Three ways to improve the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill

Posted by AfC Policy and campaigns / Wednesday 21 November 2018 / Law Public Affairs
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This Sunday marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. The UK government will undoubtedly be pointing towards its forthcoming Domestic Abuse bill as a sign of its commitment to do what it can help victims of abuse.  But will it do enough to help children affected by domestic abuse? 

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Children who experience domestic abuse often suffer emotional trauma as a result, and this can have a severe lifelong impact. Infants exposed to violence in the home can undergo so much added stress that it can negatively affect brain development and impact on cognitive and sensory growth. Children’s lives are also destabilised and disrupted by domestic abuse; they may have to move home and school several times. 

The scale of the problem is huge - large numbers of children are experiencing domestic abuse. One in five children have been exposed to domestic abuse.  The most prevalent factor of need for all Children in Need is domestic violence - it is a factor in half of all assessments. 

But despite the scale and impact of domestic abuse on children, the government’s recent consultation on the domestic abuse bill failed to include any meaningful measures on their needs. 

So, what should the package of reforms which the government is preparing for next year – at the heart of which is the bill – do to help children affected by domestic abuse? 

First, the proposed statutory definition of domestic abuse must be changed to include children. This official definition will inform all subsequent efforts to tackle the issue, so if children are missing from it, they will miss out.  The definition should recognise that children who share a home where domestic abuse occurs should be considered to have experienced domestic abuse.

Second, the proposed Domestic Abuse Commissioner should have explicit responsibility for overseeing and monitoring services for children. If the Commissioner does not have this clear mandate, then we would be worried that children’s services will not be prioritised. 

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Third, specialist support services for children must be made available, particularly therapeutic interventions helping children to recover from their experiences. The evidence from our own such service, in Newcastle, is that children using it report better coping skills to understand and manage their feelings, as well as greater confidence in communicating their thoughts and emotions. The best way to ensure children can access this support is to include within the bill a duty on local authorities to provide this, backed by sufficient government funding. 

Government ministers like Victoria Atkins, Edward Argar and Nadhim Zahawi deserve much credit for what they say they want to achieve in the domestic abuse bill and for the open and listening approach they are taking with the voluntary sector at the moment.

The challenge for all of us now – particularly children’s charities– is to make it the best bill possible for all victims of domestic abuse.

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