Nearly two thirds of children exposed to domestic abuse have been directly harmed, but only half are known to social services, research has revealed.
The study, published today by the charity Coordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse (CAADA), is based on a sample of 877 children receiving support from four specialist domestic abuse services across England. It found a clear link between domestic abuse in adult relationships and direct harm to children.
As well as witnessing the abuse of a parent, 62% of the children had experienced direct abuse in the form of physical abuse, emotional abuse or neglect. Despite this, just over half (54%) of these children were known to children’s social care services.
In most of the incidents the child abuse was perpetrated by the same person responsible for abusing the adult victim: usually the child’s father or their mother’s male partner.
The research also revealed the impact of witnessing domestic abuse, with half (52%) of the children displaying behavioural problems, 39% experiencing difficulties adjusting to school and 60% saying they felt responsible for what was happening at home.
A quarter of the children displayed abusive behaviour, usually directed towards their mother, sibling or friend, rather than the abuse perpetrator.
Although only around half the children were previously known to children’s social care, 80% were known to at least one public agency. They were therefore ‘in plain sight’ and able to be identified, the research stated.
The charity estimates 130,000 children are at high risk of serious harm or death from domestic abuse, while hundreds of thousands more are exposed to abuse at lower risk levels. It warned the risks faced by children are “insufficiently visible” to safeguarding teams because of a lack of understanding about domestic abuse among services and practitioners.
The report’s recommendations for local authorities include:
- Create a network of nominated lead professionals on domestic abuse and safeguarding across all agencies who work with families, with a shared understanding of risk assessment.
- Provide linked specialist domestic abuse services for adults and children.
- Monitor provision and outcomes for children exposed to domestic abuse.
Diana Barran, chief executive of CAADA, said: “Domestic abuse is a factor in the background of two thirds of serious case reviews. A number of these have made the headlines recently, including the tragic cases of Daniel Pelka and Hamzah Khan.
“For too long, services have worked in silos, with different assessments of risk around adult domestic abuse and children’s safeguarding.
“To prevent further needless deaths, leadership is needed to move agencies from a culture of referrals to one of proactive and effective joint action.”