The Sunday Mail (Queensland)



QUEENS­LAND ba­bies as young as nine months trapped in homes plagued by do­mes­tic vi­o­lence are suf­fer­ing from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

The pres­i­dent of the Aus­tralian In­sti­tute of In­fant Men­tal Health said these tiny tots were also un­able to sleep or keep food down, and their faces were of­ten com­pletely emo­tion­less masks.

Child psy­chol­o­gist and in­sti­tute chief Michael Daub­ney says ba­bies in abu­sive homes are more at risk of se­vere phys­i­o­log­i­cal and emo­tional prob­lems than older chil­dren but are of­ten over­looked as it is be­lieved they are too young to un­der­stand what is go­ing on.

The ex­pert says the ba­bies do not have to wit­ness the con­flict – sim­ply hear­ing an at­tack from their cots is enough to spark the trauma.

“This is an area we hope to re­search fur­ther,” he said.

DV Con­nect chief ex­ec­u­tive Di Man­gan agreed peo­ple un-

Bder­es­ti­mated the dam­age done to chil­dren un­der one year and wel­comed the new re­search.

In Queens­land, there are 180 cases of fam­ily vi­o­lence re­ported to po­lice ev­ery day.

“I have seen ba­bies who end up with just blank stares as they have with­drawn into their own bod­ies,” the front­line do­mes­tic vi­o­lence worker said.

“Ba­bies learn within a few months sur­vival strate­gies but the in­ter­nal­i­sa­tion of their fears does a lot of dam­age.

“The sad thing is even at a re­ally young age chil­dren caught in an abu­sive home po- ten­tially learn to be a vic­tim or a per­pe­tra­tor of vi­o­lence.

“A baby learns quickly that if mum is be­ing at­tacked and they cry out when mum comes to com­fort them she will be highly dis­tressed.

“The baby picks up on this so tries to sup­press the cries even though it is an in­fant’s nat­u­ral need for their de­vel­op­ment to call on a care­giver.

“It is a ter­ri­ble dilemma for such a small child.”

Ms Man­gan said the im­pact of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence ran from the cra­dle to the grave.

Re­search shows chil­dren do not nat­u­rally out­grow early learned fear re­sponses and may go on to de­velop un­healthy pat­terns of stress reg­u­la­tion.

“Re­mov­ing a child from an un­healthy en­vi­ron­ment will not by it­self re­verse the neg­a­tive im­pacts – it is im­por­tant that both mother and child work with a pro­fes­sional to mend the break­down of re­la­tion­ship,” Dr Daub­ney said.

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