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Catalyst – Are we failing children experiencing domestic and family violence?

Catalyst Domestic violence

Guest Analysts – Barnardos Australia & Urbis

Barnardos Australia, a Not for Profit organisation which aims to end child abuse and neglect, and Urbis, an independent social research firm, have been conducting research into the impact of domestic and family violence on children and their experience of seeking help. 

Guest Analysts, Christina Griffiths and Matilda Page of Urbis worked with the Catalyst social and environmental research program to survey n=1,222 respondents across Australia regarding their exposure to children experiencing domestic and family violence or abuse and to gain insight into how comfortable they may be in supporting these children.

Awareness of domestic violence

Females and respondents under 45 years are more likely to know children who have experienced domestic and family violence

Over one-quarter of respondents (28%) knew at least one child or young person within their social circle who had experienced domestic and family violence or abuse. 


Females (31.2%) were significantly more likely to know at least one child experiencing abuse compared to males (25.2%) (p<.05).

Respondents under the age of 45 (37.7%) were also significantly more likely to know at least one child experiencing abuse compared to those over 45 (20.1%) (p<.001).

Analysis of respondents by state showed that those from Tasmania (39%), the ACT (33%) and Queensland (32%) had the highest rates of exposure to children experiencing abuse however, there were no significant differences between states and territories1.

There were also no significant differences between respondents living in metropolitan or regional Australia or between those who had children and those that did not.   

Comfort with providing support

Respondents are most comfortable contacting authorities and external services to support a child who has experienced domestic and family violence

Respondents were also asked to rate how comfortable they were providing different forms of support or help to assist a child who disclosed they were experiencing domestic and family violence or abuse.

Overall, respondents were most comfortable reporting the violence or abuse to authorities (61% net comfortable) and contacting support services on the child’s behalf (59% net comfortable). 

Respondents were the most uncomfortable raising the issue with the child’s family (38% net uncomfortable). This could reflect the change in societal views moving away from domestic and family violence or abuse being seen as a family issue that is dealt with in a private family setting.


There were several significant differences in responses based on age. Respondents under the age of 45 were significantly more comfortable knowing appropriate ways provide support (49.6% net comfortable) compared to respondents over 45 (37.3% net comfortable) (p<.001). This may reflect that the younger age group are more likely to have known a child or young person who had experienced violence or abuse. 

Younger respondents were also significantly more comfortable raising the issue with the child’s family (39.7% net comfortable) compared to respondents over the age of 45 (28.7% net comfortable) (p<.001). However, this finding may be cause for concern as contacting family in situations of abuse may not be an appropriate way to support a child as the family member contacted may be the perpetrator, or complicit with the violence or abuse and could therefore expose the child to additional potential danger of abuse. 

Respondents living in regional locations were significantly more comfortable reporting abuse to authorities (67.7%) and talking with the children about their situation (57.8%) than those in metropolitan locations (58.4% and 49.0% respectively) (p<.05). This may reflect greater community ties within regional areas and the higher visibility, recognition and trust of police.

There were no significant differences in comfort regarding help seeking behaviours across genders.

Public Education and resources are needed

Findings from this survey point to the importance of education around domestic and family violence or abuse for broader community. 

Other research undertaken by Barnardos and Urbis with people who experienced domestic and family violence or abuse as children found that 37% of the 149 respondents did not seek help or support and that many were unaware that the violence or abuse they were experiencing at home was wrong. Those who had experienced abuse often noted that other adults in their life failed to recognise the signs or act if they did suspect abuse. 

The Catalyst survey also revealed that less than half of respondents (43% net comfortable) were comfortable knowing the appropriate ways to support a child or young person experiencing abuse and just over half (51% net comfortable) were comfortable knowing where to get help. 

This points to a need for increased or improved education around appropriate behaviours within the home environment and wider community education on identifying abuse and appropriate ways to support children or young people experiencing domestic and family violence or abuse.

Further to this, of all the help seeking behaviours, the majority of respondents (61% net comfortable) were most comfortable reporting abuse to authorities. Whilst this indicates that communities are willing to help, it also highlights the important role of authorities and particularly the police in supporting children experiencing domestic or family violence or abuse. While the focus of police is often on the immediate and short-term safety and support to victims, there needs to be consistent pathways to other long-term supports such as counselling and mental health support to ensure that the appropriate care is provided to children and families. 

Reflecting on these findings Gethin Cadwaladr, Domestic Violence Program Manager at Barnardos Australia recommends that “if you suspect a child is living in a home where domestic and family violence or abuse is occurring, our advice would always be to report it to the police. But if you report it to a Domestic Violence Liaison Officer (DVLO), who is a specialist police officer trained in domestic and family violence and child protection, you are likely to have a much better experience.”

Gethin says generally, non-Domestic and Family Violence specialist police can unknowingly create barriers for people seeking help in escaping domestic violence. They demand evidence rather than working with a family to create a plan to help them gather evidence to make their case in order to secure an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO).

"If we don't all work together, then we are not safeguarding kids, and we are letting them down. At what point do we say enough is enough?"

“The difference is that DVLOs are educated and informed of all types of domestic violence so they are looking for the domestic violence and will hear the person in a different way. They come from a place of belief and when someone comes in and says this is happening in my home, they know the right questions to ask, the right services to refer and connect them with.” 

 “We are talking about children’s lives. Trauma can present in different ways, such as attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), so case workers, teachers and the community need to be educated on how to identify domestic and family violence and understand that it is not just violence.”

Overall, findings from this survey demonstrate the need for increased public education and resources to ensure Australians know how to recognise and direct children and young people experiencing domestic and family violence to appropriate supports. It also shows the importance of care pathways between authorities responding to domestic and family violence involving children and support services who are able to provide longer-term care.

About Catalyst

Catalyst is an open-source research program investigating consumer concerns about social and environmental issues. The program is building a body of knowledge to fuel conversation, action and behavior change by supporting businesses with insights that fuel their own programs of action. 

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Glow is a proud partner and research technology provider to the Catalyst program. Special thanks to Cint for providing the sample on which the research is based and to our other partner brands including:

Catalyst partners April 2022