brown and her team from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute examined data from a longitudinal study of over 1500 first time mothers and their first-born children.

Women who participated in the study were asked about their experiences of physical or emotional abuse by a partner or former partner at regular intervals from pregnancy to the time of the 10 year follow up.

Children’s mental health at 10 years old was also assessed using a computer assisted diagnostic interview designed to identify common mental health problems such as anxiety and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Professor Brown said that more than one in four mothers told them about experiences of intimate partner violence in the first 10 years after the birth of their first child.

It was also found that children growing up in households where family violence is occurring are more likely to have emotional and behavioural difficulties in middle childhood.

“At age 10, our research showed that children whose lives had been impacted by family violence have a higher likelihood of a range of mental health symptoms and disorders, such as hyperactivity, anxiety, conduct and developmental disorders,” Professor Brown said.

Professor Brown also noted that despite this, there were also many children whose lives had been impacted by family violence and had good emotional health and wellbeing.

“We need to know more about how this happens, and what helps children grow up strong and resilient despite exposure to trauma and adversity,” she said.

This study is the first at longitudinal mother and child cohort study to incorporate a robust standardised measure of exposure to intimate partner violence and to undertake detailed assessment of children’s mental health at aged 10.

“Family violence is at least as common as maternal depression, and in many cases more devastating. Despite this, the impact of family violence on children is often overlooked.”

“Our research underlines the importance of building a stronger understanding of the long-term consequences and intergenerational impacts of family violence.”

Professor Brown was awarded an Australian Rotary Health Mental Health Research Grant from 2014-2016, contributing to data collection at ten-year follow-up of the cohort. Results were presented at the International Conference on Domestic Violence and Health held in Melbourne, November 2018 and are currently being written up for publication.

 

Media contact: Jessica Cooper – (02) 8837 1900 or jessica@arh.org.au