Urgent funding is needed for children and young people who witness domestic abuse as long term impact is damaging, charity warns.

Independent charity, Victim Support is calling for an end to the postcode lottery for children exposed to domestic abuse after its new report reveals that many of them live in areas where there is little or no support available.

Worryingly, the research found that the children and young people who witness domestic abuse normalise their situation, thinking that it is not bad enough to seek help.

Many of them do not report incidences out of fear that the perpetrator will become aware, or that social services will become involved.

The report, ‘Restoring trust. Children Witnessing Domestic Abuse: Learnings for Support Services,’ examines the impact of domestic violence between adults and the harm it causes to children and young people’s physical and mental health.

The impact is so severe, it is similar to that experienced by children who are direct victims of abuse, yet the serious harm it causes to emotional and physical wellbeing is often overlooked or not responded to.

The research also found that the child and young person’s behaviour changed significantly as a result of witnessing domestic abuse, with participants reporting that the child became either angry and aggressive, or quiet and withdrawn.

The report warns that there is an urgent need for local commissioners to act now and fund specialist services, particularly when demand for support from victims and survivors of domestic abuse with children is at such high levels as a result of the pandemic.

Valerie Wise, Victim Support’s National Domestic Abuse Lead, said: “Despite the overwhelming research which recommends tailored interventions and support programmes for children and young people who witness domestic abuse, there is still a lack of services available that address their needs, especially at a time where we’ve seen levels of domestic abuse exacerbated by the pandemic.

“Many children and young people who live in homes where domestic violence and abuse is taking place are carrying the mental scars that will significantly impact their adult lives; this cannot be underestimated. There needs to be a sense of greater urgency from local agencies and commissioners to tackle this epidemic and keep children safe.

“We urge authorities across the country to work together to ensure essential services are in place that  reduce the young person’s risk of harm, and increase their ability to cope with the trauma of witnessing domestic abuse.”

Anonymised quotes from the participants of the study which involved Domestic Abuse Advocates, safe parents and a young person, include:

  • “My eldest daughter was wetting the bed every single night for four years.” Safe parent of 5 and 7 year old
  • “I think my youngest daughter was worried, if she talked to people, it would get her in trouble, especially with Daddy [perpetrator].” Safe parent of 7 and 9 year old
  • “I saw she [the child] was getting quite emotional and very attached to me. I could see that she felt like she was having to protect me in a way, because she was getting her cuddly toys and bringing it to me saying, ‘Cuddle this. It will make you feel better’. She became quite attached.” Safe parent of 5 year old
  • “She [child] was normally a bubbly person. She liked to speak a lot. She would like to be around you. But since that [DA] happened, she didn’t want to be around anybody. She would keep herself to herself.” Safe parent of 9 year old
  • I could see that my eldest was really struggling with stuff that she hadn’t struggled with before. And my youngest, she literally had a mental block. One day she could read a book, and the next day she couldn’t even recognise a letter. It literally just happened really, really quickly.” Safe parent of 5 and 7 year old
  • “I was working on a case where the child had witnessed, domestic abuse, an altercation between mum and the alleged perpetrator… The child did have a really good relationship with mum previously. Because she had internalised her emotions, she had actually become very aggressive in the family home, consequently, leading to physically assaulting the younger siblings and even assaulting mum.” Domestic Abuse Advocate
  • “Very young children, they could actually have a short attention span as a result of what they’ve witnessed or experienced. That could actually, then, have a domino effect on their focus which then will have an effect on their performance and attainment levels [in school].” Domestic Abuse Advocate 1

The report comes after the charity piloted a service that directly addressed the needs of children and young people who witnessed domestic abuse. The support provided by the service played a significant role in promoting recovery and healing.

In a series of recommendations aimed at local agencies and commissioners, the report highlights the need to map out and identify the gaps in service provisions so that the trauma of being exposed to domestic abuse at a young age can be recognised and responded to.

For more information, please contact Victim Support’s press office, press@victimsupport.org.uk or call 07766 070660.