Children and Young People

Children in families where domestic abuse occurs may witness abuse or be abused themselves. Living with domestic abuse can affect their emotional and psychological wellbeing.


How does domestic abuse affect children and young people?

Children and young people may:

  • Show anger towards the perpetrator or misdirect it to other adults or children.
  • Feel guilt, believing that they are the cause of the abuse or should be able to stop it.
  • Be scared that the perpetrator will carry out their threats or find them if they have escaped.
  • Be forced to move home repeatedly to escape the abuse and face disruption to their education.
  • Suffer from anxiety and depression leading to self-harm, low self-esteem or even contemplating suicide.

The effects of domestic abuse can continue into adulthood including emotional problems, alcohol and drug addictions, poor physical health, mental health problems and struggling with parenting or relationships. But, once they're in a safer and more stable environment, most children are able to move on from the effects of witnessing domestic abuse.


Signs and symptoms of child abuse

The signs and symptoms described below for various forms of abuse do not show all possible reactions; children and young people may react in different ways.

Sexual abuse – Overly affectionate, knowledgeable in a sexual way that is inappropriate for their age, chronic itching, sexually transmitted disease, depression, self-harm, suicide attempts, running away, overdose, eating disorder, personality changes and being isolated or withdrawn.

Physical abuse – Unexplained recurrent injuries, wearing clothes to cover injuries (even in hot weather), refusal to undress for gym, bald patches, running away, fear of medical help, aggression towards others, fear of physical contact and self-destructive tendencies.

Emotional abuse – Sudden speech disorders, slow mental and emotional development, continual self-deprecation (e.g. “I’m stupid, ugly, worthless), over reaction to mistakes, extreme fear of any new situations, inappropriate response to pain (I deserve this) and neurotic behaviour (e.g. rocking, hair twisting, self-mutilation).

Neglect – Constant hunger, poor personal hygiene, constant tiredness, untreated medical problems, no social relationships and compulsive scavenging.

Services that can help children and young people can be found by clicking on the ‘Services for Children and Young People’ in the Related Links section of this page.


If you are in immediate danger or require an emergency service please call Police Scotland on 999 (or 101 for non-emergencies).