Preventing further harm to children from domestic abuse

Development manager, Di Hunter and Senior Evaluation Officer, Nicola McConnell implement and evaluate services delivered by the NSPCC. In this blog they discuss what they have learnt from this work and also what can be done to prevent further harm to children experiencing domestic abuse, including helping parents to recognise the impact of abuse and providing support to children and the non-abusing parent.

We welcome SafeLives’ spotlight on children and young people: over and above the increased likelihood that a child who lives with domestic abuse will be injured, the child’s social, psychological, and personal development are also likely to be impacted. Therefore, any responses to domestic abuse must ensure that the safety and wellbeing of the child is prioritised throughout the decision making process.

How are children affected by domestic abuse?

Worrying about family relationships is one of the top three reasons why children contact our Childline counselling service (NSPCC, 2016). It is currently estimated that 1 in 5 children in the UK have been exposed to domestic abuse (Radford et al, 2011). Children in homes where there is domestic abuse are more likely to experience other forms abuse or neglect; and in Scotland, where multiple reasons for holding a child protection case conference are recorded, domestic abuse was a concern for over a third of children on the child protection register (Bentley et al, 2016). Young people can also become involved in their own relationships that are abusive as well as be exposed to domestic abuse within the family home. In both circumstances, the experience can be overwhelming and it can cause long-lasting physical, behavioural, and mental health problems, including an increased risk of experiencing or perpetrating abuse within their own adult relationships. Protecting children from abuse can disrupt children’s social lives in ways that may not be appreciated by adults. For example, moving to safety can result in loss of contact with friends, family members, school and familiar surroundings.

Helping parents to recognise the impact of domestic abuse on their children

An abusive relationship between parents or carers causes children harm and is in itself child abuse. It is vital that the harm caused by domestic abuse is fully recognised by frontline practitioners, and that this harm is highlighted to parents – who, whether they are a victim or a perpetrator, often assume that if their child is not physically present that they are shielded from the effects of domestic abuse. We found that some fathers attending our Caring Dads: Safer Children services were motivated to improve their relationship with their child’s mother once they understood the impact of their abuse on their child (McConnell et al, 2016). The 17 week programme aims to develop men’s trust and motivation to examine their fathering, develop an understanding of how their behaviour impacts on children and take responsibility for making positive changes.

Support for children and the non-abusing parent

The NSPCC has developed and tested a 10 week programme that helps children and young people aged 7-14 years overcome the effects of domestic abuse – DART® (Domestic Abuse Recovering Together) by improving the parent and child relationship. DART is based on the Talking to my Mum research by the University of Warwick (Humphreys et al, 2006); and is designed for mothers and children who no longer live with the domestic violence perpetrator. It aims to build and develop the mother and child relationship, help them deal with their past, and understand the importance of healthy relationships.  The joint DART group work session lasts two hours. A key feature is that it is divided into two components: the first hour is spent with women and children in the same room doing the same activities together. There is then a break for 10 minutes, after which mothers and children split into separate groups in different rooms where they can focus on discussion and activities specific to their needs, before finally regrouping and sharing learning if appropriate.

Preventing further harm to children from domestic abuse requires multiple approaches: prioritising the needs of children, supporting non-abusive parents, and working with perpetrators to change their behaviour. We also need further investigation of earlier interventions that help individuals to recognise abuse, and if necessary, examine and change their behaviour at an early stage, thus providing safer environments for their children.

Useful resources

The Childline website provides information and advice about domestic abuse for children.

You can also find out more information about domestic abuse and DART on the NSPCC Learning website.


Bentley, H., O’Hagan, O, Raff, A. and Bhatti, I. (2016) How safe are our children? The most comprehensive overview of child protection in the UK 2016. London: NSPCC

Humphreys, C., Mullender, A., Thaira, R. and Skamballis, A., ‘Talking to My Mum: Developing communication between mothers and children in the aftermath of domestic violence’, Journal of Social Work (2006), p. 6, 53–63

McConnell, N., Barnard, M., Holdsworth, T. and Taylor, J. (2016) Caring Dads: Safer Children: evaluation report. [London]: NSPCC

NSPCC (2016) Childline annual review 2015/16: It turned out someone did care. London: NSPCC

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

Preventing further harm to children from domestic abuse

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