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Investigating the mental health of children exposed to domestic and family violence through the use of linked police and health records

Victims of family violence Child mental health Family violence Violence against children Western Australia

Every child deserves the right to grow up in a safe and healthy environment. When children experience domestic and family violence (DFV), it disrupts that right and can have long-lasting impacts on their health and wellbeing. Despite the importance of understanding children and young people’s experiences of DFV, our knowledge is often negatively impacted by common research limitations like small sample sizes, selective recruitment techniques and short study durations.

This report sheds new light on DFV and children’s mental health, presenting findings from a population-based retrospective cohort study of children born in Western Australia between 1987 and 2010. The study uses police and health records to follow children from birth to 18 to explore the connection between exposure to DFV in childhood and mental health service contact and the diagnosis of mental health disorders. The study compared a group of 16,356 children who had been exposed to DFV to a larger group of 41,996 children who had no recorded experience of DFV.

The study found that children who had been exposed to DFV were almost five times more likely to use a mental health service by the time they turned 18 than children who had not experienced DFV. On average, children were aged 6 when police or health recorded there was DFV in their home, but they only received a health service around the age of 12.

Researchers were also able to identify an increased risk in 8 out of 10 mental health disorder diagnoses for children who had been exposed to DFV, including double the likelihood of substance use disorder compared to children who had not been exposed to DFV.

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Research Report 10/2022