Children are not hidden victims of domestic abuse

Sonal is the Head of Consultancy at SafeLives. Here she talks about the One Front Door model and why it is so important that we look at the whole picture for the whole family so we can start making vital links between the needs of individuals and the families they belong to.

Each year, nearly two million people experience domestic abuse. It’s time we recognise the full scale of this epidemic and the impact it has on the whole family – including children.

Recent SafeLives’ research estimates that at the time they start primary school at least one child in every classroom will have lived with domestic abuse since they were born. They have lived with abuse for their whole lives, and know nothing else. Yet nearly 40% of children living in households with domestic abuse are not known to children’s services.

We owe it to children to provide the right support, at the right time, to keep them safe and help them rebuild and recover. If we don’t, the consequences are devastating. Over half of children exposed to domestic abuse had difficulty sleeping, and almost a third felt like the abuse was their fault. The same children exhibit higher rates of behavioural problems and engage in more risky behaviour, making them vulnerable to other abuse or harm as they grow up.

Family members and their vulnerabilities interconnect. People do not operate in silos and neither should we. If information is not shared, we deal with one person and one concern at a time – through different professionals with different agendas. We are missing opportunities to help and lives are being put unnecessarily at risk.

But if we work together, and build a picture of each family, that reflects how people actually live their lives, we can help people earlier, and more effectively

One Front Door

SafeLives introduced the One Front Door model to overcome this problem. One Front Door is our vision for a transformation of local systems, processes and responses so they start making vital links between the needs of individuals and the families they belong to.

One Front Door will facilitate earlier intervention and swifter, pre-emptive action by a multi-agency specialist team who will identify the needs and risks to all family members at the same time.

The first stage of One Front Door focuses on bringing together two key elements: child safeguarding and domestic abuse. SafeLives are working with seven local authorities across England to pilot this model, helping to make it sustainable and effective. The seven sites we will be working with are:

  • Suffolk
  • Bexley
  • St Helens
  • North Tyneside
  • Norfolk
  • North Somerset
  • West Sussex

Our learning so far

We have found that the current system for safeguarding children, protecting victims of domestic abuse, and challenging perpetrators works well – but separately. Referrals for child safeguarding are largely considered with only the child at risk in mind, with each incident being looked at in isolation.

A shared understanding of risk and need is required across all agencies. Risk ratings are not used consistently at initial referral or at the end of assessment in a way that is understood by all agencies working with members of the same family.

The case management systems used by different agencies often do not integrate with each other. In some local authority areas, multiple systems are used which impedes effective information sharing. This can mean children’s social care workers are assessing the safety of children at risk without learning that police colleagues in the same area know that the child’s primary carer is at high risk of serious harm or murder.

Trialling a One Front Door approach has led to broader, integrated action planning for all family members. We have strengthened agencies’ understanding of domestic abuse and their ability to work with perpetrators of abuse. We are committed to improving the response to domestic abuse and child safeguarding and will use the learnings from of our partner sites to ensure more families get the right support at the right time to make them safe and well.

Early intervention is the key. We know that the super-controlling 15-year-old boyfriend today could become a high risk perpetrator in years to come. SafeLives have helped us to understand the risks posed by perpetrators of abuse.

Seb Smith, Head of Service, Suffolk MASH and One Front Door Partner

We’re pleased to see that the Government are also taking steps to improve the response to domestic abuse for the whole family, with the introduction of a new Domestic Abuse and Violence Bill. We must take this opportunity to ensure the impact on children is a key focus and is considered by courts when sentencing.

For too long children have been the ‘hidden’ victims of domestic abuse. But it’s time we realise that being ‘in the other room’ does not protect them from harm. We need a joined up, consistent approach to domestic abuse that sees every single individual and family member and responds to their needs. Only then can we truly put an end to this epidemic.

You may be interested in

One Front Door

One Front Door brought together multi-agency specialist teams to help families living with domestic abuse. Read our evaluation report.