A Melbourne study has found the scourge of spousal domestic violence can mentally, physically and linguistically scar up to half of all exposed children.
The peer-reviewed research, led by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, shows almost a third of children (28.7 per cent) - and by extension their mothers - had been exposed to intimate partner violence by age 10.
Intimate partner violence is abuse or aggression between current and former spouses or dating partners.
Stephanie Brown, a senior principal research fellow at MCRI, said the study demonstrated the burden children often carry when growing up in households with IPV.
"Intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence against women and their children and is a global public health issue," Professor Brown said on Thursday.
"It's not limited to physical and sexual violence and is often characterised by a pattern of psychological control and coercion. Children may pick up on this and experience constant fear or anxiety at home."
The MCRI, Australia's largest child health research institute, recruited 1507 first-time mothers and their first-born children from six public maternity hospitals in Melbourne for the study.
Participants completed questionnaires three, six and 12 months after giving birth, and again when the child turned four and 10.
Within that group, 615 of the mothers were interviewed and their 10-year-old children studied in-person to assess cognitive and language development.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal's Archives of Childhood Disorders on Thursday, found a third to a half of all children with language and mental or physical health problems had IPV exposure.
At age 10, children exposed from infancy were twice as likely to suffer a psychiatric diagnosis, emotional and behavioural difficulties along with impaired language skills.
Asthma and sleep problems were also more common.
But apart from language difficulties and asthma, the report noted 10-year-olds were not worse off than their peers if IPV exposure was limited to before they turned five.
The authors said that reinforced the need for Australia's health and social care services to offer more effective identification and early intervention.
"Early intervention aimed at decreasing IPV, enhancing parent-child interactions or access to high-quality childcare to enrich language and social interactions may be key to avoiding the social and academic consequences of poor language skills," the report reads.
Prof Brown said many women face barriers to seeking out family services support for IPV, including judgment, costs and the perception they can't help.
Interventions to tackle children's health and developmental problems were likely to be less effective if services don't recognise IPV as a "potential contributing factor", she said.
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