Support for children affected by domestic abuse

Wednesday 13 November 2019
Young girl rubbing eyes

For some children, childhood hurts. Yet our report reveals a lack of support for those affected by domestic abuse

Our new analysis of government data shows that, on average, 692 social care assessments a day in England feature domestic violence as an issue faced by children.

Key findings: impact

We know that children affected by domestic violence can develop post-traumatic stress disorder, have nightmares, flashbacks and physical pains. They can also become depressed and battle suicidal tendencies.

We commissioned new analysis of the Millennium Cohort Study, which found that children whose parents reported experiencing domestic violence when the children were aged three reported 30 per cent higher than average antisocial behaviours at age 14. This should be seen in the context of the trauma suffered by children who are affected by domestic abuse.

These children have no choice over their circumstances. But we can choose to help them.

Key findings: support

We commissioned research from the University of Stirling into specialist support services available for children and young people affected by domestic abuse across England and Wales. The key findings were:

  • Overall, children faced barriers to accessing support in at least two thirds of the local authorities interviewed.
  • In four of the 30 local authorities who were interviewed, there were no support services available for children affected by domestic abuse at all.
  • Services for children were dependent on time-limited funding in nearly two-thirds of the local authority areas, or 19 out of the 30.
  • Several of those interviewed also indicated that the coercive and controlling dynamics of domestic abuse were not given enough weight in work with children and young people. However, research shows that perpetrators’ coercive and controlling behaviours impact on children, too.

Separately to the local authorities interviewed, 50 local authority websites were surveyed. 58 per cent either contained no information on services for children and young people at all, or simply signposted to national helplines and websites.

Most of the research participants felt that a statutory duty to provide services for affected children and young people, backed by adequate and sustainable funding, would help them plan, deliver and commission vital services.

Our recommendations

  1. The new government must introduce legislation to combat domestic abuse, specifically recognising and addressing the impact on children and their needs, without delay.
  2. They have to tackle the current pattern of piecemeal and patchy provision of services for children and young people impacted by domestic abuse. This could be done by introducing a properly funded statutory duty on local authorities and their partners in England to provide support to all children and young people affected.
  3. The relevant definition of harm to children in the Children Act (1989) – which works to ensure children are safeguarded and their wellbeing promoted – must be strengthened by explicitly taking account of the coercive and controlling aspects of domestic abuse.
Read our report