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Objectives: To synthesise evidence on the acceptable identification and initial response to children's exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) from the perspectives of providers and recipients of healthcare and social services. Design: We conducted a thematic synthesis of qualitative research, appraised the included studies with the modified Critical Appraisal Skills Programme checklist and undertook a sensitivity analysis of the studies scored above 15. Data sources: We searched eight electronic databases, checked references and citations and contacted authors of the included studies. Eligibility criteria: We included qualitative studies with children, parents and providers of healthcare or social services about their experiences of identification or initial responses to children's exposure to IPV. Papers that have not been peer-reviewed were excluded as well as non-English papers. Results: Searches identified 2039 records; 11 studies met inclusion criteria. Integrated perspectives of 42 children, 212 mothers and 251 professionals showed that sufficient training and support for professionals, good patient-professional relationship and supportive environment for patient/clients need to be in place before enquiry/disclosure of children's exposure to IPV should occur. Providers and recipients of care favour a phased enquiry about IPV initiated by healthcare professionals, which focuses on 'safety at home' and is integrated into the context of the consultation or visit. Participants agreed that an acceptable initial response prioritises child safety and includes emotional support, education about IPV and signposting to IPV services. Participants had conflicting perspectives on what constitutes acceptable engagement with children and management of safety. Sensitivity analysis produced similar results. Conclusions: Healthcare and social service professionals should receive sufficient training and ongoing individual and system-level support to provide acceptable identification of and initial response to children's exposure to IPV. Ideal identification and responses should use a phased approach to enquiry and the WHO Listen, Inquire about needs and concerns, Validate, Enhance safety and Support principles integrated into a trauma-informed and violence-informed model of care.