New research calls for support for children bereaved by fatal intimate partner violence

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Confronting research about children exposed to domestic homicide has been released by the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC).  

Over 50,000 children worldwide lose a parent to domestic homicide each year. A new paper in the international journal PLOS ONE suggests that the children not only need support to cope with the sudden loss but also with unaddressed histories of domestic violence and exposure to graphic homicide scenes.

The lead researcher behind the study, Dr Eva Alisic from the Trauma Recovery Lab at MUARC, is establishing a better understanding of the circumstances, needs and perspectives of children affected by domestic homicide.

“The life of these children is literally turned upside down. At once they lose both parents and often their home and school environment too, because they have to move. Our data suggest that these children are even more burdened than we already expected,” Dr Alisic said.

Along with an international team, Dr Alisic has published findings regarding 256 children in the Netherlands who lost a parent to intimate partner homicide. She anticipates that the data can be used to further raise awareness of the need to support those affected in Australia.

“Almost every week, a woman in Australia is killed by her (ex) partner. Many of these women have children,” Dr Alisic said.

“We need to understand their situation, give them a voice, and provide the best possible care.”

The study found that of the children in the Netherlands who had been exposed to domestic violence, over 40% had not been known to professional services before the homicide.

The impact on children was heightened by the finding that many were in the same building as their parent at the time of the killing. Dr Alisic believes that as most of the killings involved weapons such as knives and guns, the children were probably exposed to graphic homicide scenes.

The findings were the result of the cross-examination of eight different types of data for the decade running from 2003 to 2012, scrutinising legal verdicts, child protection information, newspaper reports, and criminological data, among others. Dr Alisic said the study was made even more challenging because relevant information about the children was often missing.

She said the next step will be to analyse the research team’s interviews with young people and their caregivers, and to start data collection in other countries.

“Only when we compare different systems, we can see how legal and social differences affect these children and find examples of best practice. And we need local information to improve local systems of care,” she said.

The study was funded by the Dutch Research and Documentation Centre, the Prof. H.A. Weijers Stichting and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.

The paper is published open access and available at PLOS ONE’s website.