Domestic abuse: keeping children safe

With your help, we’ve won important rights for children. But there’s more to do to keep young people safe

Imagine living in a household where one adult is abusive or violent to another adult. Now imagine living in that household as a terrified and helpless child.

Being exposed to abuse, violence and coercive and controlling behaviours has a devastating and life-long impact on children and young people.

The changes we’ve won are only the first step. Support for child victims of domestic abuse isn’t up to scratch yet. With your help, we can change that.

Scared boy on staircase

How children are harmed by domestic abuse

Research by NSPCC shows one in five children are exposed to domestic abuse.

While we’re not focusing on the direct abuse of children, even witnessing it causes significant harm to young people.

For example, where one parent or partner is abusive towards the other, it can stop a child from visiting other family or going to a friend’s house.

Domestic abuse charity Safe Lives highlights the connection between domestic abuse and the direct harm of children. For example, through neglect or physical or emotional abuse.

And, according to the Department for Education, domestic violence is the most common factor identified at the end of social care assessments for children in need.

Worried looking girl

We can change this

Action for Children is part of a group of leading organisations with expertise in children’s issues, domestic abuse and Violence Against Women and Girls.

We’re coming together to urge Government to address the needs of children affected by domestic abuse. We need change now.

The Domestic Abuse Bill currently passing through Parliament is a crucial opportunity to ensure children affected by domestic abuse get the help they need.

Action for Children is calling for the Bill to ensure that:

  • Specialist support services for children are made available in all local areas. Our research found that children affected by domestic abuse struggle to get support in two thirds of local authorities.
  • Frontline practitioners and public authorities recognise children as victims of the domestic abuse that occurs in their household. This could be achieved by changing the proposed statutory definition of domestic abuse to recognise that children experience domestic abuse too.

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boy staring up at camera

Why is this important?

Children affected by domestic abuse need support to process their experiences, and to develop an understanding of healthy relationships.

For instance, children exposed to domestic abuse sometimes copy these behaviours themselves. A report by Safe Lives shows that proper support can reduce this.

Despite this, the number of specialist domestic abuse services providing dedicated support to children and young people has plummeted.

And our research shows the provision of support for children affected by domestic abuse across England and Wales is patchy, piecemeal and precarious.

On top of all this, services now face disruption and reduced funding because of coronavirus.

How we’re supporting children right now

The government must take a stand to protect more children. In the meantime, we’re here to support those affected by domestic abuse.

We deliver a small number of dedicated domestic abuse services, including one offering specialist counselling to children aged four to 16.

Children using our counselling service report that their emotional wellbeing and family relationships improve as a result of these sessions.

In the sessions, I have learned to forget the bad things and concentrate on the good things in my life.

Young person

We also support survivors and their children through our more general family support services and children’s centres.