Beyond vulnerability: working with children who have experienced domestic violence

Jane Callaghan, Jo Alexander, Lisa C Fellin, Lindsay O'Dell (Editor), Charlotte Brownlow (Editor), Hanna Bertilsdotter-Rosqvist (Editor)

Research output: Contribution to Book/ReportChapterpeer-review


This chapter explores children’s experiences of domestic violence. Academic research on domestic violence tends to focus on children as damaged by domestic violence, with an extensive consideration of the negative impact on children’s mental health, social, interpersonal and educational outcomes. This literature establishes children living with domestic violence as a vulnerable group, in need of significant intervention and support. This construct of vulnerability extends into professional talk about children’s lives, with mental health, social work and domestic violence support professionals describing children as vulnerable, damaged, and needy - often inevitably so. In contrast, we argue that framing children as "vulnerable" functions to undermine an understanding of their located capacity for agency, and can render children voiceless in specific contexts. Gatekeeping practices intended to protect vulnerable children have an unintended consequence of preventing them from articulating their own experience. We present examples that challenge the positioning of children who experience domestic violence as vulnerable and damaged, and that highlight young people’s capacity to articulate their experiences of violence, its impact, their coping practices, and their capacity for agency. In doing so, we challenge the notion of a single developmental trajectory for the construction of healthy or adaptive identities (Burman, 2016; James & Prout, 2015). This notion constructs a sense of normal childhood reliant on a well functioning, nuclear family and a stable family home in which to grow and develop. Such a construction implicitly others children who experience domestic violence, and this sense of them as having different and problematic childhoods entrenches the idea that they are passive witnesses, damaged by their experiences. In contrast, we argue that children who experience domestic violence find ways of managing their familial experiences using a range of paradoxical resiliencies. Such resilience’s contribute to the maintenance of a sense of agency for children, constituted within the constraints and enabling elements of family life, of home and of other material spaces. Children’s experiences of violence do not occur in a social vacuum, and nor do the resources they develop to cope with that violence: both are located within both the lived realities and social constructions of childhood, of family life, and of the spaces and places they inhabit.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDifferent Childhoods: Non/Normative Development and Transgressive Trajectories
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages192
ISBN (Print)9781138654044
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2017


  • Domestic violence
  • childhood
  • children
  • critical developmental psychology
  • domestic abuse
  • interpersonal violence


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