Domestic abuse

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

Safeguarding Network provides resource pages on all the main themes required by Keeping Children Safe in Education. On this page, you will also be able to access the Domestic Abuse training packs included in our paid membership packages. This includes a quiz, ready-made staff presentation, staff handout, scenarios and possible responses for the Designated Safeguarding Lead.

We have chosen to offer our Domestic Abuse Training Pack as a free sample because we know that domestic abuse often underpins many of the safeguarding issues DSLs will face, and these resources are too important not to share.

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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 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.

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 (2022)

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Domestic abuse poster

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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 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.


  • 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, this being linked to many different factors including shame, blaming themselves for their partner’s behaviour, believing that it is an inherent part of the relationship.  This therefore means that the real 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 frequent and 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 has made their life difficult to bear. Other victims may lose their home, 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 from 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… 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.

This page is just one of the many resource pages that you will get if you subscribe to Safeguarding Network.  To see what other topics we have covered, visit our resources page, or click the button below to find out more about subscribing to Safeguarding Network.

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Risk factors associated with the perpetrator

  • History physical or sexual assault;
  • escalation and use of weapons or strangulation;
  • previous child or animal abuse;
  • possessiveness, jealousy or stalking;
  • substance abuse;
  • mental ill health.
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Risk factors associated with the victim or survivor

  • Isolation of from friends or family;
  • current or imminent separation;
  • child disputes;
  • pregnancy;
  • disability;
  • poor mental or physical health;
  • substance misuse.

Spotting the signs

Children or young people may …

  • be wary of adults;
  • be aggressive, acting out witnessed events;
  • have difficulty concentrating;
  • have difficulty developing relationships;
  • reduce attendance and/or attainment;
  • develop an eating disorder;
  • have low 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 you can do - prevention

  • Ensure all staff understand and can apply the wider definition of domestic abuse. We offer a challenging elearning package that is relevant to anyone working in a school for £27+VAT per person (99p + VAT for safeguarding network members). Click here to find out more.
  • Work on relationships through PHSE but although through a wider promotion of gender equality across the school, 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 supported by a culture that reaches beyond the school.


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What you can do - response

Where 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.
  • don’t neglect working 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 risk of immediate harm call the police.
  • keep taking action until you know they’re safe.
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  • NEW

    Operation Encompass – information for schools

    For those signed up to the scheme, Operation Encompass has information on their website about what schools should do following a notification. There are also details of their teachers’ helpline which provides FREE access to educational or clinical psychologists to talk through how you can support the children at your setting who are experiencing domestic abuse.

  • Teenspeak: About domestic abuse

    Link to video clip on You Tube published by Women’s Aid where teenagers and others talk about the experience of domestic abuse.  Can be used as a clip to generate discussion about what is happening along with associated thoughts and feelings (note: this is an external link and may contain adverts over which Safeguarding Network have no control).

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

    You Tube video published by the Welsh Government about the impact of abuse on younger children.

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

    There is currently no legal definition of adolescent to parent violence and abuse. However, it is increasingly recognised as a form of domestic violence and abuse and, depending on the age of the child, it may fall under the government’s official definition of domestic violence and abuse.  This government produced guide aims to provide information and guidance around recognising APVA and what to do.

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

    Report by CAADA (now SafeLives) looking at the impact on children of domestic abuse.  Looks at what children are living with, how we can identify children who may need support and how we can provide effective support to children.

  • Introduction to Domestic Abuse e-learning

    Access our e-learning course developed with domestic abuse services. This course looks at what is meant by domestic abuse, signs, symptoms and how to respond.

  • “Are they shouting because of me?”

    A report published by the Children’s Commissioner’s Office gives children’s views and descriptions about what it is like growing up in households where there is the combination of parental mental health issues, parental substance misuse and domestic abuse.

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

    The difference between a healthy relationship and an abusive one isn’t always obvious – especially when the lasting impact isn’t as visible as a bruise – but it can be just as damaging.  In this documentary, a group of young people discuss and debate whether or not a fictional case, is legally coercive control. Throughout the show the common stigmas and myths around emotional abuse are highlighted and dispelled.

  • CPV – Child to Parent Violence

    South Tyneside Safeguarding Board have a useful guide which may help with CPV.

  • CPV Information – Family Lives

    An article published by which has some useful information & support on CPV (child to parent violence).

  • Spotlight: The podcast for the domestic abuse sector

    SafeLives have produced a series of podcasts looking at different aspects of domestic abuse, including considering the impacts of domestic abuse and looking at the voices of boys and men.

  • Ask Ani—Postcode Checker

    Ask ANI is a codeword scheme operating in thousands of pharmacies and some jobcentres to allow victims of domestic abuse to confidentially access immediate help and support in a safe space. Use the postcode checker to locate the nearest participating jobcentre or pharmacy.

  • For Baby’s Sake

    This short film from the For Baby’s Sake Trust showcases the domestic abuse experiences of parents in their own words. The aim of the film is to show how the cycle of domestic abuse can be broken to allow children the best possible start in life.

  • Is my Behaviour Abusive?

    In this short film from Best Beginnings, a dad talks about how he sought help with his abusive behaviour, and domestic abuse experts explain how to recognise if your behaviour is abusive.

  • Parental Relationships Spectrum

    This tool by the For Baby’s Sake Trust, is designed to help professionals and families to distinguish between healthy, conflictual and abusive relationships.

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