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We must help the child victims of domestic abuse

3 min read

This Christmas will be stressful for many families. Many families face financial challenges and are worried about rises in the cost of living next year putting additional pressures on their day-to-day spending and household budgets.

It’s been a hard couple of years of pandemic life for families, and on top of that many will be now worried about possible new lockdowns and restrictions, and what that means for their jobs and their children’s schools. While for some Christmas is "the most wonderful time of the year," in other households, it simply is not. 

For some families, pressure at Christmas can sadly spill over into domestic abuse. Our calculations show that at least 16,000 children are likely to be exposed to domestic abuse during this Christmas and New Year fortnight, and more than 400,000 children could be the victims of domestic abuse in 2022. 

Given the numbers of children affected by domestic abuse, it is vital that we fully understand how best to help them

We know that experiencing domestic abuse as a child can have a lasting impact. Children who are the victims of domestic abuse are significantly more likely to experience abuse in their own adult relationships, to misuse drugs or alcohol, and to have lower levels of wellbeing. As well as the devastating impact on individual children, there is a wider societal cost – both social and economic. The cost of domestic abuse is estimated to be approximately £66bn for victims of domestic abuse in England and Wales for the year ending March 2017. 

And yet our report earlier this year identified longstanding gaps in provision for families affected by domestic abuse, including in the availability of prevention services and long-term therapeutic support, support for babies and very young children, and culturally specific interventions for minority groups. It also identified a significant lack of evidence on what works to effectively support children who have experienced, or who are at risk of experiencing, domestic abuse. Local commissioners, funders and service providers are hampered by a lack of evidence about what is effective, for whom, and in what circumstances. 

That’s why we need safeguarding minister Rachel Maclean to ensure that the government’s upcoming domestic abuse strategy includes a commitment to fund and evaluate the most promising support, in order to build crucial evidence of what works for families affected by domestic abuse. Central government needs to stop funding "innovation" in local areas that is not tested for impact.  

Any new funding must instead come with independent evaluation to start to build our understanding of which services have the most impact. A united focus is needed across government to develop the evidence base that is needed, to guide those designing and commissioning local services. Without that we won’t be able to offer the most effective support to victims.  

Given the numbers of children affected by domestic abuse, it is vital that we fully understand how best to help them. A lack of evidence and long-term funding are two barriers holding back local areas, through no fault of their own. This is something that government can fix in 2022.  

Dr Jo Casebourne is chief executive of the Early Intervention Foundation 

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