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Keeping children central in cases of domestic abuse

Children are often excluded from services to help victims of domestic abuse, despite the obvious impact on them, social workers heard in Manchester recently.

13/10/23

Keeping children central in cases of domestic abuse

Keeping children central in cases of domestic abuse
Children are often excluded from services to help victims of domestic abuse, despite the obvious impact on them, social workers heard in Manchester recently.

Speaking in a seminar at The Social Work Show in Manchester last week, Tony Kelly, Team Manager, Merseyside NSPCC, said that latest figures from the Office of National Statistics show 1.7m women and 699,000 men experienced domestic abuse. However this is based on local authority and police records, so is an underestimate.

‘Half to two thirds of my cases involve domestic abuse,’ Tony Kelly said. ‘We know domestic abuse causes emotional and physical harm. So what is the daily experience of children caught up in it?’

Mr Kelly said that help for victims of domestic abuse is usually for adults and there is comparatively little to support the child who suffers trauma.

Mr Kelly described Domestic Abuse, Recovering Together (DART), which helps children and their mothers rebuild their relationships after experiencing domestic abuse. The programme focusses on the child and on how the mother can support the child to recovery. It gives children and mothers an opportunity to meet others who have lived through similar experiences.

‘We have been running (DART) for 14 years as a licensed ten-week long course for mothers and children aged 7-14. Each course has four practitioners and five families. It has an 86-90% completion rate.

To take part, ‘The mother cannot still be in the abusive relationship. It is for mothers who are at that point in their recovery where they can focus on the child.

‘It begins with a comprehensive assessment of Mum first, and the child later on. The assessment takes about two months. Through that, we get to know what the needs are.

Following assessment, in the weekly sessions, mothers and children work together for the first hour, then have separate activities before coming together at the end.

The first six sessions look at what has happened to them; sessions seven to ten look to the future.

Mothers learn about how domestic abuse happens and its effects on their children, and develop parenting strategies. ‘It’s about giving them the tools, the skills and developing the confidence to communicate.

‘It’s about rebuilding that relationship between the mother and the child. Research tells us that the child will recover better with support from the mother.’

Results have shown that two-thirds of mothers with low self-esteem reported substantially improved levels of self-esteem after taking part in DART. For the children, 88% said Dart had substantially improved relationships with their mothers.

At the end of each course, mothers and children hold a graduation ceremony. The mothers write the certificates for the children.

Mr Kelly said participants each write a letter about the course upon completion and shared examples of some of these.

One mum said: “It was completely different to what I was expecting. It really helped me and my son to talk to each other, and understand each other’s feelings.”

Another child wrote: “Everybody listens to everyone properly and you don’t need to feel embarrassed about things that have happened in your life.”

Another letter said: “Dear Mums, first of all you are amazing. It is hard to address the elephant in the room -- the children -- but it is time and you can do this.”

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