Children Living with Domestic Violence Research Team

The Children Living with Domestic Violence Research Team conducts research on risk assessment, risk management, and safety planning for children exposed to domestic violence.

The Children Living with Domestic Violence Research Team is co-led by:

Dr. Peter Jaffe, Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children

Dr. Myriam Dubé, Université du Québec à Montréal

For the purpose of our research we define Child Homicide in the Context of Domestic Violence as:

  1. Child(ren) killed as a result of intervening during a violent episode between parents;
  2. Child(ren) killed by a parent as revenge against the partner (e.g. partner ended relationship; other perceived betrayal);
  3. Child(ren) killed by a parent as part of a murder-suicide;
  4. Child(ren) killed by parent and there is a history of domestic violence (e.g. perpetrator of child homicide was a victim and/or perpetrator of domestic violence)
  5. Child(ren) killed by a third party (e.g. older sibling) at the direction of a parent. 

parent = includes biological parent, step-parent, foster parent, and/or other caregivers (e.g. mother/father's new intimate partner, other family member acting in a caregiving role)

history of domestic violence = official (e.g. police reports) or unofficial (reported by friends, family members) history of domestic violence in the current relationship
Note: Information on the perpetrator motive/intention may not be available - the key idea of this definition is that domestic violence is involved in the child death.

child - a person who is under the age of 18.

Fact Sheets

Online Research and Resources

A Review of Policies to Address Children/Youth Exposed to Domestic Violence
In this article, Weaver-Dunlop et al. examine policies and legislation in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand with respect to childhood exposure to domestic violence. Findings indicate that children who witness domestic violence often exhibit similar symptoms to children who have been physically, sexually, and emotionally abused. Resiliency research has identified factors such as parenting qualities, cognitive functioning, socioeconomic status, and positive self-mate as correlated with child’ adversity. Specific recommendations for risk assessment include expanding the definition of child maltreatment as well as proper assessment of children exposed. With respect to safety planning, it is recommended that the child is not removed from the non-offending parent. Furthermore, the focus of legislation should be on penalizing the offender, avoiding penalizing the victim, and only penalizing the most violent criminal conduct of offenders.

Assessing Children's Risk for Homicide in the Context of Domestic Violence
Assessing Children’s Risk for Homicide in the Context of Domestic Violence The researchers conducted a retrospective case study of 84 cases of domestic homicide, where adults or children were targeted victims, and assessed the unique factors that place a child at risk of lethality in the context of domestic violence. Overall, there were no significant differences amongst cases involving children on major risk factors except for the higher number of agencies involved with the families that had children. One of the major findings was that very few of the cases had a safety plan or risk assessment completed. The findings speak to the importance of conducting risk assessments and creating safety plans that include children in cases of domestic violence.

Assessing the risks to children from domestic violence
This document, by Healy & Bell, discusses Barnardo’s Domestic Violence Risk Assessment Model, which is used by child protection workers in domestic violence cases in Ireland. Data for this research are based on responses from 40 child protection workers in Northern Ireland. Findings indicate that the use of the model enhances a practitioner’s ability to identify risks to the child; protective strategies used by the non-abusive parent; and different types of intervention. It is recommended that a domestic violence risk assessment model used with children should include an assessment of the nature and impact of the abuse; risks to lethality; protective factors; and a detailed case history. In addition, responses to domestic violence should involve multidisciplinary approaches.

Child custody and visitation decisions in domestic violence cases: Legal trends, risk factors, and safety concerns
In this article, Saunders examines custody and visitation decisions in the context of domestic violence and the impact of courts. The “friendly parent” provision is discussed and how this provision can be harmful to abused mothers who are labeled as ‘unfriendly’. The article also notes trends such as the use of parent coordinators, special masters, and virtual visitation being implemented in custody and visitation decisions. Findings reveal that about half of the courts in all states consider domestic violence as a primary issue in their decisions. Recommendations for risk management and safety planning specific to custody and visitation are discussed.

Child protection in families experiencing domestic violence
This manual, written by Bragg, provides an overview of child protection strategies in the United States used with families who are experiencing domestic violence. The manual references the use of a strengths-based, family centered approach to responding to families who are experiencing domestic violence. Through an analysis of past literature, this research discusses categories of childhood problems linked to exposure to domestic violence, such as behavioural, social and emotional problems; cognitive and attitudinal problems; and long-term problems.  It is recommended that a domestic violence risk assessment is conducted when a report is received by child protection services. Safety planning recommendations are dependent on the victim’s relationship status.

Child well-being and domestic violence task force final report
This article, written by Lake et al., examines judicial procedures in North Carolina involving child maltreatment and domestic violence based on a review of past literature and cases of children exposed to violence. The authors highlight the Multiple Response System model, a strengths-based model that is currently being piloted in 10 counties. It was found that child safety was linked to the safety of the non-abusive parent. Specific recommendations for risk assessment include having a domestic violence specialist in each county in North Carolina, and the adoption of uniform policies across all counties that include screening, investigation, safety planning, lethality assessment, case decision and management. Additionally, the authors recommend mandatory, regular continuing education on domestic violence and child well-being for law enforcement officers. Risk management recommendations include prioritizing funding for the implementation of supervised visitation centers for North Carolina. Lastly, a major safety planning recommendation includes considering adopting a statute that criminalizes the act of seriously assaulting an adult in the presence of a child.

Children and families experiencing domestic violence: Police and children's social services' responses
This article, written by Stanley et al., focuses on service provision to families living in England and Wales who had involvement with children’s social services before and after the amendment of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. The definition of “significant harm” was amended to include a new category of “impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another”. Data for this study are drawn from interviews with 40 young people, survivors, and perpetrators, interviews with 58 police officials and social service workers, a review of police and social service records of 251 incidents of domestic violence, and 57 survey responses. Findings reveal that over half of the couples were separated, the young people felt excluded by police responses, and intervention from social services stopped once separation occurred. Recommendations for risk assessment and risk management focus on professional training and education, the need to include children involved in domestic violence cases, and increased service provision for perpetrators. Safety planning recommendations center on increased services for families and for children.

Children Experiencing Domestic Violence: A Research Review
This is a thorough and in-depth report that addresses many aspects of domestic violence. These aspects include (1) a description of what is known about domestic violence, such as prevalence, risk factors, patterns etc., (2) the impact of domestic violence on children, (3) domestic violence and parenting, (4) the influence of violence in young individual’s intimate relationships, (5) response to violence- screening, assessment, and engagement, (6) interventions, and (7) interagency collaboration.

Children exposed to violence: A handbook for police trainers to increase understanding and improve community responses
Baker et al. produced a handbook to complement existing police training initiatives and increase awareness about some of the more complex issues involved in police intervention with children exposed to domestic violence. The handbook focuses on the special needs of children exposed to domestic violence and the challenges in conducting risk assessment and risk reduction/management strategies. It is recommended that police officers speak to children to determine the level of risk the child has been subjected to during a violent incident in an effort to inform decision-making. Additionally, multiple methods of assessment and sources for data collection should be used. Components of a comprehensive risk assessment are provided which may be needed if concerns develop from an initial risk assessment.

Children in Danger of Domestic Homicide
This brief provides a concise outline of the prevalence of child domestic homicide in the context of domestic violence. Additionally, the brief addresses myths regarding which children are at risk, and promising practices to accurately identify those children at risk. Lastly, the brief provides readers with additional resources to access regarding children and domestic violence.

Domestic and Family Violence and its Relationship to Child Protection
This is a comprehensive paper that provides readers with an in-depth understanding of domestic and family violence. The paper provides definitions, an evaluation of the dynamics and extent of impact, the effects of child exposure, characteristics of typical perpetrators, safety planning, and current legislation in Queensland.

Domestic Homicides and Children who Witness them
This paper addresses the concerning issue of children who witness the murder of a parent in the context of domestic violence. The paper briefly explores the prevalence of the issue in Australia, as well as the negative consequences it has for children. Lastly, the paper focuses on the aftermath of the homicide for children, specifically how it impacts their family relationships and future living situations.

Effectiveness of Risk Assessment Tools in Differentiating Child Homicides From Other Domestic Homicide Cases
These researchers conducted a retrospective study on 40 cases of domestic homicides to analyze the effectiveness of using risk assessment tools for adult victims of domestic violence (DA, ODARA, and B-SAFER) to measure the risk of lethality for children in the context of domestic violence. Domestic homicide cases with adult victims were compared to domestic homicide cases with child victims. The results revealed no differences between the two groups in terms of risk assessment tools. This implies that children should be considered at risk for lethality if the adult female partner is at risk.

Evaluation of the community safe visitation program: Updated 2006
In this article, Tutty et al. evaluate the Community Safe Visitation Program offered in Calgary, Alberta. Data for this study are drawn from standardized measures from 281 parents and children involved in the program and 22 qualitative interviews with parents. Findings point to significant improvements after 6 months in three subscales that were rated by parents (i.e., the BSI Interpersonal Sensitivity scale; the BSI Positive Symptom Distress Index; and the BSI Global Severity Index). Furthermore, parents reported improvements in parental distress, parent-child dysfunctional relationship, and PSI total stress after participating in the program. Protective factors for children exposed to domestic violence were also identified. Risk assessment recommendations include separate screening for all clients and providing only factual data in reports to courts. With respect to risk management, it was recommended that service providers are proactive in providing referrals and support to parents. Safety planning recommendations include staggering parents’ drop off and pick up times to ensure monitoring and security for both parents and increased hours of operation of visitation centres.

Family violence and family law in Australia: The experiences and views of children and adults from families who separated post-1995 and post-2006 (Volume 1)
This article, written by Bagshaw et al., addresses the impact of family violence before and/or after parental separation along with the decision-making and arrangements that take place regarding children. The study focuses on families living in rural, regional, and remote communities in Australia. Based on adult and adolescent participant reports, it was found that violence persisted after separation and often escalated, women’s fear of violence stopped them from using relevant services, and complaints about services were based on victims not being believed about the abuse and not receiving proper assistance.  Child participants reported that they wished their abusive parent was removed from their life due to the severity of the violence.  Risk assessment recommendations call for universal screening and assessment by trained professionals, ongoing review and evaluation of assessment tools, and revision of the friendly parent provision. Recommendations for risk management focus on a need for family violence reports to be heard and addressed prior to making parenting arrangements, and improved links between the family law system and state and territory government agencies. Safety recommendations include a need for children’s voices to be heard and considered in the decision-making process, service professions within the Family Court system receive mandatory education and training, and better recognition of the dynamics and impact of abuse tactics.

From the Learning Network: A list of resources on Children Exposed to Domestic Violence
The VAW Learning Network has a network area on children exposed to domestic violence.  The network area contains resources, tools, and information on the incidence/prevalence of children exposed to domestic violence; the impact of exposure on children; intervention and prevention strategies including evaluations; public education/social marketing campaigns; training for professionals who work with children exposed; and children’s lived experience of domestic violence.

Health Care Professionals’ Role in Preventing Child Homicides in the Context of Domestic Violence
This paper highlights the risks faced by children who are exposed to domestic violence, specifically the risk of domestic homicide in the most severe cases. The researchers focus on the predictability and preventability of such cases based on the risk factors that were present prior to the homicide. The paper suggests that health care professionals need to be vigilant in their identification of child risk of lethality, as adult parents who are at heightened risk for lethality, consequently have children who are at a heightened risk.

Honouring Christian Lee. No Private Matter: Protecting Children Living with Domestic Violence
A public inquest was held in the province of British Columbia on April 2008 and December 2009 into the deaths of Sun Yong (Sunny) Park, Christian Thomas Jin Young Lee, Kum Lea Chun, Moon Kyu Park, and Hyun Joon (Peter) Lee. Peter Lee was on bail facing domestic violence charges when he killed his estranged wife, Sunny Park, his six-year old son, Christian Thomas Lee, and his estranged wife's parents, Kum Lea Chun and Moon Kyu Park. Following the murders, Peter Lee took his own life. In 2009, the Representative for Children and Youth prepared a report titled 'Honouring Christian Lee. No Private Matter: Protecting Children Living with Domestic Violence' which detailed the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Christian Lee and his family, the missed opportunities or gaps in service provision experienced by this family, and recommendations for improvements to service, practice or policy that could prevent similar deaths in the future.

Honouring Kaitlynne, Max and Cordon: Make Their Voices Heard Now (March 2012)
The Representative for Children and Youth in British Columbia investigated the deaths of Kaitlynne (10), Max (8) and Cordon (5), three B.C. children killed by their father on April, 6, 2008. These children lived with domestic violence, untreated parental mental illness, and addictions. Despite professional involvement on numerous occasions, a domestic violence lens was not used in dealing with this family. This discrepancy was evidenced by the workers divulging the fact that they had no training in working with families experiencing domestic violence. The Representative believes that the children’s right to safety was compromised by a lack of collaborative, professional child protection practice. Overall, shortcomings in the mental health system similarly failed this family.

Inquest into the death of: Andrew Osidacz and Jared Osidacz
After killing his son, Jared Osidacz (8), Andrew Osidacz held a knife to the throat of his estranged wife when he was shot and killed by two Brantford police officers. The inquest into the death of Andrew Osidacz and Jared Osidacz recommends that the Ministry of the Attorney General take a leadership role in creating an inter-ministerial committee that methodically reviews all community, agency and government domestic violence initiatives to identify redundancies and/or gaps. Among many other suggestions, it is recommended that a process to share information among service providers through case conferencing is established.

'Just say goodbye': Parents who kill their children in the context of separation
This article, written by Kirkwood, discusses filicide in the context of family violence and separation. Data are drawn from a literature review and cases of filicide in Australia. Core findings reveal that 10% of homicides in Australia involve child victims who are killed primarily by a parent. Past research indicates that mothers are more likely to be the biological parent of the children they kill than are fathers, and are also more likely to kill younger children. Additionally, Australian research has found that 15 percent of filicide offenders had a mental disorder immediately before or during the filicide incident. Risk assessment recommendations focus on improving service provider responses to adequately detect warning signs and particular risks for filicide, including suicide as a risk for filicide. Recommendations for safety planning focus on a need to address bystander inaction, challenge men’s sense of entitlement, and implement initiatives for prevention of and response to family violence.

Making the links in family violence cases: Collaboration among the family, child protection and criminal justice systems: Annexes to the Report of the Federal – Provincial – Territorial (FPT) Ad Hoc Working Group on Family Violence.
This report, by the Department of Justice Canada, discusses the barriers faced by professionals who are involved with family violence cases across Canada and identifies promising practices in risk assessment, handling multiple court proceedings, privacy, evidentiary issues, out-of-court dispute resolution, and cross-sector collaboration. The data for this report were drawn from the Ad Hoc Working Group on Family Violence, which included representatives from provinces and territories. The report makes specific recommendations for risk assessment and risk management, such as having high-risk case coordination protocols and integrated threat/risk assessment centres; and the implementation of domestic violence death review committees. These recommendations are made in light of existing barriers, which include a lack of coordination among the criminal and family justice systems and child protection services.

Post-separation domestic violence: a reality
This pamphlet, written by Dubé et al., provides information on post-separation domestic violence and its impact on victims and their children. Recommendations for risk management and safety planning focus on how to deal with an ex-spouse regarding child custody and co-parenting. A checklist is included that focuses on recognizing signs of domestic violence and a list of services for victims in Quebec.

Proposed amendment to immigration and refugee protection regulations: Introduction of 'conditional' permanent residence period for spousal and partner sponsorship
This is a paper written by UNICEF Canada that discusses the negative effects of Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s (CIC) two-year requirement for conditional permanent residence on women and children. It is argued that this requirement does not meet the requirements of the Convention on the Rights of Children. It is recommended that the federal government adopt and implement an equity focus to reduce the risks faced by children of sponsored parents and establish an independent Children’s Advocate Commissioner for Canada to ensure Children’s rights are guaranteed.

Proposed "Conditional Permanent Residence" for sponsored spouses: Comments on the notice published by Citizenship and Immigration Canada in the Canada Gazette, Part I, Vol. 145, No. 13.
This report by the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) analyzes the proposed two-year cohabitation requirement in sponsorship relationships set forth by the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC).  The CCR’s report is in opposition to this requirement due to the required cohabitation creating or increasing unequal power dynamics within the sponsorship relationship and increasing the likelihood of abuse therein. The CCR contends that the two-year rule increases immigrant women’s vulnerabilities and creates barriers for women who attempt to leave dysfunctional and/or abusive relationships. Despite the abuse exemption written into the proposed cohabitation requirement, the CCR contends that it is an ineffective measure as sponsored spouses are often unaware of their rights. Further, the authors suggest that the proposed cohabitation requirement also negatively impacts children, because it falls short of meeting requirements for the best interest of child(ren) who witness abuse and/or may be separated from a parent if their legal status is compromised. The CCR ultimately contends that the proposed requirement negatively portrays newcomers, creates barriers to family re-unification, and heightens the risk for violence against women.

Putting the picture together: Inquiry into response by government agencies to complaints of family violence and child abuse in Aboriginal communities
This document, written by Gordon et al., provides a review of the responses of government agencies with respect to family violence and child abuse in Aboriginal communities. It is based on input from members of an Aboriginal community and seven government agencies in Western Australia. The needs and unique factors of Aboriginal communities are discussed and specific recommendations for risk management addressing their unique needs are made (e.g., maintaining culture and tradition in service provision, facilitating communication among agencies in rural and remote communities).

Safe from the start: Taking action on children exposed to violence
This report, by Jacobson, summarizes a U.S Department of Justice summit on children exposed to violence that involved 150 professionals from various agencies. Operating principles that addressed children’s exposure to violence were created along with suggestions for appropriate steps to be taken when dealing with these cases.

Taking Action on Domestic Violence in British Columbia
This booklet is a review of the action plan created by the British Columbia government in response to a report developed by the Representative for Children and Youth’s (RCY), which examined the lives and deaths of children who were exposed to domestic violence. The action plan focuses on strengthening the province’s response to domestic violence in order to enhance the safety of children, women, families, and communities. This booklet provides an overview of British Columbia’s initiatives, their systemic approach, as well as their overall action plan.

Twenty-Nine Child Homicides: Lessons Still to be Learnt on Domestic Violence and Child Protection
This report investigates 29 child homicide cases that occurred as a result of parental contact arrangements in England and Wales. The researchers from the Women’s Aid addressed a number of concerns regarding the children’s safety, specifically whether or not the government and/or court system appropriately assigned contact orders or intervened in each case. Moreover, the researchers evaluated whether or not lessons were learnt by the government from earlier cases of child homicide and applied as intervention in more recent cases. Lastly, the Women’s Aid provided a series of recommendations of assigning appropriate contact orders, which enhance the safety of children.

What about me!: Seeking to understand a child's view of violence in the family
This article, written by Cunningham et al., focuses on the experiences of domestic violence from a child’s perspective. Suggestions for measuring and responding to domestic violence cases are discussed. Data for this study are drawn from a literature review of empirical studies and interviews with children who have been exposed to violence in their family. Recommendations for further improving this research are discussed, along with specific recommendations for risk assessment and risk management involving service professionals and perpetrators of domestic violence.