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Children have a universal right to live free from exposure to family and domestic violence (FDV). Young children (<6-years) are at greater risk of exposure to FDV due to the time spent in the family home and parental dependence. Despite the limited empirical literature, it is acknowledged that FDV exposure can impact a child’s developmental outcomes with respect to social competence including social, emotional, and cognitive skills.
Objectives and approach
Our cohort study used longitudinal population-level data from Western Australia Police and hospital data to identify FDV, these datasets were genealogically linked to the children and their Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) to investigate the early development outcomes of Western Australian children born 2002-2010 (N=6,955).
Our aim was to determine if children exposed to FDV had greater vulnerability in early development outcomes as measured by the Australian Version of the Early Development Instrument (used in the AEDC), in the child’s first year of formal schooling (2009-2015).
Multivariate logistic regression was used to estimate the odds of children exposed to FDV being classed as developmentally vulnerable in each of the five AEDC development domains: physical health and wellbeing; social competence; emotional maturity; language and cognitive skills (school-based) and; communication skills and general knowledge. Models were adjusted for a range of covariates known to impact developmental outcomes.
Children exposed to FDV had between 42% and 69% higher odds than non-exposed children of being developmentally vulnerable in the five domains. Additionally, children exposed to FDV had significantly higher odds of being developmentally vulnerable in two or more domains compared to children who were not exposed (adjustedOR 1.70; 95%CI 1.46-1.97).
Exposure to FDV increases the odds of vulnerability in early development outcomes. Early intervention for children exposed to FDV to mitigate the impact on outcomes, and ultimately the need to prevent FDV is clearly needed.
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