Steps to Safety - Evidence, impact and evaluation At a glance

Steps to Safety is an early-intervention programme that helps families living with domestic abuse. We're testing the service to find out whether it's viable, what elements work well and what needs to be improved. At this early stage, we're not looking at the overall effectiveness of the programme.

How domestic abuse affects children

Around 1 in 5 children have been exposed to domestic abuse (Radford et al, 2011). A survey from the Association of Directors of Children's Services reported that nearly every local authority identifies domestic abuse as a significant safeguarding matter (Brookes and Brocklehurst, 2014).

Witnessing domestic violence is a form of child abuse. Living with domestic abuse can have a significant impact on a child's development, health and well-being. It can also damage the relationship a child has with their abused parent.

The effects of domestic abuse can persist into adolescence and adulthood, with significant costs for society as a whole (Guy et al, 2014).

Read more about domestic abuse.

How Steps to Safety is helping protect children

Experiencing domestic abuse can have a big impact on young children. As well as affecting the way they bond with their parents (Zeanah et al, 1999), living in a violent family can delay their early development (Cunningham, A. and Baker, L., 2004). It may also lead to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and cause them to lose developmental skills they gained before the abuse began (Bogat et al, 2006; De Bellis, 2003).

Steps to Safety has been developed by the NSPCC in partnership with the University of Warwick and the University of South Florida (USA). It's aimed at families with children aged under 5.

Using methods such as mindfulness and video interaction guidance it helps both parents to:

  • identify and manage their emotions
  • interact positively with each other
  • stop domestic abuse from happening
  • build a more secure environment for their child to grow up in.

Steps to Safety teaches parents how to help their child recover from experiencing domestic abuse. This is particularly important for children already struggling to understand and deal with their own emotions. It also means the child is less likely to become trapped in a cycle of abuse as they grow older.

How we're evaluating this service

Steps to Safety is being evaluated by Professor Jane Barlow and Dr Anita Schrader-Macmillan at the University of Oxford. Their feasibility study will assess: 

  • referral routes into the service
  • the delivery model
  • measures used to assess the outcomes of the service.

They’re also considering assessment tools that we can use to test the service on a larger scale in the future.

We'll collect quantitative data from 60 families participating in Steps to Safety across 3 NSPCC service centres. We'll also collect qualitative data from stakeholders including referrers, managers, service providers and participants.

Case record data

Our practitioners will collect case record data for all families referred to Steps to Safety during the feasibility study so we can analyse referrals.


We'll ask families to complete a questionnaire at the beginning and end of the programme to see its effect on how parents communicate, manage their emotions and interact with their children..

We'll also ask parents to rate each session using criteria such as whether they felt listened to and understood, and whether they agreed with the topics covered.


We'll interview a sample of parents from each site about their experiences of the programme. We want to include families who've shown a low level of participation in the service as well as those who've engaged fully.

Incident data

Practitioners will record any incidents of domestic abuse that take place while the family is participating in the programme. Incidents leading to child protection concerns will be referred to children's social care.

We'll encourage practitioners to share thoughts and ideas about the materials from the programme to help us develop and improve the service in the future.

The team from the University of Oxford are using the following tools:

  • Abusive Behaviour Inventory (Enhanced)
  • Alcohol Use Disorders Identification – Audit C
  • Co-parenting Relationship Scale
  • Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS) short form version
  • Emotion Regulation Questionnaire
  • Relationship Questionnaire
  • Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire.

We'll be testing these measures as part of our feasibility study. This will include their reliability and validity with the families taking part in the programme, and the time and training required to administer them.

Contact Nicola McConnell to find out more.

What we've learnt so far

Delivery of the service is in its very early stages. But we've already learnt the importance of having practitioners who not only have the right skills but are open minded about this way of considering and working with domestic abuse.

The Steps to Safety practitioners are all qualified social work practitioners with experience in child protection work who've received at least 6 days' training about the programme.

What we're doing next

Using the findings of this study, we'll consider whether we need to make any changes to the way the service is delivered. We then plan to carry out larger scale testing to find out how effective the service is in supporting vulnerable families, and what the outcomes are for children.

Impact and evidence

Find out how we evaluate and research the impact we’re making in protecting children, get tips and tools for researchers and access resources.
Impact and evidence

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Last year a third of all calls to our helpline were about neglect, a figure that's even higher at Christmas. Donate now and help shine a light on children left in the dark.

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Domestic Abuse, Recovering Together (DART™)

Helping children and mothers strengthen their relationship after domestic abuse.
DART - Domestic Abuse Recovering Together service

Caring Dads: Safer Children

Helping fathers see the impact their violent behaviour has on their children and how they can make positive changes for the future.
Caring Dads: Safer Children service

Parents Under Pressure™

Improving parenting in families with drug or alcohol issues.
Parents Under Pressure™ service

Family Environment: Drug Using Parents (FEDUP)

Protecting children living with adult drug and alcohol misuse.
FEDUP - Family Environment: Drug Using Parents service

Donate now

Last year a third of all calls to our helpline were about neglect, a figure that's even higher at Christmas. Donate now and help shine a light on children left in the dark.

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  1. Bogat, G. A. et al. (2006) Trauma symptoms among infants who witness domestic violence toward their mothers. Child Abuse and Neglect: 30, 109–125.

  2. Brooks, C. and Brocklehurst, P. (2014) Safeguarding pressures: phase 4 (PDF) . Manchester: Association of Directors of Children's Services. 

  3. Cunningham, A. and Baker, L. (2004). What about me: seeking to understand a child's view of violence in the family (PDF). London: Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System.

  4. Guy, J., Feinstein, L., and Griffiths, A. (2014) Early intervention in domestic violence and abuse (PDF). London: Early Intervention Foundation.

  5. Radford, L. et al (2011) Child abuse and neglect in the UK today. London: NSPCC. 

  6. Zeanah C. et al (1999) Disorganised attachment associated with partner violence: a research note. Infant Mental Health Journal, 20, 77–86.