Children removed from homes where domestic violence was present are being forced to stay in contact with violent parents against their will, according to a report published by Refuge and the NSPCC.
The report, published today, said moving far away from abusive partners did not ensure protection for mothers or their children if the violent father continued to have a presence in the family’s life as a result of child contact arrangements.
“There is no research evidence to suggest any shift in family court culture away from preserving contact between children and violent parents, even when this is not what the children themselves want,” the report stated.
Children interviewed by Refuge and the NSPCC reported mixed views about this contact. Some wanted to see their father, provided he stopped being abusive, while others were afraid and wanted their mother to keep their father away.
The report said courts and family lawyers needed to be more willing to stop contact from happening in circumstances where a child’s safety could not be guaranteed. It also highlighted reports from social workers and professionals saying there was a “severe shortage” of services to support safe supervised contact for children.
NSPCC chief executive Andrew Flanagan said: “Gaps in services come from gaps in knowledge. It is only through listening to children living in homes with domestic violence or with a mother who has fled violence that shortfalls in keeping children safe can be addressed.
“These children have witnessed or continue to witness severe abuse. Any resulting negative psychological and social impacts can be reduced with the right support. But services will never get it right if they never ask children and young people what they actually need and want.”
The report said the age limit on boys entering refuges presented some mothers with the difficult choice of going into a refuge without their teenage sons if alternative accommodation could not be found.
Creative partnerships between refuge service providers, housing associations and local authorities could lead to the combination of safe community-based housing and domestic violence outreach services, the report said.
Of the survey responses by service users and professionals, 86% identified gaps in domestic violence services for children. The most frequently mentioned holes were in counselling, group work and school-based prevention activities.
Mothers reported difficulties in securing timely access to children’s services, in particular to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).
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