Domestic Abuse

Safeguarding Network

February 2024 - 6 minute read

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Introduction

Domestic abuse affects all parts of society, regardless of perceived social status, type of relationship (e.g., same sex or heterosexual), gender identity, cultural or religious background. Where there is domestic abuse in the family the children suffer.

Many children in Britain live with domestic abuse and are physically and emotionally hurt as a result, the consequences being wide-ranging. They see parents or carers suffer, often at the hands of someone else they love. They suffer physical, sexual and emotional abuse themselves. Sometimes they are forced into colluding with the violent partner; sometimes they feel deeply responsible for the non-abusing parent or carer, or their brothers and sisters.

Children can be further affected when adult victims of domestic abuse sometimes find it difficult to be the caring, supportive parents they want to be, even after leaving the abusive relationship, because they have been hurt and traumatised by their experiences.

Always ask yourself – “What is it like to be a child living in that household?”

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Definition of domestic abuse

Domestic abuse is ‘any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are “personally connected” and the behaviour is abusive. Abuse can be direct or indirect (e.g., through a child). Children can be victims if they are related and see, hear or experience the abuse.

adapted from the Domestic Abuse: Statutory Guidance

Domestic abuse is more than physical

Domestic abuse is not just physical violence, hence the move from talking about domestic violence to talking about domestic abuse. Many people experiencing violence report the psychological and emotional impact as having a greater impact. Many people are manipulated and abused without physical violence. All of these experiences have an impact on children and young people.

Domestic abuse also falls within wider Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) and Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse (APVA) strategies.

Statistics

  • At least 1-in-4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.
  • Around 1-in-7 men will be victims of domestic abuse.
  • We think 1-in-5 children have been exposed to domestic abuse.

We know that there is a high degree of under-reporting from both males and females, which is linked to many different factors, including shame and blaming themselves for their partner’s behaviour, and believing that it is an inherent part of the relationship. This means that accurate figures are likely to be significantly higher.

Data in the UK suggests that, on average, victims will live with domestic abuse for around 3 years before getting help. Domestic and sexual violence or abuse can be persistent with the highest repeat victimisation of any crime.

National figures indicate that nearly three-quarters of children with a child protection plan live in households where domestic abuse occurs. The impact of violence and abuse can be devastating. Many victims suffer physical harm, which is fatal in extreme cases. Death may result from the violence itself or through suicide because the abuse and subsequent mental illness have made their life difficult to bear. Other victims may lose their homes, be unable to hold down a job or a relationship and become isolated from friends and family. Children may also be at risk, either by witnessing violence or by being victims of abuse themselves.

Almost a quarter of all children will have been exposed to physical violence and/or threatening behaviour by an adult partner or ex-partner to their parent (NSPCC).

Impact on children and young people

Children are suffering multiple physical and mental health consequences as a result of exposure to domestic abuse. Children see parents or carers suffer, often at the hands of someone else they love. They suffer physical, sexual and emotional abuse themselves. Sometimes they are forced into colluding with the violent partner; sometimes they feel deeply responsible for the non-abusing parent or carer, or for their brothers and sisters. Children can be further affected when adult victims of domestic abuse sometimes find it difficult to be the caring, supportive parents they would want to be, even after leaving the abusive relationship, because they have been hurt and traumatised by their experiences.

Amongst other impacts, over half (52%) had behavioural problems, over a third (39%) had difficulties adjusting at school, and nearly two-thirds (60%) felt responsible for negative events. A quarter of both boys and girls exposed to domestic abuse exhibit abusive behaviours themselves and children were more likely to show abusive behaviours after exposure to the domestic abuse had ended.

In relationships where there is domestic violence, children witness about three-quarters of the abusive incidents. About half the children in such families have themselves been badly hit or beaten. Sexual abuse and emotional abuse are also more likely to happen in these families.

Spot the signs

Children or young people may:

  • be wary of adults;
  • be aggressive, act out witnessed events;
  • have difficulty concentrating;
  • have difficulty developing relationships;
  • reduce attendance at education and/or attainment;
  • develop an eating disorder;
  • have poor self-esteem, depression or anxiety;
  • self-harm;
  • misuse alcohol or other substances;
  • enter into inappropriate relationships;
  • be at risk of sexual abuse.

Why don’t they leave/why don’t they tell?

Abuse often gets worse over time. By the time somebody decides they no longer want to be in a relationship, it can be very difficult to get out. They might stay because they:

  • are too scared to leave;
  • don’t have money or anywhere else to go;
  • worry about taking their children out of school and moving them;
  • no longer have the strength to leave;
  • hope that the abuse will stop.

What to do

Prevention

  • Ensure all staff understand and can apply the wider definition of domestic abuse. We offer a challenging e-learning package that is relevant to anyone working in education for £27 + VAT per person (99p + VAT for Safeguarding Network members). Click here to find out more.
  • Work on relationships through PHSE but also through a wider promotion of gender equality across the setting, including equality in same-sex relationships. This links closely with the work on bullying.
  • Create discussions and opportunities to reflect on developing relationships between young people.
  • Raise awareness of domestic abuse among children and young people, people to talk to if they are worried and peer-to-peer work on ensuring safety in relationships is supported by a culture that reaches beyond the setting.

Response

When you become aware of domestic abuse in a child’s home a multi-agency approach is necessary. The team around the child should:

  • provide practical, age-appropriate help for the child with safety planning.
  • consider what support you can provide to the victim of abuse.
  • not neglect to work with the abuser where it is safe to do so. If it is not safe to do this work, is it safe for the child?
  • try to understand the factors that make abuse more likely, but hold a clear value base that does not blame the victim.
  • seek therapeutic support to help the child with feelings of blame and guilt, healthy relationships, abusive behaviour and how to resolve conflict.
  • provide other relevant interventions around the child based on their risk and need – refer to your local safeguarding partnership threshold tool.
  • report all concerns to your DSL. If there is a risk of immediate harm call the police.
  • keep taking action until you know children and young people are safe.

Free domestic abuse poster

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DSL Training Materials

  • Domestic abuse scenario (secondary schools) – DSL information sheet

  • Expect Respect Healthy Relationships Toolkit

  • Domestic Abuse Scenario – Care settings – DSL Information Sheet

  • Domestic Abuse Scenario – care settings

  • Domestic Abuse Scenario – Early Years settings – DSL Information Sheet

  • Domestic Abuse Scenario – Early years settings

  • Domestic Abuse Scenario – 16+ settings – DSL Information Sheet

  • Domestic Abuse Scenario – 16+ settings

  • Domestic Abuse Scenario – SEND Settings – DSL Information Sheet

  • Domestic Abuse Scenario – SEND Settings

  • Presentation: Domestic abuse

  • Domestic abuse scenario (secondary schools)

  • Domestic abuse scenario (primary schools) – DSL information sheet

  • Domestic abuse scenario (primary schools)

  • Domestic Abuse – Quiz (answers)

  • Domestic Abuse – Quiz

  • Handout for staff

  • Introduction to Domestic Abuse e-learning

  • Presenter Notes: Domestic abuse

Resources

  • Operation Encompass – information for schools

  • Teenspeak: About domestic abuse

  • Live Fear Free – The Effect of Domestic Abuse on Children

  • Information guide: adolescent to parent violence and abuse (APVA)

  • In plain sight: Effective help for children exposed to domestic abuse

  • Introduction to Domestic Abuse e-learning

  • “Are they shouting because of me?”

  • Coercive control: ‘I was 16 and thought it was normal’ – BBC video

  • CPV – Child to Parent Violence

  • CPV Information – Family Lives

  • Spotlight: The podcast for the domestic abuse sector

  • Ask Ani - Postcode Checker

  • For Baby’s Sake

  • Is my Behaviour Abusive?

  • Parental Relationships Spectrum

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