The Domestic Abuse Bill: importance of community-based support – including for children – finally recognised

Thursday 11 March 2021
Worried looking girl

Yesterday, Baroness Williams stood up in the House of Lords with these words:

I can say that the government is now committed to consulting on the provision of community-based domestic abuse services in the upcoming Victims’ Law consultation.

Baroness Williams

Action for Children, along with Barnardo’s, End Violence Against Women, the NSPCC and SafeLives – and so many others – has been calling on the government to provide for community-based specialist domestic abuse services, like counselling support and Independent Domestic Violence Advisors, on top of accommodation-based services.

This, along with vital government amendments to the Bill, represents a huge stride forward in ensuring that all survivors and victims of domestic abuse, including children, will get the support they need, when they need it, no matter where they live.

The government’s amendments mean that:

  • a statutory duty will be put on the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to report on ‘the provision of and need for’ community-based services, within 12 months of the Domestic Abuse Act passing.
  • a duty will also be placed on relevant local authorities to monitor and report on the impact of the duty to deliver support to victims in accommodation-based services on other domestic abuse services in their area.

As Lord Polak, who led on these efforts in the House of Lords, stated so powerfully:

This is an incredibly important step forward in understanding and addressing the provision of community-based domestic abuse services, so that all victims, especially children, will be able to access support, regardless of where they live.

Lord Polak

Police and Crime Commissioners, who commission vital community-based support services for survivors, also highlighted the importance of this support.

The government’s actions build on the crucial recognition of children as victims of domestic abuse in their own right last summer, after a long campaign by Action for Children and others in the sector. It is so good to see this progress.

We have worked with passionate MPs and peers like Shadow Safeguarding Minister Jess Phillips MP and engaged with government ministers leading on the Bill like Victoria Atkins MP. We’ve secured media coverage to highlight the gaps in support for children affected and given evidence to influential parliamentary committees on the impact on children.

And our supporters have taken action to demonstrate how crucial it is to consider the needs of children and young people who have been through these experiences.

We know this progress has the potential to make a massive difference to children.

It's estimated that nearly 789,000 children are living in households where they experience domestic abuse. We know experiencing domestic abuse can have a long-lasting effect on children and young people: they can struggle with their physical or mental health, and they can face problems in their own friendships and relationships in the future.

This is why providing specialist support to all children and young people who are affected is so important.

Specialist support for children can reduce the impact of domestic abuse on their lives. It can improve children’s safety and their health outcomes. And children have spoken about the importance of getting support to help them move on, make new friends, and enjoy a childhood free from fear.

Our Patchy, Piecemeal and Precarious report found there were barriers to children accessing support in two-thirds of local authorities in England and Wales that took part in our research. And there were no specialist support services for children at all in more than 10% of these local authorities.

The coronavirus pandemic has presented new challenges to support services. Nearly a quarter of survivors, responding to a Women’s Aid survey during the first lockdown, said their children had reduced access to support.

This is why the government’s commitment to consult on community-based support services and ensure that the level of support available is monitored will be so crucial in helping children who experience domestic abuse access the support they need.

There are still more steps that need to be taken – the provision of community-based services is not yet enshrined in law. But this latest progress should be cause for optimism.

With a consultation promised for this summer, and the opportunity to introduce a duty on relevant public authorities to deliver services to all those affected by domestic abuse, we are so much closer to securing the support victims need.