Domestic Abuse affecting children and young people
Domestic abuse, whether or not it involves violence, is a significant child protection issue, and is seen as one of the main causes of risk to the safety of children. The NSPCC has estimated that 6% of children in the UK are exposed to severe domestic abuse between adults in their homes at some point in childhood. Many live with other levels of domestic abuse.
Witnessing domestic violence can have significant short and long term effects on children’s development, resulting, for example, in eating and sleeping disorders, and emotional and behavioural problems. Long-term effects can include poor educational attainment, anti-social behaviour, youth offending, high levels of teenage pregnancy, and alcohol and drug misuse. As children become adults, they are more prone to becoming victims or perpetrators themselves. Mothers living with domestic violence are often unable to protect their children from the direct and indirect effects of abuse, despite their best efforts.
A number of recent policy developments have put a renewed focus on the issue of children and domestic abuse:
- A change in government definition of ‘domestic abuse’ to include children aged 16 to 18 as victims.
- The Allen Review of Early Intervention (2010/11) built a political consensus on the importance of early intervention for children at risk of harm.
- The 2011 Munro Review of Child Protection found domestic abuse to be a significant factor in child protection.
- The government’s Troubled Families programme includes domestic abuse as a discretionary criterion.
The Somerset Picture
- A total of 816 children were linked to cases discussed by Somerset MARACs (Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences) during 2015. MARAC consider cases where an individual has been identified as at high risk of domestic abuse. The level of cases linked to children has been broadly consistent in recent years.
- Somerset’s specialist domestic abuse service (SIDAS) has a Family Intervention Service to work with children. This service works on a “recovery basis and so primarily with children whose parent’s (survivor) risk has reduced following a SIDAS outreach support intervention. During 2015/16, a total of 382 children were referred to the FIW service.
- Approximately two-thirds of referrals to the Refuge/Safe-house services had children.
- Somerset police recorded 4,474 incidents of domestic violence in which a child was present during 2012/13. A total of 4,925 individual children (aged 0 to 17) experienced at least one domestic violence incident in this way. The figures suggest that domestic violence affects around 5% of Somerset’s child population. The highest concentrations of incidents were in parts of Taunton, Yeovil and Bridgwater (see Map 1, below). Detailed maps of ‘hotspot’ areas can be downloaded here.
Map 1: Children affected by Domestic Violence, 2012/13, by LSOA (*click on map to enlarge*)
Source: Avon & Somerset Constabulary Summary Incident Reports (Police Advice 131) Contracts Received / 2011 Census
A range of statutory and voluntary sector agencies, together with a significant number of individuals are collectively committed to tackling domestic abuse in the county. Somerset's Interpersonal Violence Strategy 2014-2018 provides the overall context and direction for the development of initiatives and services, and can be downloaded here.
- 'In plain sight: Effective help for children exposed to domestic abuse' (CAADAs 2nd National Policy Report) provides national context and evidence of the harm experienced by children exposed to domestic abuse.
- The Children Act 1989 and Children Act 2004 set out the legal framework for the protection of children and establish the key principle that the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration.
- Section 120 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 extends the legal definition of ‘significant harm’ to children to include the harm caused by witnessing or overhearing abuse of another.
- Government statutory guidance, ‘Working together to safeguard children’ (revised April 2013) sets out the framework for provision of children’s services, responsibilities and accountability through Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs).