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“I have seen babies who end up with just blank stares as they have withdrawn into their own bodies,” the frontline domestic violence worker said.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