The Government is taking action on domestic abuse. But is enough being done for children?

Posted by AfC Policy and campaigns / Friday 11 May 2018 / Children's rights
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The Government is taking action on domestic abuse. But is enough being done for children?

An estimated 1.9 million adults aged 16 to 59 experienced domestic abuse across England and Wales in the year ending March 2017.[2]

This is equivalent to a domestic abuse crime being committed every minute.[1]

And in the UK, there are 130,000 children currently living in households with high-risk domestic abuse.[3] A quarter of these children are under 3 years old. On average, high-risk abuse has been happening for 2.6 years, meaning these children have lived with abuse for most of their lives.[4]

These statistics are shocking, showing more needs to be done. So it is welcome that the Government recently set out their approach to tackling domestic abuse. They are consulting on their proposals which seek to address abuse at every stage from prevention through to rehabilitation. They aim to make  domestic abuse everybody’s business, and look at promoting awareness, protecting and supporting victims, bringing perpetrators to justice and improving performance in the response to domestic abuse across all local areas. These proposals broadly apply to England or England and Wales only.

Proposals include:

  • Introducing a new definition of domestic abuse – the aim of this is to make sure domestic abuse is understood properly. The new definition will replace ‘financial abuse’ with ‘economic abuse’, a broader term to take account of victims who are denied access to basic resources such as food and clothes, or forced into taking out loans or entering into other financial contracts by the perpetrator.
  • Educating young people on relationships – the Government is currently looking at what should be included in Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) at school. They want to know what else could be done to increase young people’s understanding of what makes a healthy relationship and what abuse can look like.
  • Introducing a new Domestic Abuse Protection Order and Notice - the creation of a Notice, which could be made by the police, and an Order, which could be made by the courts, which would help to keep survivors safe and prevent abuse from continuing. It would be a criminal offence to breach the new Order.
  • Electronic Tagging – as a condition of the new Order, courts could be given the power to impose electronic tagging. A statutory set of guidelines would be used to ensure electronic tagging is only used when necessary.
  • Ensuring sentencing adequately takes account of the impact of domestic abuse on victims and children - in February, the Sentencing Council published a revised set of guidelines for sentencing in domestic abuse cases. These guidelines highlight the need to consider the impact of the offence on children. The Government is now consulting on whether this needs to be further strengthened, to become a statutory aggravating factor.
  • Establishing a Domestic Abuse Commissioner in law – the new Domestic Abuse Commissioner would stand up for victims of domestic abuse and their children, raise awareness, and monitor and oversee delivery of services. 

Although the focus on domestic abuse is a step forward, these proposals are already being criticised for being too narrow.  There needs to be more focus on support for victims not just the criminal justice aspect. The consultation does bring attention to the impact of domestic abuse on children, which is welcome, but there is a focus on the role of children’s social care services rather than wider support services for children and young people.

Children and young people who have experienced domestic abuse can suffer from physical, psychological and emotional effects. They can develop anxiety, depression, and behavioural difficulties. Action for Children delivers domestic abuse programmes to help with this, providing one to one parenting and family support.[1]

Our Newcastle service provides counselling for children and young people aged 4 to 16 to support their emotional well-being. It gives them the opportunity to talk and uses play therapy to help them explore their emotions[2] but the waiting list for this support is too long.

The Government’s desire to ensure sentencing adequately takes account of the impact of domestic abuse on children is admirable. However, they must also understand the importance of ensuring those children affected are, without exception, able to access services that will help them to recover. A harsher sentence alone will not undo or adequately address the suffering these children have faced.

 

[1] Action for Children (2017) Annual Report 2016/17

[2] https://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/in-your-area/services/early-years-and-family-support/family-support/breaking-the-cycle-domestic-violence-counselling-service/

[1] Action for Children (2017) Annual Report 2016/17

[2] https://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/in-your-area/services/early-years-and-family-support/family-support/breaking-the-cycle-domestic-violence-counselling-service/

[1] HMICFRS (2018) PEEL: Police Effectiveness 2017.

[2] ONS (2017) Domestic abuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2017.

[3] Caada (2014) In Plain Sight: Effective help for children exposed to domestic abuse. Bristol: Caada.

[4] SafeLives (2015) Getting it right first time: Policy report. Bristol: SafeLives.