CONTACTS to the NSPCC’s helpline about the impact of domestic abuse on children have surged by almost a third since the start of the lockdown, to an average of one an hour.
Helpline staff responded to 1,500 contacts about domestic abuse from across the UK between 23 March and 17 May 2020, resulting in 164 referrals being made to local agencies in the East of England.
The charity argues the increased risks during the crisis further highlight the need for the Government to amend the law to recognise how the daily nightmare of violence and coercive control can impact on children and why they must have access to specialist support to recover.
The Domestic Abuse Bill is at Committee stage and in its current form fails to do that despite repeated calls from multiple experts, including the Domestic Abuse, Children’s and Victim’s Commissioners, as well as the Home Affairs Select Committee.
New analysis of 11 Serious Case Reviews, submitted to MPs as they are set to scrutinise the Bill this week, shows children have been seriously harmed and even died because domestic abuse was not always considered to be a child protection issue.
The issue has been brought to the forefront by the crisis, with 1,500 adults telling the NSPCC’s helpline since the lockdown about the risks to children who are trapped behind closed doors. 58% led to referrals or a referral update to the local authority.
In some cases, fears about the virus were exploited to withhold access to children, cut off contact to family and friends, and monitor victims’ movements under the pretext of keeping them safe from the virus. Victims said this made it difficult to leave and speak out.
“My ex-partner has taken my baby son away from me and I don’t know what to do. He stormed into the house the other day saying he was going to take the baby for a few days – he said he wouldn’t get to see him ‘til the summer cos of the lockdown. When I refused, he pushed me against the wall and took off with the baby and house keys. I’ve not heard from him since and I’m really worried about my baby’s safety. My ex can be a bit rough when he handles him, and he sometimes tell him to “shut the **** up”. I told my social worker what’s happened and they’re trying to locate him so I can get my baby back”. (Mother, NSPCC helpline)
Even though children are not always the ones to suffer physical harm, they have told Childline they feel trapped and, in some cases, it has led to depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and eating disorders.
“I really need your help; my dad has been physically abusing my mum. He has an anger problem and it’s getting out of hand. The smallest things make him angry and he starts shouting. I’m terrified of him and I’ve had enough, I can’t take it anymore – please help me!” (Boy, aged 14, Childline)
“Mum says we can’t use our ‘emergency bags’ until after coronavirus is over”. (Girl, aged 13, Childline)
NSPCC analysis of 11 Serious Case Reviews published since 2019 suggests practitioners struggled to keep their focus on children because their experiences were overshadowed by their parents’ relationship.
In one report, a victim needed to leave her home for her own safety but couldn’t take her child with her and professionals did not consider the risks for the children who were left behind being cared for by the abuser.
In another case, a perpetrator of domestic abuse killed their child and themselves during a contact visit after separating from their partner due to physical violence.
The charity is also calling for a statutory duty for local agencies to deliver specialist community-based services for these children to recover.
Emily Hilton, NSPCC Senior Policy and Public Affairs Officer, said: “This crisis has shone a spotlight on children who are living with the daily nightmare of domestic abuse.
“The Bill has the chance to transform the help available for these children but, despite pleas from multiple experts, the Government is deliberately turning a blind eye to the impact it has on children.
“The Government should grasp the landmark opportunity offered by the Domestic Abuse Bill and ensure children get the protection and support they need.”
Adults concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC helpline seven days a week on 0808 800 5000, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Children can call Childline on 0800 11 11 or visit www.childline.org.uk any time of the day or night.