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Yano — Inspiring families with fresh thinking on parenting

Children and domestic violence

Posted on 24th June, 2013 | filed under Featured, The Big Debate

Woman with bruised face and mouth covered

None of us wants to believe that the family home is a place of abuse and fear but, as Jane Evans discovers, domestic violence is no respecter of dreams and ideals

Most of us are brought up to believe that becoming a family will create stability, safety and a sense of belonging, precious memories and love for us and for our children. The suggestion that family life may not always offer this can be unsettling and unpopular. No one wants to think that the family home can be a place of fear, threat and violence. But domestic violence and abuse, and those who carry it out, are no respecters of dreams, wishes or ideals.

Domestic violence and abuse slither silently, secretly around the home, mostly hidden but creating a sense of impending fear and then striking swiftly from time to time with often deadly, or deeply wounding, consequences.

Fewer than one in four people who suffers abuse at the hands of their partner – and only about one in 10 women who experiences serious sexual assault – reports it to the police, according to government figures.

Recent photos in the media of Charles Saatchi with his hands around wife Nigella Lawson’s neck and his subsequent caution for assault have thrown up the notion that this can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Domestic violence can hurl families into crisis and chaos and is far from the aspirational scene of domesticity we are sold in our daily lives.

It’s clear that in order to thrive children benefit from a family life where they feel safe, loved and accepted. This gives them a great foundation for going out into the big, wide world to form friendships and relationships, to learn and to be happy and healthy. However, for too many children this is not the case. Abigail Sterne and Liz Poole, in their book Domestic Violence And Children, list some key facts that make for uncomfortable reading:

At least 750,000 children a year in the UK witness domestic violence
Most incidents occur when the children are in the same or next room
Before a woman reports domestic violence to the police, she will on average have been assaulted 35 times

The very fact that most domestic violence often goes unreported would seem to suggest that this is not the full picture and that many more families are affected on a daily basis. What do children learn from witnessing repeated abuse and violence in their home from one parent/carer to another?

• The people who should love us hurt us and hurt those we love
•  Adults lie (often the violence will be minimised, ignored or dismissed by adults to keep everything within the home)
• When bad things happen I must not tell anyone
 Accept, or use, violence to survive and keep safe
 Adults cannot be trusted to keep me safe

Secrecy is often maintained by adult and child victims at all costs; concerns that Social Services will become involved and remove the children, loss of face, embarrassment, or the fear that threats to kill will be carried out if others get involved stop many from reporting abuse. There is also a crippling sense of deep shame.

Recently I was told on Twitter by @bubbles3563: ‘I only involved police because my HV made me. Felt I was making big fuss over nothing & was all my own fault.’ This highlights the importance of just one person questioning if everything is OK and offering support to seek help. It can make a world of difference to victims in the short and long term and it can save lives.

“Violence in the home is one of the most pervasive human-rights challenges of our time. It remains a largely hidden problem that few countries, communities or families openly confront. Violence in the home is not limited by geography, ethnicity, or status; it is a global phenomenon” UNICEF

‘More than three-quarters of a million children in the UK are affected by domestic violence at home, but often parents and teachers don’t know where to turn to help them cope with the effects,’ says the charity Women’s Aid, which campaigns to end domestic violence against women and children. ‘Children often have a hard time understanding the abuse and coming to terms with it, even years after it happens. Frequently, children will feel guilty that the abuse was somehow their fault or that they should have protected their mother or themselves. Sometimes children will have been lied to by the abuser, and may feel conflicted about which of their parents to trust. Just feeling they have to keep the secret of what’s going on at home can be enormously stressful and lead to emotional and behavioural problems.’

A final word from X-Factor runner-up Jahmene Douglas, who grew up with domestic violence and had to keep the abuse ‘secret’ for fear of what might happen: ‘Never let another person redefine who you are,’ he says. ‘Only you are in control of your inner happiness. You are not afraid, be free.’

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Children and domestic violence was posted on 24th June, 2013 by Jane Evans under Featured, The Big Debate

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Jane Evans

About the author: Jane Evans

Jane Evans has built up a wealth of parenting and early-years knowledge throughout her career as a parenting worker for a domestic violence organisation, a respite foster carer, a child-minder, a children’s practitioner in a family centre and a support worker in a child-protection team while working in and with schools and pre-schools. She now uses this as the basis for the training she delivers on parenting and children affected by trauma and for her bespoke parenting course for those affected by trauma, either post-domestic violence or as adoptive parents, foster or kinship carers. Jane has also written an early-years story book to enable children to explore feelings relating to domestic violence, which is to be published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  • Shell_y

    Jane was the best thing that happened to our family. Having help through understanding that it was domestic abuse and learning to change my relationship with my children for the better. I don’t know where I’d have been now without the “unconventional” approach to understanding why my son was the way he is and how to help him. We now have a brilliant relationship :D . Its hard to take on board things that are so different to the “super nanny” technique but well worth the long journey. Thanks jane your work is amazing. Great to see you are still reaching people with the work you do.

    • Jane Evans

      It was such a pleasure to work with you and I am so very glad it has transformed your relationship with your beautiful boy. I was humbled by your enthusiasm to change things even though it meant taking a different approach and way of thinking. You put so much into it and it was a privilege to work with you.

  • maeve

    Hi Jane, your article really chimes with my own experience of working with children and mothers affected by domestic violence. The children present as sad, quiet or naughty, and schools very often miss the signals – not for lack of care, but because staff are not looking out for the signs, even though they might express worry about a child to colleagues/the head. We MUST educate our schools – as it is often the only place the child feels safe and secure. Saying that, it’s very hard for a child to learn when their head if full of worry and fear. We need to keep writing and talking about the impact of DV on our children and really make school a place of safety, support and genuine help for the families.

  • AmandaSeyderhelm

    Hi Jane, thank you for addressing the issue of domestic violence through your article and book. In my play therapy work with children at schools I see a lot of children who have been shamed into silence, and can’t find the words to express how they feel. Playing out their feelings does help, and it’s equally important for them to be able to say and own how they feel. I will look forward to including your book in my play therapy tool kit.

  • Denise Moor

    Jane ~~ There is something about the way in which you addressed this issue straightforward with honesty… no blame and a feeling of safety surrounding it, that reaches somewhere deep. I’m so glad to have it cross my path!