‘If adults are scared, how might children living with domestic abuse feel?’

With Ofsted planning joint area inspections on domestic abuse, here are some factors which social workers should consider when working on these complex cases.

scared child
Image: Fotolia/mizina (posed by model)

Analysis of serious case reviews suggests that practitioners do not always assess and follow through on all identified risks of domestic abuse. With Ofsted’s next ‘deep dive’ joint area inspections focusing on children living with domestic abuse, here are some factors which social workers should consider when working on these complex cases.

Professional judgment and domestic abuse
These points are taken from Community Care Inform Children’s Learn on your Lunch session, written by child protection trainer and consultant Perdeep Gill, which analyses problems with professional judgment arising from the Child K serious case review. Inform Children subscribers can view this article here.

  1. Multi-agency domestic abuse procedures can assume that protecting the adult victim will protect the child from harm – this is not necessarily the case. The philosophy that the best protection for the child is the protection of the mother also stops us from thinking about the mother as a possible abuser.
  2. Be careful not to focus solely on individual incidents of domestic abuse, rather than the history and the other issues and context.
  3. Are you or have you been intimidated by violent partners, and would you push to meet with them? If we as adults are scared, we need to think about how a child living in that situation might feel.
  4. Plan direct work with the child to make of sense of their lived experiences. The work needs to be thorough – lip service or surface questioning can make the risk greater for the child because it can give professionals false reassurance that the assessment has been done and the risk is low.
  5. The fact that someone is a victim can cloud professional judgment. Guard against over-identifying and losing your professional distance from victims, which can impact on your ability to prioritise the children.
  6. Do you use ‘easier’ labels like emotional harm and avoid confronting parents with the likelihood of physical abuse or sexual harm?
  7. Be careful not to be led by other agencies’ handling of domestic abuse incidents and child protections referrals. Also, do not make assumptions about other agencies’ knowledge and processes. This applies to all professionals but we need to be particularly mindful of the ‘imagined omnipotence’ of children’s services by other agencies if a family is known to us, that we are already aware of all issues.
  8. Referrals from multiple agencies about the same thing might be about the same incident but they might not. If assumptions are made and allegations not checked out, the escalation of abuse can be missed.

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One Response to ‘If adults are scared, how might children living with domestic abuse feel?’

  1. Olu Alake August 19, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

    Two years ago, Buttle UK launched The Anchor Project, funded by City Bridge Trust, to support children affected by domestic abuse that had recently been, or were in the process of being, rehoused or resettled. Working through various agencies (including social services as well as charities), we have now provided grants of up to £2,000 to over 250 children in the Greater London area. These grants have been for a variety of items and services as identified by the children working with their support workers to cover emotional, physical and educational needs. This, therefore, means that we have funded not just things such as household items critical for a child’s wellbeing (cookers, fridges, beds et al), but also such as toys, school uniforms and services including therapy (art, play, even equine!) and socialising and self-esteem developing activities such as swimming lessons, arts and drama clubs, music classes etc.

    Social services comprise a sizeable proportion of the agencies that refer cases to us. From our interactions with them in developing the grant packages, we have gained some very revealing insights into current practice, especially with regards to gaps in the information held and assumed by practitioners about the needs of children in these situations. We will be publishing an interim evaluation report of the project by the end of this year, which will hopefully crystallise some of the key lessons learnt in greater detail. Suffice to say that the factors identified in this article resonate very clearly with us, especially numbers 4 and 7. It would be great if practice guidelines could be modified to routinely address these factors in all cases.

    In the meantime, we would like to invite all London-based agencies to have a look at this grant programme and encourage you to make referrals to us. (Information here: http://www.buttleuk.org/areas-of-focus/domestic-abuse.) Please contact us at anchor@buttleuk.org or call Sonja on 020 7798 6221 for further information. Agencies who are working with families who are moving to London are also welcome to apply.