*Trigger warning. The content on this page contains information about domestic and family violence and could cause distress.

*Trigger warning. The content on this page contains information about domestic and family violence and could cause distress.


All children have the right to live without violence

We advocate for children and young people who have experienced domestic and family violence by calling on the government to improve the laws, policies and practices that impact children's lives.

In Australia, 1 in 4 children are exposed to domestic and family violence*

The impact of domestic and family violence (DFV) on children and young people is long-lasting. The pain and distress experienced by them cannot be underestimated. Our front-line workers and practitioners tell us that children and young people continue to endure abuse and controlling behaviours on a daily basis from those who should be providing them with care and security.

The damage to a child’s sense of self, the undermining of confidence, the impact on physical and mental health, and the social costs through poverty, loss of education and isolation are detailed in our research report, Truth is the abuse never stopped

This research has shown that 88% of child victims of DFV have suffered life-long psychological distress as a result of their experiences. Long after the abuse has stopped, the devastating impact of domestic violence remains.

16 Days of Activism

The United Nation’s international campaign 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, takes place each year from 25 November (International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) until 10 December (International Human Rights Day).

Barnardos is proud to participate in this year’s 16 Days of Activism and encourages all Australians to work together to prevent violence against women and children.

There is a domestic violence crisis in Australia

On average, one woman is killed every week by a partner or former partner, and 1 in 4 children are exposed to domestic violence*.

Domestic and family violence (DFV) can be prevented.

At Barnardos, we work with child victims of domestic violence, along with their families, and we see first-hand the traumatic, long-lasting effects it has on them. We will be using the next 16 days to raise awareness of the impact of domestic violence on children and ask you to join us.

You can take action by supporting and sharing our campaign and activities.


Children: The Hidden Victims of Domestic Violence Podcast

We are not going to stop talking about the impact that domestic and family violence has on children until every child is safe and supported.

We sat down with CEO of DVNSW Delia Donovan and our CEO Deirdre Cheers to talk about how we can make change to create a violence free world for children and young people.

Children: The Hidden Victims of Domestic Violence Podcast
Play Video about Children: The Hidden Victims of Domestic Violence Podcast

Children: The Hidden Victims of
Domestic Violence Podcast

Welcome to Barnardos Australia Podcast

Matt: Welcome to Barnardos Australia podcast. My name is Matt Hooey, and I’m the Head of Practice and Impact. We are talking about children, the hidden victims of domestic and family violence. We have a guest, Delia Donovan, and our CEO, Deirdre Cheers. Delia, would you like to introduce yourself to the listeners?

Delia: Absolutely, Matt. Hi everybody, I’m Delia Donovan, the CEO of Domestic Violence New South Wales. We are the peak body that represents over 150 life-saving organizations across the state.

Matt: Thank you, and it’s absolutely incredible having you as part of the conversation here today. We’ve also got Deirdre Cheers, our CEO at Barnardos. Do you want to give a quick hello?

Deirdre: Hello, hello. I’m Deirdre Cheers. I’ve been CEO of Barnardos since 2015. I’m a social worker by training, and over my career, I’ve seen a significant change in the way we recognize domestic and family violence. I’m particularly interested in this conversation because it’s such an important area of focus.

Matt: Absolutely, and focus it is because we are in the 16 Days of Activism, a global campaign that builds awareness against gender-based violence. Before we get into any content, I think it’s really important to have a trigger warning as we will be talking about domestic and family violence throughout this podcast today, including stories, impact research, and various conversations. Please look after yourself, and if you need support, 1800RESPECT is always there for you.

Matt: I’d like to start this podcast by acknowledging the traditional owners of country throughout Australia and recognizing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s continuing connection to land, waters, and community. I pay my respects to Elders past, present, and to our children and young people emerging. I am committed to approaching culture with humility, respect, and curiosity, and we are on Gadigal land today.

Matt: Deirdre, Barnardos is quite a large organization impacting children and families across New South Wales and the ACT. With all the programs and services, why should we be paying such a focus on domestic and family violence?

Deirdre: If we reflect back on the last six weeks or so, we have seen an extraordinary number of women killed, including a woman in my own suburb, only several streets away. I live in an ordinary suburban area with three schools within a radius of probably a kilometer and a half and five primary schools within 3 km. There are a lot of children where I live, and the reality is that this happens everywhere. In all our Barnardos centers, we have a range of programs, but the common denominator increasingly is domestic and family violence. No matter what brings people to our door, we often discover underlying many family-related problems is domestic and family violence.

Matt: Is that what you’re seeing with Domestic Violence NSW, Delia?

Delia: Yes, we’re certainly seeing that community attitudes are a concern for us at this point. Domestic and family violence is everywhere and it certainly doesn’t discriminate. We know from the National Community Attitudes Survey that over half of Australians believe that domestic violence doesn’t happen in their suburb. We’ve recently lost 58 women to domestic and family violence across Australia, so this isn’t about discriminating by postcode. This happens everywhere. Particularly, children and young people are often the silent and forgotten victims of domestic and family violence. They tend not to have a voice, the right services, or support, and it’s an underfunded space. We’re really keen to advocate that children and young people are seen and heard, and that there are recovery services to support them.

Matt: You made a really good point about children often being the hidden victims. There’s a lot of media coverage, but why do you think, Deirdre, that children might still be suffering in the public agenda of not having their voices heard or considered?

Deirdre: It’s one of those issues where people not only don’t think it’s going to happen in their sphere of living, but it’s also something uncomfortable to talk about. For people who have experienced it directly, let alone children, it’s not exactly a social conversation topic. For children, we at Barnardos did a national survey last year, and the finding that really jumped out at me was that adults who told us how very much living with violence had impacted them also told us they had informed someone at school, like a teacher, but they weren’t heard. In an environment like a school, where teachers are trained to work with children and know a lot about child development, if that message is not picked up on and heard, children are left very powerless. Children don’t take much to feel that something’s not okay to talk about.

Matt: Delia, you have an extensive history working with domestic and family violence here in Australia and also in the UK. When did you realize that children’s voices weren’t being heard in these conversations?

Delia: That’s a great question. There have been many parts of my career where it’s become prominent. When I was doing my social work course, I chose domestic violence as a module. It wasn’t actually in the social work curriculum, which is important to note. I was managing therapeutic communities for kids and went as a social work student to an organization called DASH (Domestic Abuse Stops Here). I noticed that while the focus was rightly on the mother, there was no one really addressing the needs of the kids. I was invited back to set up the Children’s Services team at DASH, the first of its kind in the UK back in 2009. We looked at tailored services for kids in refuges and the community, and cultural change in schools. That was a big learning phase.

Delia: Another moment was when I came to Australia and worked at White Ribbon, looking at prevention work. It was clear that we were in an echo chamber in our sector, and community conversations weren’t happening. Those are two key moments that highlighted the need for doing more for children and changing community attitudes.

Matt: Deirdre, reflecting on the past decade, what has really stood out for you in terms of putting children’s voices at the forefront with domestic and family violence?

Deirdre: It’s been nearly ten years since Luke Batty was killed by his father. That crime shocked Australia, particularly because Rosie Batty, his mother, was an ordinary middle Australian. People still treat domestic and family violence as something that happens to others, not to them. Even in social work, there’s a tendency to distance oneself from the difficulty of the work. But domestic and family violence is everywhere; it’s classless. Luke Batty’s death was a watershed moment because he was an ordinary little boy at cricket, and his mother was doing her best to protect him. That was shocking.

Matt: You both mentioned it happens anywhere at any time. We need more community awareness on how to respond. People often don’t know what to do. What are your thoughts, Delia?

Delia: In 2014, we had children’s specialist workers in refuges across New South Wales. But reforms meant we lost those workers. In 2021, we advocated for their return, and got 20 workers back. However, it’s still a small pilot. We are now calling for statewide children’s specialist workers in all refuges, not just in refuges, but also in community settings. We need these resources and supports for children and young people.

Deirdre: Absolutely, we need skilled people embedded in local services where families can come without the stigma of needing a DV specialist. They want to feel normal and safe, but we need the skilled people there, particularly for children. It’s about making sure people feel safe to say something’s not okay.

Matt: We’ve mentioned education a few times. How can we best train our future practitioners to respond to families and children in these situations?

Delia: We need to utilize existing training like DV-alert and 1800RESPECT’s resources. Advocacy for minimum standards and professionalizing the sector is crucial, but we must also ensure accessibility to education and training for all levels of workers. Schools should have a whole-of-school culture around respect, and teachers need to be trained to understand domestic and family violence.

Deirdre: We need to reframe this issue as a shared responsibility for personal safety, not just a problem to be fixed. Children depend on us for their safety, and we need to ensure they feel safe to call out when something’s not right.

Matt: Considering the broad approach needed, do you think the New South Wales child protection system is effectively responding to children in domestic and family violence situations?

Deirdre: That’s a loaded question. Child protection reporting laws are sophisticated, but they can let people off the hook because they feel they’ve done their part by reporting. In reality, it doesn’t mean the family will get the necessary assistance. We need a broader community responsibility, and while reporting laws are necessary, they don’t ensure additional services for the family.

Delia: Absolutely. We can tend to victim-blame the surviving parent, often the mother. We need to focus on the perpetrator and ensure better integration and sharing of information between services like housing, mental health, child protection, and police. Creative models where specialist workers are embedded in places like police stations and hospitals are essential. The system needs to be more supportive and less punitive.

Matt: Prevention work is crucial. How can we enforce the recognition of children as victims and ensure their voices are heard in these conversations?

Delia: We need to listen to the experiences of children and young people. Initiatives like embedding children’s specialist workers in all domestic and family violence services and supporting primary prevention programs in schools are key. Training for all frontline workers, including teachers and health professionals, is essential.

Deirdre: We need to create environments where children feel safe to talk. Schools and community settings need to be places where children know they can speak up and be heard. The responsibility is on all of us to ensure they are seen and heard.

It is time to recognise children and young people as victim survivors of domestic and family violence.

It is critical that children have access to their own trauma counselling and other specialist DFV services.


Our government asks

Barnardos Australia asks that the Federal and all State and Territory Governments act on the following six areas of priority:

  1. Recognise children and young people as equal victims of domestic and family violence in policy, programs and service delivery across every Territory and State and ensure that this is prioritised and implemented as part of the First Action Plan 2023-2027 under the National Plan to End Violence Towards Women and Children 2022-2032.

  2. Prioritise children and young people who are victim-survivors of domestic and family violence, and ensure they receive immediate and effective trauma-informed counselling and therapy.

  3. Provide funding for domestic and family violence child specialist workers in all seven Barnardos Children’s Family centres to ensure children and young people are supported in their own right with case management and support.

  4. Increase funding for safe, secure and affordable social housing for children and families fleeing domestic violence situations, including crisis, transitional and long-term housing in order to directly prevent children needing to enter out-of-home care.

  5. Review the legislation to give children a say about whether they wish to see a perpetrator parent after an AVO or court order is issued.

  6. Prioritise primary prevention and fund age-appropriate domestic and family violence education programs which are nationally consistent across early childhood education, primary and secondary schools.


Take action

You can advocate for children by taking a stand with us. Become a champion for children by acting now to protect children from domestic and family violence. Here are some simple ways to help drive change for children:

Share our latest campaign

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DFV services


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Change is possible. You can help by sharing our social media posts and tagging us.


Tegan's story

"My children have come out with things that I've had to seek out help for because they have experienced trauma, and they haven't processed the trauma." - Tegan, domestic violence victim-survivor and advocate.

Tegan talks about the effect that domestic violence had on her children
Play Video about Tegan talks about the effect that domestic violence had on her children

Tegan talks about the effect that domestic violence had on her children

“When I left the relationship, everyone put me in to see a psychologist. Everyone made referrals for me to be looked after. Now, in those sessions, I tried to source help for my children. Now let’s fast forward five years. My children have come out with things that I’ve had to seek out help for because they have experienced trauma, and they haven’t processed the trauma.”

Barnardos conducted a national survey into the impact of domestic and family violence on children. It found children are silent victims with nowhere to turn.

“I experience persistent fears that whilst I was away from my mother, she should be killed by my stepfather. I couldn’t sleep when my stepfather was home late because I knew he was out drinking, and there would be a fight when he got home. As soon as I heard raised voices, I went out to protect my mother. It started when I was in preschool.” – Survey response read by actor.

“We need more in place to help these kids because, at the end of the day, they’re our future.”


Myths and facts about Domestic and Family Violence

Click on the Myth’s card below to learn the facts.


Domestic violence is physical violence


Domestic violence is not always physical. Domestic and family violence can involve any behaviours that makes you feel scared, attempt to control you, involve threats to you and/or your children, and deny you choice or freedom.


Children who ‘witness’ DFV in their home are not harmed


Children are not ‘witnesses’ of DFV, they are victims and they can be seriously harmed by DFV even if they are not physically abused.


Children can overcome any negative effects they may experience from DFV


DFV can have major impacts on children, some of which continue into adulthood. Many children who have experienced DFV develop lifelong psychological, physical and emotional impacts.


Anyone can leave a domestic violence situation


It is not always safe to leave a domestic violence situation at any moment. There is an increased risk of harm or death when leaving so the timing is usually carefully planned. It is not ok to judge a person for staying in their DV situation. Ultimately, of course it is best to escape the situation, but this can take time and careful planning, especially when there are children involved.

To find out more about domestic and family violence, read our research report.

“I grew up in a two-bedroom home with four other siblings and we were terrorised and terrified by what happened when my father became violent toward my mother.”
“I dissociated. I cut myself. I found other ways to bring pain to myself even as a very young child because I was taught I had to have pain to have love and care.”
“I was in fear for my life. I didn’t learn boundaries of relationships. I didn’t learn right from wrong. I didn’t learn self-care. I didn’t learn skills like using a washing machine.”
“If I did have friends I didn’t invite them home. I created a fantasy world which was easier to live in.”
“There was no one asking questions or supporting our family. My mother was isolated and alone and would 'tell' her story matter of fact, and others would listen without intervention. No one asked 'what about the kids'.”
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Domestic and Family Violence FAQs

Domestic and family violence is any violent, threatening, coercive or controlling behaviour that happens in current relationships or past family, domestic or intimate relationships.

Abuse doesn’t have to involve physical violence, to be domestic or family violence.

Domestic and family violence can involve behaviour that makes you feel scared, involve threats to you and your children, and denies you choice and freedom. Domestic and family violence almost always involves an ongoing repeated pattern of behaviour to control you. This is known as coercive control, which can include both physical and non-physical abuse.

Coercive control is a pattern of controlling and manipulative behaviours. Coercive control can be hard to spot because it often starts slowly or builds up over time. It can involve both physical and non-physical abuse. Everyone’s experience is different, but there are some common behaviours to look out for.

Some examples of coercive control behaviours are name calling, controlling access to money, checking your phone or text messages, not allowing you to go to school or work, cutting you off from friends or family, and many others.

A person who uses coercive control may use these abusive behaviours to scare you and take away your freedom and independence. The behaviours can be subtle and sometimes, this means only you and the person using violence against you can tell how harmful the behaviour is. The impacts of coercive control are serious no matter which abusive behaviours are used.

No, domestic violence is an ongoing repeated pattern of behaviour to control you. It is not always physical. Domestic and family violence can involve behaviour that makes you feel scared, involve threats to you, your children or pets, and denies your choice.

Domestic and family violence can happen to anyone. It can happen to anyone from any background, and it is widespread across Australia and the world. It does not only happen in certain cultures or postcodes, it can happen to anyone, anywhere.

If you are experiencing family violence, concerned for your safety, or in an emergency situation please call 000 for urgent police assistance.

Get in touch