Children and domestic violence
This essay will explore and critically discuss issues about domestic violence and effects on children with regards to the framework for constructing childhood. I will also briefly describe the historical definition of childhood comparing it to the current definition and the links to children and domestic violence.
James and Prout (1997) stated that Childhood can be understood as a social construction as it provides an interpretive frame for contextualizing the early years of human life and it is different from biological immaturity. He also suggested that to an extent the definition of childhood is dependent on the views of the society. The concept of childhood has changed overtime, due to social construction that is fuelled by our views of children, our attitudes towards them and views constructed through human understanding. This change has a big impact on children and how society sees them; these changes are due to political and theoretical influences (James and James, 2004). James and James (2004) suggested that there is a sense loss of childhood, as children are being denied their right to childhood and they are exposed to the unpredictable and impulsive of the adult world too early.
History of childhood
In Western Europe during the middle ages children were seen as miniature adults, with same thinking capacity and personal qualities, but not the same physical abilities. From 15th century Aries suggested that the idea of childhood has changed but the images and paintings of children changed as a new understanding of childhood emerged allowing children to be seen as distinct from adults because they had their own needs. Shahar challenged the Aries views, she argues that the perceptions of children as adults goes beyond the 15th century; children were perceived as either been born innocent or sullied by original sin (James and James, 2004). The image of the child born into original sin came from the Aristotelian notions overlaid with Judeao-Christian; in this children were seen as wicked and needed redemption. Susannah Wesley recommended that parents must discipline their children so they can be saved from their sinfulness. In the 18th century, children were seen as the nature child, nature wants children to be children and not merely as adults in the making. John Wesley recommended that parents should break the will of their children in order to bring his Gods will into subjection so they will be subject to the will of God. During the 19th century children were portrayed as naughty rather than evil, but this has continued today for example in books such as my naughty little sister. Towards the end of the 18th century, the perception of childhood was influenced by the romantic and evangelical. Romantic portrayed childhood as a time of happiness and innocence, children were seen as pure and should be protected before facing trials and responsibilities of adulthood; for example by Rousseaus Emile, but it was later propagated by Blake, Coleridge and Wordsworth. Blake saw childhood not as the preparation for what was to come but as the source of innocence, but his views were confused by Wordsworth emphasised that children were blessings from God , as childhood was seen as the age where virtue was domiciled, (James and Prout, 1997). The romantic child was short-lived by the evangelical child, the evangelical Magazine advises parents to teach their children that they are sinful polluted creatures.
Currently, childhood is seen as vulnerable to exploitation especially the way which the media plays a big role in the commercialisation of childrens merchandise such as toys and games. Childhood in Britain is often perceived as being a time of innocence and happiness, a carefree time when children should be protected and sheltered from the adult world of sex, drugs and violence (Foley et al, 2001). Children are viewed as vulnerable especially when it relates to abuse or protecting them; Holt et al (2008) suggested that the perception and understanding of children has changed overtime in relation to abuse as there is more research on children and young people who have experienced abuse.
The framework for constructing childhood consists of welfare of children, childrens rights and children in a social context. The welfare of children is still a concern which continues to change the policy and legislation in order to promote and safeguard the welfare of children in society. The UK government chose three main points in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1999 which is quality protects (programme to support children aged 0-3 yrs and their families, sure start and National Childcare Strategy to for children aged 0-14 (James and James, 2004). Race, class, religion, gender and disability shape childrens lives; all these factors have an impact on their health, life chances and educational experience.
UNCRC came into force in the UK in 1992, all organizations working with children refer to UNCRC, for example Childrens express and Article 12, aim to increase children and young peoples participation in the society. Unlike adults, children have fewer rights for example they do not have the right to vote as children do not yet have the competence to make such decisions. These special rights are for their protection rather than participation (James and James, 2004).
James and James (2004) stated that the social positioning of children is inextricably linked with wider social changes associated with the roles of men and women, families and the state. Changes in the composition of the family structure and the increased involvement of women in the workforce in Western Europe and US have an impact upon the lives of children. External materials and cultural forces of the families, both subtlety and directly shape children lives; but also schools, childcare and healthcare settings influence the lives of children (James and James, 2004).
Domestic violence is a health issue that is hidden but statistics shows that it is a problem not just in England but worldwide and it is also an indicator of other forms of child abuse. Evidence from Brandon et als (2008) study shows that if domestic violence is present it leads to two-thirds of cases of child deaths and serious injury, therefore this shows that domestic violence is one factor that leads/contribute to death in childrens cases where children have been killed or seriously injured for example Victoria Climbe and baby P cases. It affects everyone in the society regardless of age, gender, wealth and sexuality. Home office (2010) defines Domestic violence as Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners of family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This includes issues of concern to Black and other Minority Ethnic communities such as honour killings. McGee (2000) stated that domestic violence is experienced by women and children of all social classes, ethnicities and abilities. BCS (2001) estimates that one in five (21%) women and one in ten (10%) men has experienced at least one incident of or force since they were 16. Also when financial and emotional abuse is included, 26% of women and 17% of men had experienced domestic violence since the age of 16. The most affected group as a result of domestic violence are women, as statistics shows 32% of women had experienced domestic violence from this person four or more times compared with only 11 per cent of men (Mullender, 2004). Statistics from British Crime Survey (BCS) (1996) shows that half of families who suffered domestic violence had children aged 16 or under living in the household. Mirrless-Black (1999) suggested that 29% of children experiencing domestic violence were aware of what was happening, children were more likely to be witness abuse against women who suffer abuse themselves. In the UK it is estimated that every year at least 750,000 children witness domestic violence and over a 100-day period an estimated 205,000 children will witness domestic violence (DoH, 2009).
Children are affected not only by directly witnessing abuse, but also by living in an environment where their mother (main caregiver) is repeatedly victimised. Children in a home where the mother is being abused are also at greater risk of being abused themselves, or being used to control their mother, Hidden hurt (2010). There are many ways that children and young people can experience domestic violence such as directly being abused or witnessing the abuse as children are aware of what going on, and could be listening whilst the abuse happens. Mullender (2004) stated that what children see or hear when their mothers are being abused can not only include physical violence but also emotional abuse and put-downs, threats and intimidation, sexual jealousy and abuse. Children may witness the family being kept short of money or the abuser taking money from other family members and also experience isolation from family and friends. Also children could witness domestic violence by actually seeing violent and abusive acts/behaviours, hearing arguments and seeing the physical and emotional effects of abuse and when trying to intervene to protect their mother or siblings; but young people may experience domestic violence in their own relationships (DoH, 2002).
Research has shown that children are likely to be at risk of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse if they have witnessed or live in an abusive home. The National Childrens Home (NCH) Action for Children study (2002) found that children living with domestic violence frequently experienced direct physical and sexual assault and that ten per cent had witnessed their mother being sexually assaulted. Abrahams (1994) study found that of women and children who had left a domestic abuser 10% of mothers had been sexually abused in front of their children, 27% of the partners had also assaulted the children, including sexually and 1/3 said that the children became violent and aggressive, including towards their mothers; 31% developed problems at school; and 31% of children had low self-esteem. DoH (2009) stated that although the statistics shows that a high numbers of children witness domestic violence, official statistics are likely to underplay its prevalence. It is difficult to estimate the exact number of women or children that experience domestic violence as not every incident is report or disclosed; therefore the true figures are likely to be higher.
Domestic violence has a big impact on children emotionally, socially, behaviourally, developmentally and on their cognitive ability. It can be difficult to research the effects of domestic violence on children due to ethical issues as they are very vulnerable, but it is important to find out what children experience in order to understand the possible impact on children on how to support them to cope. Hester et al (2000) stated that there is evidence that domestic violence has an impact on children but there is lack of knowledge to how factors such as age, race, economic status, gender, disability and childrens resilience influences children.
Children can react to violence in different ways depending on whether they are witnessing or experiencing violence as some are more sensitive than others, but it depends on their age. There are two types of behaviours that can manifest in children, this could be externalised and internalised as some children could be more aggressive and are at a high risk of depression (DoH, 2009). McGee (2000) and Frantuzzo (1999) pointed out that children exposed to domestic violence tend to display more aggressive behaviour, have problems in school/home and also behavioural problems such as depression, fears, suicidal behaviours, bed wetting and low self-esteem. Other behavioural and emotional effects could be feeling powerless/helpless, withdrawn, anger, and lower academic achievements; Hester et al, (2000) suggested that this could be short or long term. However, all children could suffer from all of the above at any stage in their life without being affected or witnessing violence, research has shown that it is higher among children who witness domestic violence.
Domestic violence can also affect childrens cognitive abilities as research has shown that what is happening at home can disrupt their education. Veltman et al (2000) found that 75% of cases children had delayed cognitive development and 86% had delayed language development. Research has shown that children exposed to domestic violence have difficulty in school, lack concentration and more likely to refuse to attend school (McGee, 2000 and Humphrey and Mullender, 2001).
There are long-term consequences of exposure to domestic violence especially to younger children as it is thought that they dont remember what happened; however the effect can be carried to adulthood and could jeopardize their development. Cunningham and Baker (2004) suggested that if domestic violence is carried into adulthood it can contribute to a cycle of adversity and violence. Osofsky (1999) stated that studies have indicated the link between exposure to violence and negative behaviours in children of all age group; similarly Cunningham and baker suggested that exposure to domestic violence can have varied impact at different stages. The social issues of domestic violence are more likely to affect adolescent due to difficulties forming healthy intimate relationships with peers as a result of their experiences; Levendosky et al (2002) suggests adolescents exposed to violence are less likely to have a secure attachment style and more likely to have an avoidant attachment style, indicating perhaps that they no longer feel trust in intimate relationships.