Press release

Children’s exposure to intimate partner violence


MONTREAL, April 6, 2021 – Supported by Canadian universities, the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development presents today the latest scientific knowledge on the consequences associated with children's exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) and on ways to reduce and avoid them. 

The researchers involved state, among other things, that children's exposure to intimate partner violence is a form of maltreatment associated with an increased risk of developing mental health problems. 

In Canada, over 1/3 of child maltreatment investigations are specific to exposure to intimate partner violence.

This data is particularly concerning given that the risks of intimate partner violence intensified due to the pandemic context. Indeed, according to Statistics Canada, between mid-March and early July 2020, several victim services reported an increase in the number of domestic violence victims using their services.

Children, collateral victims of intimate partner violence

The current government measures and communication campaigns associated to intimate partner violence highlight the consequences of domestic violence on the main victims, namely women. 

But what about the effects this exposure to violence has on children?

In its most recent article "Preventing and responding to children's exposure to intimate partner violence", the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development reveals that it is extremely stressful for a child to directly or indirectly witness violence between caregivers on whom the child relies for protection and comfort.

"These data show us that a child can be affected by the existing violence in their family even if the violence does not directly target them. The development of young children being our priority, it seems essential to set up, as quickly as possible, appropriate interventions aimed to reduce the distress and difficulties associated to intimate partner violence," says Mrs. Isabelle Vinet, Executive Director of the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development. 

In addition to the human costs, intimate partner violence (IPV) has a high economic cost to Canadians of nearly $7.4 billion in, for instance, legal, health and mental health care costs.  

More knowledge for better prevention

However, the Encyclopedia emphasizes that the negative consequences of exposure to intimate partner violence are not inevitable.

Researchers suggest prioritizing implementing several measures to prevent recurrence of exposure and to improve parenting skills, for example. They also highlight the importance for practitioners working with young children to be alert to the warning signs (e.g., depression or increased use of violence) that suggest a child may be exposed to intimate partner violence. Training programs and support for these front-line professionals are highly recommended to improve their response to children who have experienced intimate partner violence.

To facilitate the dissemination of this recent knowledge, the Encyclopedia has produced and shared, throughout its network and partners, an infographic based on the full-text article.

Importance of continuing research

Children's exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) is a significant public health problem. Consequently, there is an urgent need for evidence-based approaches to determine what works, for whom and under what circumstances and thus limit the negative outcomes on children resulting from exposure to intimate partner violence.

"While the recent knowledge presented in the Encyclopedia article provides guidance for promising approaches or practices, it also highlights some important gaps in research and practice that need to be filled," argue the author of the article, Emma Howarth, PhD, The University of East London, UK and the editor of the Child Maltreatment topic, Harriet MacMillan, MD, McMaster University, Canada.

Researchers suggest, among other things, to evaluate the effectiveness of interventions targeting caregivers who commit intimate partner violence while taking into account the impact of these interventions on children, or also explore interventions that may support children exposed to intimate partner violence between gender-diverse caregivers or when male caregivers are victims.

About the Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development

The Encyclopedia on Early Childhood Development is the leading resource of the best and most up-to-date knowledge available on the development of young children (0-5).

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For more information, please contact:

Anne-Marie Viens
+1 514-691-3872 

Karine Casault
+1 514-924-3391