24th June 2019
Rachel Williams is a survivor and violence against women and children activist. Rachel lived with domestic abuse from the age of 21 to 39. Her abuser attempted to kill Rachel and then committed suicide. Several weeks later their son, Jack, also committed suicide. Rachel is now a published author (The Devil at Home), SafeLives Pioneer, ambassador for Welsh Women’s Aid and devotes her time to supporting other victims and survivors. We asked Rachel and other survivors who follow her online what their experience was like with children’s social care and how they should be supporting families experiencing domestic abuse.
Jack went to stay with her ex-partners family straight after the shooting. The last time she saw him was the day of the shooting. At first he went to stay with them out of sympathy for his Dad’s death but it ended up being a toxic environment for him. They were blaming Rachel for what had happened. There was a criminal investigation going on surrounding the shooting and Rachel did not feel Jack’s mental and emotional well-being was being cared for. Rachel rang children’s social care to ask them for help. They said because he was 16 years old he could choose where he lived and they would not intervene. They did not assess Jacks mental and emotional wellbeing, how his current environment was impacting him or how it had been affected by living in a home where there had been domestic abuse. Jack was in counselling at the time and Rachel knew his current living arrangements were undoing all the progress he was making. Six weeks later Jack took his own life.
Specialist knowledge and training
Many of Rachel’s followers also share stories of children’s social care not recognising the impact and trauma that is created by the emotional and mental abuse children experience. Many of them agree that their number one ask would be for social workers to receive regular training on domestic abuse. This could do so much to increase the skill and knowledge social workers have to support families. Rachel said “we can all become complacent in our jobs but when you work with vulnerable victims of domestic abuse it could be a matter of life or death.” Training on domestic abuse is so important but what others also asked for was that this led to specialist social workers who could deal with the complex nature of domestic abuse.
Survivors recognise that social workers have large workloads and are dealing with supporting families going through horrific experiences. However, when faced with supporting families who have experienced emotional and psychological harm, they feel that this is down-graded and deprioritised. One of Rachel’s followers described this as the ‘acid rain effect.’ Training social workers in recognising this abuse, listening and believing their experience and understanding the impact will improve social work assessments and interactions with these families.
Solutions and support for all family members
Many of Rachel’s followers talked about the fear of having their children removed from them. One survivor1 told us that the “fear of social services was the main single source of stress and at times... In many ways, the institutions that were supposed to help me were the most dangerous since they had more power to take my daughter away from me than my abusive husband”.
They want social workers to understand that to protect children the non-abusive parent has to be supported and offered real solutions that will make them safer. Our national Insights briefing also told us that the response to family’s needs to be much more holistic with the perpetrator being held to account.
One of Rachel’s followers said “We had a fab social worker and her manager was amazing. They did all they could but they were so restricted in what they could actually offer.” Survivors often talk about being asked to leave the abusive relationship and go to a place of safety. Often this isn’t what families who have experienced domestic abuse want to do. Children don’t want to leave their homes, their toys, their school and friends and this ends up being a big reason why survivors stay. Some survivors talked about social workers only wanting to be involved when things were high risk and by then concerns were so great that the only solution available to families is to leave the abuse or face your children being removed.
As we know from Rachel’s experience often older children are not seen as in need of protection or intervention. From our own research we know that domestic abuse has a devastating impact whatever their age. Families were more likely to be known to Children’s Services if they have children under the age of 5 years old and more likely to be subject to a child protection plan2. One young person in the children's insights data3 report said:
“I wasn’t offered any help at the time but I’ve had nightmares about what I saw and heard. I think because mum and dad weren’t together anymore, and mum was getting help, they thought I didn’t need any.” Adam, 15
Safe and seen
All of the survivors who Rachel was in touch with talked about the need for children’s social care to ask and to listen to survivors and their children. Know what victims need and don’t assume. Rachel wants to see a time where survivors seek and embrace help from children’s social care and not run from them.
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 Unpublished survivor survey, SafeLives 2017
 65% v 55% National Insights Briefing