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In plain sight: Effective help for children exposed to domestic abuse

This is CAADA’s second national policy report, in which we build on our rich picture of the experience of adult victims, and publish for the first time compelling new evidence from our Children’s Insights dataset. The findings reveal a troubling picture of harm experienced by children exposed to domestic abuse. Behind the statistics in this report lie hundreds of thousands of damaged young lives. Our recommendations aim to respond to their calls for help and to put an end to both their sense of isolation and the abuse that they live with.

Sadly, this report is timely: a number of Serious Case Reviews involving children and domestic abuse have made the headlines in recent months, including the tragic cases of Daniel Pelka and Hamzah Khan. These act as a stark reminder that we all need to recognise the risks faced by children exposed to domestic abuse if we are to prevent further needless deaths in the future. Indeed, a third of the children in this report also lived with parental mental ill-health and/or substance misuse, both adding to the gravity of their situation.

It has long been established that children who witness domestic abuse experience a range of harm. What is new in ‘In plain sight’ is the specific evidence showing in detail the overlap between domestic abuse and direct emotional and physical harm, the substantial number of children ‘acting out’ abusive behaviour and the numbers who are not known to children’s social care: almost half.

What is also new is the scale and richness of the data we have used to underpin our analysis: a total of 877 children’s cases captured by frontline specialist children’s workers and supplemented by data directly from 331 children. The full research report, ‘In plain sight: the evidence from children exposed to domestic abuse’, and dataset, which we draw on in this policy report, can be downloaded from www.caada.org.uk.

We are also making new recommendations – practical and realistic solutions for you as commissioners to prevent further needless suffering and young deaths in your area. You are in a unique position to show leadership on these issues. For too long, services for safeguarding children and those for adults experiencing domestic abuse have worked in silos. As the follow-up report on the Daniel Pelka review highlights, a great deal of information about domestic violence was shared but “the information was not sufficiently understood in terms of risk to Daniel and the other children.” We need to understand that the risk to the adult victim impacts on the child in a connected and potentially heightened way, especially if parental mental ill-health

and substance misuse are co-occurring. Simply put, if the parent is at risk, we must look for risk to the child.

Leadership is needed to move local agencies from a culture of referrals to one of practical joint action based on high-quality, effective services for both adults and children. Our evidence shows that this form of early intervention works. It also highlights how variable our current response is, with only a minority of children getting help, inconsistent support for victims, and even fewer interventions for perpetrators. Finally, only a tiny percentage of the families in our sample received support with their parenting. Next month we will also be publishing our second national Adult Insights dataset (also available on our website). This is a full snapshot of 4,660 cases from 24 adult domestic abuse services over the 12 months to September 2013. The data start to show trends over time in profile, experience and outcomes for adult victims of domestic abuse for both high and medium risk cases. This evidence will be crucial for continuing to develop and improve our response to domestic abuse.

We warmly encourage you to consider our recommendations. We believe that they could make a great difference to the futures of those children who today are suffering in silence.