It is not only adults who are affected by domestic violence. Children who live in homes where domestic and family violence occurs are at risk of harm and actual injury. Whether a child witnesses domestic and family violence, is in another room when an assault occurs, or attempts to intervene to protect their parent, the impact upon children exposed to violence in the home is serious.
Parents who stay in an abusive relationship with a perpetrator need to understand the significant impact of abuse and violence on their children. Children can be directly affected by being present or indirectly when they witness an assault occurring (pushing, hitting or twisting and arm); destroying property, seeing or hearing ongoing harassment and intimidation or witnessing the victim parent constantly crying from the trauma.
Some children are brave and try to stop the perpetrator and often get physically hurt themselves. Other children may react by copying the perpetrator and begin hitting the victim parent or their brothers and sisters.
What will Police do?
When police attend a domestic and family violence incident and children are present, then the attending police officer(s) will use their professional judgement to make an assessment to determine whether the child or young person is at ‘risk of significant harm’ and requires an immediate report to the Department of Communities & Justice Child Protection Helpline.
All police officers have a legal responsibility under section24 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 to report children at risk of significant harm as outlined in section 23 of the Act.
Members of the community and mandatory reporters who suspect that a child or young person is at “risk of significant harm” (the statutory threshold) should report their concerns to the Child Protection Helpline 132 111.
A child or young person is at risk of significant harm if the circumstances that are causing concern for the safety, welfare or wellbeing of the child or young person are present to a significant extent.
Police Officers of the NSW Police Force are mandatory reporters. In the course of their duties, police officers, if they suspect a child or young person is at imminent risk of significant harm, are required to immediately phone the Child Protection Helpline
Children on Apprehended Violence Orders (AVOs)
If there are only children listed in an AVO application, police are the only authority who can make the application under section 48(3) Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act.
It is encouraged to include children in AVOs where children are involved in domestic and family violence incidences. The courts, or officers of the court, are required to place children considered in need of protection on an AVO, unless the defendant can justify the exclusion of the children from the order.
An AVO is a civil matter and does not result in a criminal offence unless the AVO is breached by the defendant. This means that when police attend a domestic and family violence incident involving children, and they take out an AVO to protect the victim, the children of the person in need of protection will be included on the order. The conditions that apply to the person in need of protection, also apply to the children.
If a defendant breaches an AVO protecting a child, then police will consider whether this breach places the child at risk of significant harm in which case they will be required to make a report to the Child Protection Helpline. A breach of an AVO is a criminal offence, and as such, may place the child at greater risk of harm if the defendant has no respect for court orders, or the safety and wellbeing of the victim or children.