We’ve been calling on the Government to recognise and address the impact of domestic abuse on children.

When we talk about the impact of domestic abuse on children, we mean the effect that living in a household where one adult is being abusive and possibly violent to another adult would have on a child. We do not generally mean the direct abuse of a child, but more the impact of exposure to abuse, violence and coercive and controlling behaviours, and this should not be underestimated.

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As many as one in five children have been exposed to domestic abuse.[1] Domestic violence is also the most common factor identified at the end of social care assessments for children in need; in 2017/18, more than half of all assessments had domestic violence identified as a factor.[2]

Action for Children is part of a group of leading organisations from the children’s, domestic abuse and Violence Against Women and Girls sectors, who have come together to urge Government to address the needs of children affected by domestic abuse.

With the announcement of the December 2019 election, the Domestic Abuse Bill was lost. The Bill offered a crucial opportunity to introduce a statutory duty on local authorities and their partners to provide support for children and young people impacted by domestic abuse.

The new government must introduce similar, strengthened legislation without delay. Action for Children wants to ensure that:

  • Specialist support services for children are made available in all local areas.

  • Frontline practitioners and public authorities recognise children as victims of the domestic abuse that occurs in their household. This could be done through new legislation that makes clear that children are also victims of domestic abuse.

  • The Children Act (1989) is strengthened to take greater account of forms of domestic abuse like coercive control and the fact that children do not merely ‘see or hear’ the ill-treatment of others but are directly impacted themselves.

Find out more:

We will continue to work to ensure that any future domestic abuse legislation recognises children as victims of domestic abuse, and provides them with the support they desperately need.

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Why is this important?

Children affected by domestic abuse need support to process their experiences, and to develop an understanding of healthy relationships. Research by SafeLives demonstrates that specialist children’s services, like Children’s Independent Domestic Violence Advisors offering emotional and practical support, reduce the impact of domestic abuse and improve children’s safety and health outcomes.[3] Their role in early intervention and prevention is particularly crucial: abusive behaviour in children exposed to domestic abuse dropped from 24% to 7% after receiving appropriate support.[4]

However, the percentage of specialist domestic abuse services providing dedicated support to children and young people fell from 62% in 2010 to 52% in 2017.[5] Government must ensure that effective, specialist services are available for all children who have experienced domestic abuse.

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Action for Children’s services

Action for Children provides crucial support to children who have experienced domestic abuse. We deliver a small number of dedicated domestic abuse services, including one offering specialist counselling to children aged four to 16. We also support survivors and their children through our more general family support services and children’s centres.

Children using our counselling service report that their emotional wellbeing and family relationships have improved since the counselling sessions.

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

Young Person

Grace’s story

Grace's story demonstrates the impact that domestic abuse can have on children.

Please note that this video contains references to rape and suicide.

[1] NSPCC (2011), Child Abuse and Neglect in the UK Today. Available online at: https://learning.nspcc.org.uk/media/1042/child-abuse-neglect-uk-today-research-report.pdf

[2] Department for Education (2018), ‘Characteristics of children in need: 2017 to 2018’. Available online at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/762527/Characteristics_of_children_in_need_2017-18.pdf

[3] Safe Lives (2014), In plain sight: Effective help for children exposed to domestic abuse.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Women’s Aid (2018), Survival and Beyond: The Domestic Abuse Report 2017. Bristol: Women’s Aid. Available online at: https://1q7dqy2unor827bqjls0c4rn-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Survival-and-Beyond.pdf