Domestic Abuse, Recovering Together Evidence, impact and evaluation

We've conducted an evaluation of  Domestic Abuse, Recovering Together (DART) to see if it helps reduce the impact of domestic abuse on the relationship between mothers and children.

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 DART is helping protect children

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

Parents who are experiencing domestic abuse may struggle to meet their child's needs. They may also underestimate the impact of the abuse on their children. The child may think that the parent should have been able to prevent the abuse. Mothers and children are often reluctant to talk about their experiences because they do not want to upset each other.

Supporting mothers and their children to rebuild their relationship is critical in helping both to recover from and overcome their experiences (Humphreys et al, 2006).

By getting mothers and children to talk about their experiences and feelings together DART aims to:

  • improve outcomes for children
  • strengthen the mother-child relationship
  • increase the self-esteem of the mothers and children
  • help the mothers and children to deal with their emotions
  • increase the mothers' confidence in their parenting abilities.

DART is based on University of Warwick research Talking to my Mum (Humphreys et al, 2006) and previous Working together guidance (HM Government, 2010) which states that children's outcomes are improved if the abused parent is supported to take an active part in the child's recovery.

It also builds on work undertaken by the Community Group Treatment Programme in Sutton, which focused on working with children but found that sessions where the mothers attended were the most successful (Audit Commission, 2007).

How we're evaluating this service

We are evaluating the service to determine what positive outcomes for children are achieved through supporting mothers.

Our evaluation of DART uses a mixed method approach, with quantitative and qualitative data collected involving mothers, children, referrers and DART practitioners. The evaluation measures the impact of the service and also includes a process evaluation.

Impact evaluation

Standardised measures were completed by mothers and children at 3 time points:

  • time 1: before starting the service
  • time 2: straight after the service
  • time 3: 6 months after the family finished the service.

The questionnaires were selected because they measure factors which are related to the service outcomes such as self-esteem, confidence in parenting, maternal warmth and children's emotional and behavioural difficulties.

A small comparison group was included in the study. The comparison group participants were children and young people from a women's refuge who had attended play therapy to support their recovery from domestic abuse.

The impact of the evaluation was measured by comparing the outcomes of the DART and comparison group. The longer term effects of the evaluation were measured by comparing the results of the measures collected at time 3 with the time 1 and time 2 data, to see if any improvements had been maintained over time.

Process evaluation

A sample of DART practitioners and mothers and children who attended the service were interviewed. The interviews aimed to identify aspects of the programme that worked well and led to positive outcomes, and to identify any barriers which may prevent families from benefitting from DART. Individuals who referred families to DART, such as social workers, health professionals and school staff, took part in a survey to share their views and experiences of the programme.

Recruiting an appropriate comparison group and collecting sufficient numbers of time 3 data, were the biggest challenges.

A large number of services supporting domestic abuse recovery were sent email invitations, or were asked directly if they would like to take part in the evaluation as a comparison group. A few services expressed an interest, but only one service agreed to take part once the finer details of the arrangement were explained.

The practitioner who ran the play therapy group had previously collected Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQs) data from mothers before and after their children attended the intervention. As DART mothers also complete this measure for the evaluation, the differences in the groups' 'before and after' scores could be compared.

However, there were low numbers of comparison group mothers who had completed SDQs both before and after the intervention and some of their children were a lot older or younger than the DART children. Children with an age difference of more than 2 years were excluded from the analysis, based on the advice from a consultant statistician. Subsequently, there were small numbers in the comparison group and this is a limitation of the evaluation.

Collecting time 3 data has also been a challenge due to:

  • families moving or changing contact details
  • DART practitioners struggling to find time to collect this data whilst they are running other services
  • families being unwilling or unable to participate.

This evaluation was carried out internally by the NSPCC evaluation departments, using the following tools:

  • The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale
  • The Parental acceptance and rejection questionnaire (Mother and Child versions)
  • The Parental Locus of Control scale (two factors from this scale: parental efficacy and parental control)
  • The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire
  • An adapted version of the Rosenberg Self-Esteem questionnaire (adapted for children).

Find out more about the tools used to measure outcomes

Contact Emma Smith for more information.

What we've learnt so far

Emotional and behavioural difficulties for children attending DART reduced significantly more than a comparison group of children.

Before DART, many of the mothers had low self-esteem and little confidence in their abilities, children had high levels of emotional and behavioural difficulties. 

Significant improvements were found following DART: mothers' self-esteem and confidence in parenting had increased and children had fewer emotional and behavioural difficulties. Mothers reported more affection towards their children. 

Qualitative interviews revealed, that mums and children who attended DART felt it helped their recovery and their relationship.

Some mums had resumed relationships with their abusive partner for a short period following the programme. This had a detrimental impact on their child's behaviour. However, some mums said that the programme had convinced them never to return to an abusive relationship.

Findings are published in our evaluation report, Evaluation of Domestic Abuse, Recovering Together (DART): final report (Emma Smith, 2016).

What we're doing next

We're offering DART training so that other providers can make this evidence-based service available to more mums and children. For more information, get in touch.

We're sharing our findings at conferences. So far we've presented at international BASPCAN (British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect) conferences. We've published articles in Child Abuse Review (Smith E. et al. 2015) and Child Care in Practice (McManus et al. 2013).

Impact and evidence hub

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

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

  3. HM Government (2010) Working together to safeguard children: a guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children (PDF). Nottingham: Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF).

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

  5. Smith, E. et al. (2015) Strengthening the mother-child relationship following domestic abuse: service evaluation. Child abuse review, 24(4): 261-273.