‘Young people deserve a better response’: The importance of age appropriate support for young people experiencing domestic abuse

Lucy McDonald is SafeLives’ Training Development Officer for Scotland. In this blog she talks about the importance of a specialist, age appropriate response for young people experiencing domestic abuse and the benefits of our ‘Responding to young people’ training.

In the early 2000s as a keen new graduate, I was working occasional shifts in a hostel for young homeless people. This is where I first encountered domestic abuse, although I didn’t immediately realise it at the time.

Many of the young residents were in relationships and I recall the ongoing exasperation and disdain from staff about the regular ‘dramas’ around these relationships – the constant ‘on-off’ status and regular ‘arguments’. During one of these so-called arguments I remember one of the young women sustained injuries to her face and head. While the staff  responded with care and empathy around the physical harm,  there was no real understanding of the dynamics of the situation and her vulnerability, never mind the escalating risk that was boiling up under that roof. I don’t recall anyone naming the behaviour of the young man as ‘domestic abuse’, and I very much doubt he was challenged about his role in the relationship, his sense of entitlement or taking responsibility for his actions.

Pressure was put on the young victim to take control, end the relationship and ‘sort herself out’. There was no risk assessment, no safety plan, no effective support put in place. There was frustration about her lack of engagement with staff. Shortly after the violent incident she disclosed she was pregnant and I remember much speculation in the staff room about whether she was being truthful or not. There was no belief or validation, nor any consideration of what the pregnancy might mean for her

Young people deserve a better response than this. Thankfully there is now much greater awareness about domestic abuse, coercive control and risk. The dialogue is shifting from ‘it’s her own fault’ to ‘he needs to be challenged’. At SafeLives, we cover these topics in detail in our  Responding Safely to Young People Experiencing Domestic Abuse training session. We want to make sure that anyone experiencing domestic abuse gets the right response for them – whoever they are.

We begin by looking at brain development of adolescents to consider why their risk taking behaviour may differ from that of adults. Then we consider the nuances of how ‘domestic abuse’ and coercive control may develop in relationships between young people, including how, among other things, the language may be quite different. Then we go on to consider safe and effective communication and practical interventions with both the young victim and the person causing harm. We spend time looking at SafeLives’ Young Person’s Dash Risk Checklist and how to involve young people effectively in its application.  Finally we explore support and safety planning, with emphasis on building resilience and support networks for young people.

If you work with young people in any capacity, this practical session will consolidate your understanding of the specific dynamics of domestic abuse for these young people and equip you with practical tools to address the risks and support needs. It will support you to engage effectively and consider how you might create lasting change for that young person. And, as with all our training sessions, you will get a chance to interact and share ideas with a range of practitioners from across Scotland.

We’ve delivered this training in Aberdeen, Shetland and Scottish Borders.  We are now taking the session to Glasgow and Stirling.

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