For National Safeguarding Month 2018, our Safeguarding Manager, Daniel Jarrett, has put together a guide to supporting children experiencing domestic abuse.
Domestic violence and abuse is defined by the UK government as any incident, or pattern of incidents, of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional. The above definition was updated in 2012 to ensure that victims / survivors aged 16 or 17 were recognised. The extension was introduced to increase awareness that young people in this age-group experience domestic violence and abuse, and to encourage more to come forward and access the support they need.
A recent report by the Local Government Association produced this year found that half of all children that are referred to social care have experienced or witnessed domestic violence. This comes at a time when local authorities continue to struggle with budget cuts and are sometimes only able to deal with ‘urgent’ situations rather than ensuring vital early intervention work is provided. According to the same report, a child is referred to social care every 49 seconds and councils began more than 500 child protection investigations every day last year – up from 200 a decade ago.
Domestic abuse continues to largely be a hidden crime, taking place primarily within the home. Individuals do not often report or disclose abuse to the police. Despite this, figures released by the Office for National Statistics in November 2017 showed alarming results:
● An estimated 1.9 million adults aged 16 to 59 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year, according to the year ending March 2017 Crime Survey for England and Wales (1.2 million women, 713,000 men).
● There were 46 arrests per 100 domestic abuse-related crimes recorded by 39 police forces in the year ending June 2017.
● The majority of victims of domestic homicides recorded between April 2013 and March 2016 were females (70%).
According to a recent report by Women’s Aid entitled Survival & Beyond, only 28% of women who use community-based services reported domestic violence, while 43.7% reported who used refuges. The report further details that even fewer women had seen criminal sanctions or a criminal case against the perpetrator: 13.2% of community-based service users and 17% of women resident in refuges.
In November 2017, the UK government proposed changes to the way refuges and other short-term housing options are funded for women fleeing domestic violence. The proposed changes mean that residents would not be able to use housing benefit to pay for their accommodation. The UK government has suggested handing money for short-term housing directly to local authorities; however, this would not directly cover refuges and as the majority of women using refuges come from outside of the borough, local authorities may be reluctant to use the proposed grant on out-of-borough individuals.
I began working with a mother and her 4 children at the beginning of a school-term. The family had called the police due to receiving numerous threatening phone-calls and letters from the mother’s ex-partner and the children’s father (named as perpetrator in the following case study). The mother and children were in constant fear of the perpetrator and were taking all means necessary to reduce the risk of seeing him in the local community. The mother rarely left the house, the children were accompanied to school or went by taxi, and the family stayed at home at weekends, having little contact with their local community.
During the initial home-visit, the mother explained that the perpetrator had threatened to kill her on several occasions in the past and had also harmed their pets and approached the house on several occasions, kicking the door and throwing large stones against the windows.
As a result of perceived risk to the family during the initial home-visit, I immediately completed a DASH (Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Honour Based Violence) assessment with the mother. The assessment met the threshold for a referral to the local MARAC (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference) meeting where the risk to the family could be discussed and information collated about the perpetrator from a range of different sources and agencies, including health, children’s services, police and domestic abuse specialists.
Alongside the MARAC meeting, I also completed an urgent referral to a local domestic violence organisation who could support the mother in accessing a solicitor who could support her in applying for an NMO (Non-Molestation Order) which would prohibit the perpetrator from approaching the property or contacting the family. The MARAC professionals determined that a supporting letter would be written by the police advising the local authority housing department to prioritise the family to be rehoused outside of their current borough as this was the only way that the family’s well-being could be safeguarded. However, moving the family out of borough was not going to be immediate and therefore a safety plan also needed to be developed with the family. Special measures were also placed on the family’s property, which meant that the police would respond immediately if they were called.
Within a few weeks, the mother was successful in obtaining an NMO which reduced her anxiety a little and the family began to feel comfortable in re-engaging in some community activities. The children’s attendance gradually increased as their anxiety also reduced and through accessing the SHS Welfare Fund, I was able to organise for the family to safely attend a play in central London, something they had never done previously due to the fear of seeing the perpetrator.
Through constant follow up emails and telephone calls with the housing department advising them of the urgency of moving the family, they eventually found a suitable property a long way outside of the borough. The family viewed the property and, although they were anxious of leaving family members behind, they accepted the property and moved immediately.
Careful consideration and planning was done with the family on ensuring that the perpetrator would not be able to locate them moving forward and support was also provided in ensuring the children were quickly registered at another school and the mother could access local support to help them settle in their new community.
As shown in the case study above, it’s crucial to ensure that the safety of children and families experiencing domestic violence is assessed properly and the appropriate referrals made to children’s services, police, MARAC, legal agencies, and local domestic violence organisations. Effective safety plans with families are also important and victims should be aware of emergency numbers to call and safe places to go.
Proposed changes to the law and government funding relating to domestic violence and refuges are still being debated and several organisations listed below are gathering signatures opposing these changes.
End Violence Against Women
The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) is a UK-wide coalition of people and organisations lobbying government and trying to change the debate on ending violence against all women and girls
London VAWG Consortium
Ascent is a project undertaken by the London VAWG Consortium, delivering a range of services for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, under six themes, funded by London Councils
Refuge supports women, children & men with a range of services,including refuges, independent advocacy, community outreach & culturally specific services
SafeLives DASH Assessment
Launched in 2008, the United Nations Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign aims to raise public awareness and increase political will and resources for preventing and ending all forms of violence against women and girls in all parts of the world
A grassroots federation working together to provide life-saving services and build a future where domestic violence is not tolerated
*Any names have been changed