For a copy of the West Midlands Domestic Violence and Abuse Standards September 2015 please click on the image below
Domestic Violence has a major impact upon the health, well-being and education of children and young people. Current estimates suggest that between 33000 and 40000 children and young people in Birmingham will be directly affected by domestic violence.
Children & young people's experiences
Some children will have witnessed or heard the abuse, all will sense that their mother, or carer, is unhappy and some will themselves have been abused. All young people living in homes where domestic violence is prevalent will grow up in an atmosphere of fear, tension, intimidation and confusion. Most commonly, they may:
- Directly observe physical or sexual violence, by being in the same or next room, being woken, seeing their mothers in distress or injured
- Directly observe, and often experience, emotional violence and abuse
- Have been directly threatened, injured or abused, themselves
- Being forced to participate in the abuse and degradation by the abuser
- Live with secrecy and shame-whether it be keeping the violence a secret or where they have had to flee, keeping their past life a secret
- Feel that somehow it is their fault that it is happening
- Intervene (by calling the police or trying to protect their mum or other siblings) and get injured themselves
If they have to flee the violence, they will:
- Experience disruption of their home and schooling
- Experience loss of friends, pets or toys, of their routines and activities and of their father
- Often find themselves brought to the centre of the violence as the perpetrator seeks renewed control over contact with them
- The effects that Domestic Violence can have on children can vary and are normal responses to abnormal situations that children are experiencing.
Perpetuating abuse through children
Abusers often use children as a form of abusing their partner. This may include:
- Threats to harm the children
- Threats to report her to social services or police as an unfit mother
- Threats to abduct children if she leaves
- Saying that he will gain custody (residence) if she leaves
- Turning the children against their mother
- Constantly critical of her abilities as a mother/partner
- Withholding money
- Abusing the children physically, sexually or emotionally
- Abuse through child contact after separation
Mothers can be most vulnerable to serious violent assault in the period after separation. Child contact can be a mechanism for the abusive partner to locate the mother and children. Children can also be vulnerable to violent assault as a means of hurting their mother. Men who abuse their partners can also use contact with the children to hurt the mother by, for example verbally abusing the mother to the children or blaming her for the separation. Thus, through contact the children can be exposed to further physical, emotional or psychological harm.
Concerns of the Non-Abusing Parent
A parent experiencing domestic violence may have many concerns about her children. These include;
- Being prevented from taking the children with her if she leaves
- Worries over contact the children may have with the perpetrator
- Feeling she needs financial or practical support to look after the children
- Recognising that children have been traumatised by the domestic violence and wanting extra support for them
- Fear of abduction
Best practice in working with children affected by Domestic Violence
Birmingham violence against women and children Board and Birmingham Safeguarding Board have endorsed the following best practice in working with children who are affected by domestic violence:
- Do remember that your initial response is extremely important. Validate what the child is telling you, ensures/he knows that you are listening and that you believe what you are being told. Reassure the child that they have done the right thing in telling you and that Domestic Violence is not their fault
- Do be honest with the child from the outset; explain the limitations to confidentiality to ensure that the child can control what s/he tells you. Explain what you will do and how you will record any information given
- Do ensure that the child feels comfortable talking to you; give her/him your name and encourage the child to contact you again in the future should s/he need to. If the child wants you to contact her/him make sure that you have a safe way of doing this before agreeing to do so
- Do use language that is appropriate to the child's age and ability and ensure that you are not overloading the child with information. This is especially important when talking to children about confidentiality.
- Do listen for coded talking from children, don't assume or expect they will name things in the way that you do.
- Do be trustworthy in your work with children, do what you say you are going to do, set and maintain boundaries around your work and don't make promises you can't keep.
- Do allow the child to be in control wherever possible, offer choices, go at her/his pace; ask the child what they want to happen next and ask what you can do to help.
- Do allow children to be children and don't make them responsible for adult stuff!
- Do prepare yourself for disclosures of abuse and domestic violence; be aware of other organisations who can offer support. Where appropriate give the child contact telephone numbers for her/him to access in their own time and ensure that you are aware of out-of-hours support in the event of an emergency
- Do be aware of the link between Domestic Violence and Child Protection; be clear about your responsibilities with regard to child protection and ensure that the child understands what might happen.
- Do be non-judgemental in your response to children; respond to each child's individual needs and be aware that children's experiences will differ depending on ability, age, culture, ethnicity, gender, race, religion or sexuality.
- Do record any information you are given. This will validate what the child has told you and ensure continuity in support.
- Do develop links with other agencies working in this field and make the most of networking opportunities
- Do be aware of your own and your own organisations limitations; seek advice from other professionals and acknowledge that other services may be more appropriate
- Do follow up any referral that you have made with the organisation and the child, and ensure that the child understands what is going on throughout the process
- Do remember that often the best way to support children is to support the non-abusing parent/carer, who is usually mum.
It can be daunting for a child to disclose abuse because of the following fears and beliefs:
- They may feel the abuse is their fault
- They will get into trouble
- Nobody will believe them
- Nobody can stop it
- The abuse will get worse
- Their abuser will be sent to prison and it will be their fault
- Their mother and other people they love will be hurt if they tell
- They may feel the abuse is their fault
- They told before and nobody listened
- They will be taken into care
- Their abuser has said that they will hurt them if they tell
- They believe that this is what happens in families
- They love their dad
- They may blame their behaviour i.e. If I'm good they won’t do it again
- They may believe that they are a bad child
- They feel ashamed of what the abuser does
Family Common Assessment Framework (FCAF)
The Common Assessment Framework provides a universal assessment tool for early intervention for practitioners working with children, young people and their families. It provides an initial checklist to be used for assessing children the results of which highlight any additional or specialist support bringing together agencies to share information, undertake appropriate assessments and provide multi agency support.
The aims of CAF is to assess a child's needs at the first sign of difficulty so as to prevent a child's needs becoming more serious. This therefore provides a good opportunity to identify any domestic abuse that the child may be affected by in order to offer early integrated support to the child and the non-abusing parent.
Mothers and children who have experienced domestic violence will often be very isolated and may have trouble coming to terms with and talking together about the abuse they have experienced.
Specialist family support is available for women and children affected by domestic violence and living in the community through Women's Aid (city-wide).
In refuge, family support workers will offer a variety of children's services as well as supporting the relationship between mother and child/ren which may have been impaired by the abuse.
There are a many other services, which whilst not domestic violence specific, will have experience of domestic violence and if they can't deal themselves, will refer on to domestic violence services. Targeted Family Support Services and Children's Centres would often be the first port of call to access this type of support (See listings)
Children Accessing Support
Children can access support themselves through a number of services, such as Childline, Birmingham Signposting Services, Open Door Youth Counselling Service and Amazon. A new counselling service is about to start in Ashram for black and minority ethnic children who have experienced domestic violence.
The following websites are aimed specifically at children who have experienced domestic violence www.thehideout.org.uk
Where children have been more deeply emotionally affected by their experiences and need more intense support, the GP may consider a referral to the Child & Adolescent Mental Health Teams which aim to support, help and intervene with children and young people who are experiencing emotional and mental health problems.
Safeguarding Children - Acting on Concerns
Anyone who has concerns about a child should follow their agency's internal child protection procedures. Many agencies have designated staff able to offer advice and decide upon the necessity for a referral to MASH, or if it is outside of normal office hours to the Emergency Duty Team. If your agency does not have a designated person, it is always wise to refer to these teams if you are concerned about a child.
Where the survivor recognises that her child/ren maybe at risk of experiencing abuse or neglect or where she feels she needs additional support to protect her children, she may self-refer to the same teams.
Birmingham Safeguarding Children Board's Child Protection Procedures (2014) provide a practice framework for all agencies and professionals who work together to safeguard children in Birmingham.
Link Section 23 of the Child Protection Procedures, relating specifically to domestic violence
If there is a threat that the perpetrator may abduct the children, the following preventative steps could be taken:
- Seek legal help if possible, notifying a solicitor who may advise on seeking court orders to restrict the father's contact
- Keep the children's passport, birth certificate, medical cards and any court orders in a safe place
- If the child does not have a passport, the mother can lodge an objection with the passport office but will normally need a copy of a residency or prohibited steps order
- The mother should not agree to the father taking the children abroad
- Teachers should be informed not to hand over the children to the father, relatives or friends
- Keep recent photos and descriptions of the children and father
Domestic Violence Services:
Emergency refuge accommodation and Floating Support (outreach) please contact Birmingham Gateway on 0121 675 4249
Birmingham & Solihull Women’s Aid Helpline: 0808 800 0028 / www.bswaid.org
Rights of Women Legal Advice Line
Free confidential legal advice on family law, divorce and relationship breakdown, children and contact issues, domestic violence, sexual violence, discrimination and lesbian parenting. A number of fact sheets are available free to download.
Legal Advice Line: 020 7251 6577
National Domestic Violence Helpline 24 hour freephone
0808 2000 247
For male victims of domestic violence, contact:
M.A.L.E: Men's Advice Line & Enquiries
Confidential helpline for male victims of domestic violence whether in straight, gay, bi sexual or transgender relationship
Tel: 0808 801 0327
More information about your options can be found at www.womensaid.org.uk