Shrinking violence

Every year in the UK, three million children and young people
witness domestic violence. It is believed that 90 per cent of all
domestic abuse, which can be emotional, physical, sexual or
psychological, takes place with a child either in the same room or
close enough by to be aware of what is happening.

Such an impact on children cannot be underestimated. As one child
refuge resident in Cheshire says: “No one thinks what effect it has
on kids. It doesn’t just affect the mother – it is also the kids.
Because they are the ones that have to see it and hear it.”

Cheshire police annually attend incidents in the homes of 10,000
children, which may well only be the tip of the iceberg as most
domestic abuse incidents do not come to the attention of police.
For the past eight years the Cheshire Domestic Abuse Partnership
has been raising awareness, providing information and carrying out
research and training.

One of its most successful and innovative strands has been its work
with the education department. “We have been part of the CDAP from
day one,” says Chris Greenwood, senior safeguarding children in
education adviser, who manages the family liaison team. “We felt
that within education we had a unique role. The young people of
today are the adults of tomorrow and if children can learn our
belief systems we might be able to head off domestic abuse in the

At first, Greenwood worked on a primary school project based around
a story of bullying rather than direct domestic violence. She says:
“We found schools latched on to that because bullying is a subject
they work with. If we had gone in with a domestic violence project
we may well have faced barriers.”

Cheshire recognises that children with experience of domestic abuse
are classed as a group of vulnerable children in their own right
(along with young offenders, children in care, travellers and so
on). “This means we are able to bid for funds to provide a range of
services including training, one-to-one sessions and some work on
emotional literacy and challenging attitudes to violence,” says

Part of this has been to raise awareness among teachers of
potential indicators of domestic abuse. “One of the rewarding
things for me is that the message is getting out there,” says Sally
Starborg, family liaison worker and CDAP trainer. “Schools are
recognising that certain behaviour may be caused by domestic abuse.
It also means that children are getting a much more sympathetic
response. In turn, schools are also being seen as safe places to

Jenny Corless, a children’s worker at Deva women’s refuge, agrees:
“We’ve got some new children in the refuge and the teachers have
been so sensitive to and aware of their needs. They got everything
ready for them; they told mum that if she didn’t want to leave and
wanted to watch through the classroom window to make sure that they
are settled, she could do. They gave mum the school phone number
and said they didn’t mind how often she called. It works really

Children in refuges, while waiting for more permanent arrangements
to be sorted, can travel to their school by taxi. “We have a small
pot of money that we can use for that,” says Greenwood. “And that’s
been great because it has helped keep a bit of normality in their
lives: once they’re out of school the drift sets in.”

While recognising that men and partners in same-sex relationships
can also be victims of abuse, CDAP understands the pivotal role of
the mother. “With all this work with children what we have to
remember is that we have no access to them without access through
mum – which is either through the refuge or outreach service,” says
CDAP chair Sue Bridge.

Greenwood agrees: “If the non-abusing parent, which is usually the
mother, isn’t receiving support, any work we do with the children
will just unravel.”

Lessons learned 

  • Keep things credible. CDAP commissioned a writer to come up
    with stories and dramas and consulted with people living in a
    refuge: “We wanted to make sure we were giving out the right
    messages and ones that children would be receptive to,” says
  • Highlight the importance of talking. “We’re not the school and
    we’re not the parents so we can be someone that the child wants to
    talk to,” says Starborg. “Sometimes they don’t want to burden the
    mother; they don’t want to talk to the school because it’s
  • Recognise children affected by domestic violence as a
    vulnerable group. “Our work narrows the educational gap between
    certain vulnerable groups of children and the rest of the
    population,” says Greenwood.

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