Helping more mothers and children to recover together from domestic abuse: part 1

Diane Hunter and Isabella Stokes outline our Domestic Abuse, Recovering Together service, explaining why we’re working with partners to reach more families

Mother and child readingAround 1 in 5 children have been exposed to domestic abuse – and it can have a devastating impact (Radford, 2011).

Following research which highlights the importance of non-abusive parents taking an active part in their child’s recovery from domestic abuse, we wanted to develop a service that helps children exposed to domestic abuse rebuild their lives (Humphreys, 2006). 

Domestic Abuse, Recovering Together (DART) is the result - an innovative, evidence-based group programme for mothers and children.

Across 2 blog posts we’ll be sharing the findings from our evaluation of DART and explaining how and why we’ve been working with partner organisations to support more mums and children who are exposed to domestic abuse.

The need for DART

It’s easy to underestimate the impact of domestic abuse on a child. But as well as increasing the likelihood that they will be injured, living with domestic abuse will have an impact on their social, psychological and personal development. Experiencing domestic abuse can cause confusion and anxiety and may make a child feel unsafe. It is, in itself, child abuse.

Exposure to domestic abuse also disrupts the parent-child relationship.

If a mother has been abused (and women are more likely to report having experienced domestic abuse than men) she may be struggling for her own survival. This could affect her capacity for parenting.

Even after a mother leaves her partner there might be difficulties which can damage her relationship with her child. A mother and child may struggle to talk about the abuse and both may have poor self-esteem. This can lead to feelings of isolation. Children who have experienced abuse may have behavioural difficulties, which could have an impact on their relationship with their mum.

The DART programme

DART aims to help children aged 7 to 14 recover from the immediate and long-term effects of exposure to domestic abuse.

The long-term vision of DART is to break the cycle of intergenerational domestic violence so a child is less likely to become a perpetrator or victim of domestic abuse when they grow up.

Over 10 weekly sessions DART provides mothers and children who no longer live in an abusive family environment with a safe place. Here they can participate in activities designed to strengthen their relationship and support one another through their recovery.

The programme also gives participants the opportunity to meet other mums and children who have lived through similar experiences, sharing what they’ve learned.

The first hour of each DART session is spent with women and children in the same room doing the same activities together; then mothers and children split into separate groups - with 2 staff present in each.

The impact of DART

Our evaluation of DART shows that the programme is valued and enjoyed by mothers, children, practitioners and partner organisations.

It’s largely successful in achieving its aim to improve mother-child relationships and help the process of recovery.

The evaluation showed that:

  • the relationship between mother and child improved: 88% of children who said their mothers had struggled to show them affection before taking part in DART reported substantially improved relationships with their mum afterwards
  • children experienced fewer emotional and behavioural difficulties following DART: 51% of children with high/moderate behavioural and emotional difficulties reported substantially lower levels of need after completing the programme
  • mothers had greater self-esteem and confidence in their parenting after the programme: 62% of mothers with low self-esteem reported substantial improvement after finishing DART.

Scale-up of DART

Following the positive results of our evaluation of DART we were keen to make it available more widely so it could help more mums and their children.

We worked with partner organisations to scale-up DART. We provided practitioners to share learning and train them to deliver DART so that they would be able to take on the service themselves.

Although we already knew how successful and well received the programme was, we also wanted to find out how easy it was for our partners to implement. We want to know what does and doesn’t work for other organisations so we can continue to learn about the best ways to deliver our programmes in different contexts.

As we’re also scaling up a number of other services, this helped us to understand any barriers to rolling out our programmes more widely - and hopefully deal with challenges before they occur.

In the second part of this post we will discuss what we learnt from scaling up DART, particularly the barriers experienced by our partner organisations, and explain the actions we’ve taken to help them to deliver the programme more effectively.

If you’d like to find out more about DART visit:

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  1. Office for National Satistics (2017) Domestic abuse in England and Wales: year ending March 2016 [Accessed 19/06/17].

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