The mental health of children who witness domestic violence


Howard Meltzer,
Department of Health Sciences,
University of Leicester,
22–28 Princess Road West,
Leicester LE1 6TP,


There is now considerable evidence that witnessing domestic violence can have adverse consequences for children. Our aim is to present the socio-demographic correlates of children witnessing domestic violence and its association with childhood mental disorders. The biographic, socio-demographic and socio-economic characteristics of 7865 children and their families and measures of traumatic events including witnessing domestic violence were entered into a logistic regression analysis to establish the strength of association between witnessing severe domestic violence and childhood disorders. About 4% of children had witnessed severe domestic violence according to parent reports. Factors independently associated with a greater likelihood of a child witnessing domestic violence were: older age group, mixed ethnicity, physical disorder, several children in family, divorced parents, living in rented accommodation, poor neighbourhoods, the mother's emotional state and family dysfunction. Witnessing severe domestic violence almost tripled the likelihood of children having conduct disorder but was not independently associated with emotional disorders. There is a growing need for more research on the consequences of witnessing domestic violence to increase the awareness of social workers and policy-makers to identify the needs of children who witness domestic violence.