Record numbers of children affected by domestic abuse leads to call for better recovery support

Police made almost 245,000 referrals to social services for domestic abuse in 2020/21 and we fear this could be the tip of the iceberg

  • Police in England and Wales made an average 669 child protection referrals a day to social services in the last year. 
  • New NSPCC analysis of the official data shows almost a quarter of a million referrals in 2020/21, an 8% increase on the previous year.
  • The NSPCC helpline last year also saw a record number of calls from people worried about domestic abuse.

The impact of domestic abuse on children and young people

The government consultation for Victim’s Law closes this week and we're calling on Dominic Raab, Deputy Prime Minister and Lord Chancellor, to ensure all children affected by domestic abuse in England and Wales have access to local specialist and therapeutic services to support their recovery.

During the pandemic this risk increased as children experiencing abuse were trapped at home and largely cut off from their support networks during lockdowns.

Domestic abuse can take away a  sense of security from a child and hugely impact their self confidence. It can have a long-term impact on their emotional well-being and mental health.

"I lived through violence as a child and can testify to the physical, emotional and mental trauma you’re left with which can be life-long. That trauma has taken me decades to work through. I spent years battling self-harm, addiction and severe mental health issues. I felt like I was nothing. And there will be kids today like me - kids who will be scarred and devastated by their experiences, who live their life in fear - suffering abuse in their own homes, who will feel exactly the same. But with support, through the Victims Law, right there in their own communities, they can begin to recover. They can live happy, fear-free, healthy lives."
Terri White / journalist, author and former Editor-in Chief, Empire magazine

Domestic Abuse Act recognises impact on children 

January 2022 marked the start of children being officially recognised as victims of domestic abuse in the Domestic Abuse Act. We hope this will make it more likely that their needs are considered by professionals such as social workers and police.

The change in the law came after a relentless campaign by us and other charities acknowledging the impact domestic abuse can have on children.

However, we remain concerned that this may not be enough to ensure support is in place for children.

Local council support

  • The latest Women’s Aid figures found 148,852 children were supported by community-based services compared to 11,890 children in refuges.
  • A report by Action for Children found that children face barriers to accessing support in two-thirds of 30 local authorities.
  • In over 10% of these councils no support services were available for children affected by domestic abuse.

At present local authorities must, under the law, provide housing support when families and children need to escape domestic abuse.

But they do not have to provide specialist, therapeutic services for those who stay at home after suffering domestic abuse.

Support is already patchy across the country and without a legal duty things could get worse if cash-strapped councils divert more resources to accommodation-based services, even though community-based services are better used.

NSPCC’s domestic abuse recovery service

The local domestic abuse services that are needed include:

  • therapeutic support services
  • Independent Domestic Violence and Abuse Advisors (IDVAs)
  • helplines
  • counselling services.

The NSPCC’s Domestic Abuse Recovering Together (DART) programme is one example.

Trained specialists work with survivors of domestic abuse and their children to help get their lives back on track and help them to understand how this kind of abuse might affect their children.

An evaluation of DART found that it increased mothers’ self-esteem and confidence in parenting and affection towards their children and reduced children’s emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Signs of domestic abuse

It can be difficult to tell if domestic abuse is happening and those carrying out the abuse can act very different when other people are around. Children and young people might also feel frightened and confused, keeping the abuse to themselves.

Signs that a child has witnessed domestic abuse can include:

"Sadly, we know these figures are the tip of the iceberg as domestic abuse often goes unreported. Domestic abuse can derail a childhood and it is unacceptable that support to recover remains patchy across the country, and what is available risks being axed by cash-strapped councils. We urge Dominic Raab to use the Victim’s Law to address this and ensure young victims of domestic abuse have easy access to professional services within their community so they can rebuild their lives no matter where they live."
Anna Edmundson / NSPCC Head of Policy and Public Affairs

How you can help

What to do if you suspect abuse

If you're worried about a child or young person, you can call the NSPCC helpline for support and advice for free on 0808 800 5000.

Children can call Childline any time on 0800 1111 or download the 'For Me' app.

Get support