A wide range of children's developmental outcomes are compromised by exposure to domestic violence, including social, emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and general health functioning. However, there are relatively few empirical studies with adequate control of confounding variables and a sound theoretical basis. We identified 41 studies that provided relevant and adequate data for inclusion in a meta-analysis. Forty of these studies indicated that children's exposure to domestic violence was related to emotional and behavioral problems, translating to a small overall effect (Z r = .28). Age, sex, and type of outcome were not significant moderators, most likely due to considerable heterogeneity within each of these groups. Co-occurrence of child abuse increased the level of emotional and behavioral problems above and beyond exposure alone, based on 4 available studies. Future research needs are identified, including the need for large-scale longitudinal data and theoretically guided approaches that take into account relevant contextual factors.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
Borenstein, M., & Rothstein, H. (1999). Comprehensive meta-analysis: A computer program for research synthesis. Englewood, NJ: Biostat.
Campbell Collaboration. (n.d.). What helps? What harms? Based on what evidence? Retrieved April 15, 2003, from http://www.campbellcollaboration.org/Fra/About.html
Christopoulos, C., Cohn, D. A., Shaw, D. S., Joyce, S., Sullivan-Hanson, J., Kraft, S. P., & Emery, R. E. (1987). Children of abused women. I: Adjustment at time of shelter residence. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 49, 611–619.
Cohen, J. (1977). Statistical power analysis for the behavioral sciences (4th ed.). New York: Academic Press.
Conrad, M., & Hammen, C. (1989). Role of maternal depression in perceptions of child maladjustment. Journal of Clinical and Consulting Psychology, 57, 663–667.
Coyne, J. J., Barrett, P. M., & Duffy, A. L. (2000). Threat vigilance in child witnesses of domestic violence: A pilot study utilizing the ambiguous situations paradigm. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 9, 377–388.
DuRant, R. H., Cadenhead, C., Pendergrast, R. A., Slavens, G., & Linder, C. W. (1994). Factors associated with the use of violence among urban black adolescents. American Journal of Public Health, 84, 612–617.
Edleson, J. L. (1995). Mothers and children: Understanding the links between woman battering and child abuse. Paper presented at the National Institute of Justice Strategic Planning Workshop on Violence Against Women, Washington, DC. Retrieved February 12, 2003, from www.mincava.umn.edu
Edleson, J. L. (1999). Children's witnessing of adult domestic violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 14, 839–870.
Edleson, J. L., Mbilinyi, L. F., Beeman, S. K., & Hagemeister, A. K. (2003). How children are involved in domestic violence: Results from a four city telephone survey. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18, 18–32.
El-Sheikh, M., & Harger, J. (2001). Appraisals of marital conflict and children's adjustment, health, and psychological reactivity. Developmental Psychology, 37, 875–885.
Fantuzzo, J. W., DePaola, L. M., Lambert, L., Martino, T., Anderson, G., & Sutton, S. (1991). Effects of interparent violence on the psychological adjustment and competencies of young children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 59, 258–265.
Fantuzzo, J. W., & Lindquist, C. U. (1989). The effects of observing conjugal violence on children: A review and analysis of research methodology. Journal of Family Violence, 4, 77–94.
Fantuzzo, J. W., & Mohr, W. K. (1999). Prevalence and effects of child exposure to domestic violence. The Future of Children, 9, 21–32.
Graham-Bermann, S. A. (1996). Family worries: Assessment of interpersonal anxiety in children from violent and non-violent families. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 25, 280–287.
Grych, J. H., Fincham, F. D., Jouriles, E. N., & McDonald, R. (2000). Interparental conflict and child adjustment: Testing the mediational role of appraisals in the cognitive-contextual framework. Child Development, 71, 1648–1661.
Grych, J. H., Jouriles, E. N., Swank, P. R., McDonald, R., & Norwood, W. D. (2000). Patterns of adjustment among children of battered women. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 84–94.
Hershorn, M., & Rosenbaum, A. (1985). Children of marital violence: A closer look at the unintended victims. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 55, 260–266.
Holden, G. W., & Ritchie, K. L. (1991). Linking extreme marital discord, child rearing, and child behavior problems: Evidence from battered women. Child Development, 62, 311–327.
Holtzworth-Munroe, A., & Stuart, G. (1994). Typologies of male batterers: Three subtypes and the differences among them. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 476–497.
Hughes, H. M. (1988). Psychological and behavioral correlates of family violence in child witnesses and victims. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 58, 77–90.
Hughes, H. M., Parkinson, D., & Vargo, M. (1989). Witnessing spouse abuse and experiencing physical abuse: A ‘double whammy’? Journal of Family Violence, 4, 197–209.
Ingoldsby, E. M., Shaw, D. S., Owens, E. B., & Winslow, E. B. (1999). A longitudinal study of interpersonal conflict, emotional and behavioral reactivity, and preschoolers' adjustment problems among low-income families. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 27, 343–356.
Jaffe, P. G., Lemon, N., & Poisson, S. (2003). Domestic violence and child custody disputes: Addressing the essential clinical and legal issues. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Jaffe, P. G., Poisson, S. E., & Cunningham, A. (2001). Domestic violence and high-conflict divorce: Developing a new generation of research for children. In S. A. Graham-Bermann & J. L. Edleson (Eds.), Domestic violence in the lives of children: The future of research, intervention, and social policy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Jaffe, P., Wolfe, D., & Wilson, S. (1990). Children of battered women. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Jaffe, P., Wolfe, D., Wilson, S., & Zak, L. (1986). Similarities in behavioral and social maladjustment among child victims and witnesses to family violence. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 56, 142–146.
Jaffee, S. R., Moffitt, T. E., Caspi, A., Taylor, A., & Arsenault, L. (2002). Influence of adult domestic violence on children's internalizing and externalizing problems: An environmentally informative twin study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 41, 1095–1103.
Jouriles, E. N., Barling, J., & O'Leary, K. D. (1987). Predicting child behavior problems in martially violent families. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 15, 165–173.
Jouriles, E. N., McDonald, R., Norwood, W. D., Ware, H. S., Spiller, L. C., & Swank, P. R. (1998). Knives, guns, and interparent violence: Relations with child behavior problems. Journal of Family Psychology, 12, 178–194.
Jouriles, E. N., Murphy, C. M., & O'Leary, K. D. (1989). Interspousal aggression, marital discord, and child problems. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 453–455.
Jouriles, E. N., Norwood, W. D., McDonald, R., Vincent, J. P., & Mahoney, A. (1996). Physical violence and other forms of marital aggression: Links with children's behavior problems. Journal of Family Psychology, 10, 223–234.
Jouriles, E. N., Spiller, L. C., Stephens, N., McDonald, R., & Swank, P. (2000). Variability in adjustment of children of battered women: The role of child appraisals of interparent conflict. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 24, 233–249.
Kempton, T., McCombs-Thomas, A., & Forehand, R. (1989). Dimensions of interparental conflict and adolescent functioning. Journal of Family Violence, 4, 297–307.
Kerig, P. K. (1998). Moderators and mediators of the effects of interparental conflict on children's adjustment. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 26, 199–212.
Kilpatrick, K. L., Litt, M., & Williams, M. (1997). Post-traumatic stress disorder in child witnesses to domestic violence. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 67, 639–644.
Kitzmann, K. M., Gaylord, N. K., Holt, A. R., & Kenny, E. D. (2003). Child witnesses to domestic violence: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 71, 339–352.
Kolbo, J. R. (1996). Risk and resilience among children exposed to family violence. Violence and Victims, 11, 113–128.
Lehmann, P. (1997). The development of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a sample of child witnesses to mother assault. Journal of Family Violence, 12, 241–257.
Levendosky, A. A., Huth-Bocks, A. C., Semel, M. A., & Shapiro, D. L. (2002). Trauma symptoms in preschool-age children exposed to domestic violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 17, 150–164.
Litrownik, A., Newton, R., Hunter, W. M., English, D., & Everson, M. D. (2003). Exposure to family violence in young at-risk children: A longitudinal look at the effects of victimization and witnessed physical and psychological aggression. Journal of Family Violence, 18, 59–73.
Margolin, G., & Gordis, E. (2000). The effects of family and community violence on children. Annual Reviews Psychology, 51, 445–479.
Martin, S. E., & Clements, M. L. (2002). Young children's responding to interparental conflict: Associations with marital aggression and child adjustment. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 11, 231–244.
Mathias, J. L., Mertin, P., & Murray, A. (1995). The psychological functioning of children from backgrounds of domestic violence. Australian Psychologist, 30, 47–56.
McCloskey, L. A., Southwick, K., Fernandez-Esquer, M. E., & Locke, C. (1995). Psychological effects of political and domestic violence on Central American and Mexican immigrant mothers and children. Journal of Community Psychology, 23, 95–116.
McDonald, R., Jouriles, E. N., Norwood, W., Ware, H. S., & Ezell, E. (2000). Husbands' marital violence and the adjustment problems of clinic-referred children. Behavior Therapy, 31, 649–665.
McGee, R. A., Wolfe, D. A., & Wilson, S. K. (1997). Multiple maltreatment experiences and adolescent behavior problems: Adolescents' perspectives. Development and Psychopathology, 9, 131–149.
Morrel, T. M., Dubowitz, H., Kerr, M. A., & Black, M. M. (2003). The effect of maternal victimization on children: A cross-informant study. Journal of Family Violence 18, 29–41.
Muller, R. T., Goebel-Fabbri, A. E., Diamond, T., & Dinklage, D. (2000). Social support and the relationship between family and community violence exposure and psychopathology among high risk adolescents. Child Abuse and Neglect, 24, 449–464.
Oddone-Paolucci, E., Genuis, M. L., & Violato, C. (2001). A meta-analysis of the published research on the effects of child sexual abuse. Journal of Psychology, 135, 17–36.
O'Brien, M., John, R. S., Margolin, G., & Erel, O. (1997). Reliability and diagnostic efficacy of parents' reports regarding children's exposure to marital aggression. Violence and Victims, 9, 45–52.
O'Keefe, M. (1995). Predictors of child abuse in maritally violent families. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 10, 3–25.
Osofsky, J. D., Wewers, S., Hann, D. M., & Fick, A. C. (1993). Chronic community violence: What is happening to our children? Psychiatry, 56, 36–45.
Porter, B., & O'Leary, K. D. (1980). Marital discord and childhood behavior problems. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 8, 287–295.
Rogers, M. J., & Holmbeck, G. N. (1997). Effects of interparental aggression on children's adjustment: The moderating role of cognitive appraisal and coping. Journal of Family Psychology, 11, 125–130.
Rosenthal, R. (1995). Writing meta-analytic reviews. Psychological Bulletin, 118, 183–192.
Rutter, M., & Sroufe, L. A. (2000). Developmental psychopathology: Concepts and challenges. Development and Psychopathology, 12, 265–296.
Sameroff, A. J. (2000). Developmental systems and psychopathology. Development and Psychopathology, 12, 297–312.
Saunders, B. E. (2003). Understanding children exposed to violence: Toward an integration of overlapping fields. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18, 356–376.
Shipman, K., Rossman, B., & West, J. (1999). Co-occurrence of spousal violence and child abuse: Conceptual implications. Child Maltreatment, 4, 93–102.
Spaccarelli, S., Sandler, I. N., & Roosa, M. (1994). History of spouse violence against mother: Correlated risks and unique effects in child mental health. Journal of Family Violence, 9, 79–98.
Sternberg, K. J., Lamb, M. E., Greenbaum, C., Cicchetti, D., Dawud, S., Cortes, R. M., Krispin, O., & Lorey, F. (1993). Effects of domestic violence on children's behavior problems and depression. Developmental Psychology, 29, 44–52.
Straus, M. (1979). Measuring intrafamily conflict: The Conflict Tactics (CT) scales. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 41, 75–88.
Tang, C. S. (1997). Psychological impact of wife abuse: Experiences of Chinese women and their children. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 12, 466–478.
Tannenbaum, L., Neighbors, B., & Forehand, R. (1992). The unique contribution of four maternal stressors to adolescent functioning. Journal of Early Adolescence 12, 314–325.
Ware, H. S., Jouriles, E. N., Spiller, L. C., McDonald, R., Swank, P. R., & Norwood, W. D. (2001). Conduct problems among children at battered women's shelters: Prevalence and stability of maternal reports. Journal of Family Violence 16, 291–307.
Wolak, J., & Finkelhor, D. (1998). Children exposed to partner violence. In J. Jasinski & L. M. Williams (Eds.), Partner violence: A comprehensive review of 20 years of research. (pp. 73–112). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Wolf, F. M. (1986). Meta-analysis: Quantitative methods for research synthesis. Quantitative Applications in the Social Sciences Series 07–059. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Wolfe, D. A., Jaffe, P. J., Wilson, S., & Zak, L. (1985). Children of battered women: Relation of child behavior to family violence and maternal stress. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 53, 657–665.
Wolfe, D. A., Zak, L., Wilson, S., & Jaffe, P. (1986). Child witnesses to violence between parents: Critical issues in behavioral and social adjustment. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 14, 95–104.
About this article
Cite this article
Wolfe, D.A., Crooks, C.V., Lee, V. et al. The Effects of Children's Exposure to Domestic Violence: A Meta-Analysis and Critique. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev 6, 171–187 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1024910416164
- domestic violence
- child witnesses
- marital aggression
- child behavior problems
- family violence
- child abuse