CHILDLINE ADVICE: How to recognise and act on the signs of domestic abuse

While schools are closed to 90% of pupils and other community based services are suspended, many children and adults will be more isolated, exposed and distanced from vital support networks and at risk of abuse. This comes as hundreds of thousands of children are currently living in homes where they experience and suffer domestic abuse.

Monday, 6th April 2020, 12:00 am

While schools are closed to 90% of pupils and other community based services are suspended, many children and adults will be more isolated, exposed and distanced from vital support networks and at risk of abuse. This comes as hundreds of thousands of children are currently living in homes where they experience and suffer domestic abuse.

It’s also happening closer to home than you may think. Last year the NSPCC’s Helpline made a total of 356 referrals about domestic abuse to agencies including children’s services in the North East and Cumbria alone. That’s why it’s so important for readers of this column to recognise the signs of domestic abuse, and recognise what to do if you think someone is at risk of harm.

Domestic abuse can take place by any gender, against any gender. It may take place inside, or outside the home, and can even happen online. Usually, it’s discussed as happening in relationships, but it can continue after a relationship has ended.

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Abuse like this can include making threats, reading private texts, and controlling another person’s finances.

Living in a home where domestic abuse happens can have a serious impact on a child or young person’s mental and physical wellbeing, as well as their behaviour. And this can last into adulthood.

One girl told Childline: “My mum regularly emotionally abuses my dad and it’s been going on for a while now. He tells me he is unhappy and wants to get a divorce but refuses to as he says, "I’m safer to stay in the marriage than try to escape.”

Some children take it upon themselves to act as the carer for the victim, trying to protect them before and care for them after abuse takes place. Unfortunately, when someone is in an abusive situation, it can be difficult to see a way out. Therefore, it can pressure the child to try and get them and their parent out of an abusive environment.

Domestic abuse can also be used to emotionally abuse the child, as one boy told Childline: “I witnessed domestic abuse. My dad was horrible to my mum. He used to hold her against the wall by the neck if I was naughty.”

We hear about this situation a lot at Childline. Whatever the supposed trigger, it is vital that children realise domestic abuse is never justified. It is never their fault.

Government has a duty to ensure that guidance and resources are available for local authorities to ensure children in these situations get the help and support they need.

As local areas adapt to the new challenges they are facing during the Coronavirus crisis, they must be supported to ensure that professionals feel well equipped to spot the signs of domestic abuse and swiftly take appropriate action.

At the NSPCC, we also believe there needs to be a legal duty on authorities to provide specialist support for children who live with domestic abuse.

The Domestic Abuse Bill, which was reintroduced to Parliament earlier this year, risks failing children who live with the daily nightmare of violence and coercive control. We are concerned that they will not get the help they need unless the law recognises the impact that domestic abuse has on them.

We can all play our part in combatting domestic abuse as well by checking in with families however we can and reaching out for support and advice from local authorities or the NSPCC Helpline if we have any concerns for a child’s wellbeing.

The first step is recognising some of the signs that domestic abuse could be taking place. In children; these signs include anxious behaviours like withdrawal, difficulty learning, and insomnia. However, it can also include anti-social behaviour; like vandalism, bullying, and aggression.

If you happen to see any of these signs, get in touch with the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000, email [email protected] or fill in our online form for free advice on how to put a stop to abuse.