The government is failing to see the full picture of the effects of domestic abuse on children, including its significant impact on children’s mental health, Barnardo’s has warned.
In its response to the consultation on the Domestic Abuse and Violence Bill, the leading children’s charity says children affected by domestic violence and abuse need specialist services to help them deal with trauma and have the chance to lead healthy and happy lives.
Research by Barnardo’s, which runs 14 specialist domestic abuse services, shows that children in families where there is domestic abuse are often also vulnerable in other ways and can be affected by the experience for the rest of their lives.
While services across the country focus primarily on working either with adult victims of domestic abuse or perpetrators, Barnardo’s says not enough is being done to address the trauma children have suffered and the long term impact abuse has on their lives.
More needs to be done to break the cycle of domestic abuse, the charity says, as children who are not supported have a high chance of going on to be perpetrators or victims themselves.
Almost 100% of practitioners in Barnardo’s domestic abuse services said children who are affected by domestic violence and abuse need a specialist support worker.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan said:
“Barnardo’s knows first-hand that children and young people are often the forgotten victims of domestic abuse. They are not just witnesses, even if abuse and violence isn’t aimed directly at them.
“Growing up in families where there is abuse or violence can lead to serious emotional effects which can stay with children for life.
“Research in our services shows many children who have been sexually exploited or who show harmful sexual behaviour live in households where there is abuse or violence. They are also more likely to be in abusive relationships themselves later in life.
“Children and young people need specialist support to overcome trauma and go on to lead happy, healthy lives and this bill is a missed opportunity to put them at the centre of their strategy.”
Barnardo’s works with victims, perpetrators and children in its specialist domestic abuse services, but the charity also works with children who are affected by domestic abuse in many of its other services.
Evidence from Barnardo’s Child Sexual Exploitation and Harmful Sexual Behaviour services shows that experience of domestic abuse is the most common characteristic in families where children and young people are sexually exploited or sexually harm other children.
Because of this Barnardo’s provides domestic abuse support in its broader services like child sexual exploitation and young carer services and children’s centres.
Barnardo’s surveyed its expert practitioners on domestic abuse as well as services that work on other vulnerabilities to fully understand the prevalence of domestic abuse within vulnerable children’s lives.
More than 90% of Barnardo’s specialist domestic abuse services said they see child neglect in families affected by domestic abuse and nearly 60% of child sexual exploitation and harmful sexual behaviour services said the families they work with are also affected by domestic abuse.
Barnardo’s practitioners said they regularly see children and young people with mental health issues, social isolation, anxiety and problems at school due to domestic abuse within the family.
An increasing amount of evidence shows children who experience stressful and poor quality childhoods are more likely to develop health-harming and anti-social behaviours, perform poorly in school, become involved in crime and less likely to be a productive member of society.
Barnardo’s is also calling for a joined-up governmental approach involving key departments including Health and Social Care, Education, Work and Pension and Housing, Communities and Local Government to tackle and prevent domestic abuse in the long term.