2nd July 2015
Not our words – but those of the police inspectorate. Today they published their inspection of the police response to child protection – and in the inspector’s own strong words:
The police service must reassess their approach to child protection - or risk failing a new generation of children. […] The response to reports of offences against children - ranging from online grooming to domestic abuse - was inadequate.
Their report tells a story that’s all too familiar to professionals working with victims and families. Police officers responding to domestic abuse who don’t check that the children in the home are okay. Children not being considered victims and not given the chance to tell their own story, in a separate room from their parents.
Here at SafeLives, we’re passionate about taking a whole-family approach to ending domestic violence – one which supports every member of the family to make sure the abuse stops. The reason for this is simple: we know from our research that 2 in 3 children who live with domestic abuse are directly harmed themselves – and in the vast majority of cases, the perpetrator is the same.
There are some positives in the report. Child protection agencies now better understand how domestic abuse in the home contributes to an increased level of risk for the child. Most police forces also now have a system for assessing danger to the child in domestic violence cases.
But the report also highlights serious areas for improvement. Of the estimated 1.8 million children living with domestic abuse, only a small number are actually known to the police or child protection agencies – something we’ve highlighted before. From our data we know that just 50% of children living with high-risk domestic abuse are known to children’s services.
Perhaps most worryingly, the report notes that even where they take action to help an adult victim, the police and other agencies don’t always follow up to make sure a child living with domestic abuse is safe. It is crucial that forces get this right – our data shows that the police are twice as likely as any other service to be in contact with children living domestic abuse.
The report has several recommendations for police forces on how they can get better at keeping children safe – and it’s great that the first of these argues for better staff awareness of the effect of domestic abuse on children. It also calls for agencies to work more closely together to get better at keeping children safe, and for better recording of children’s views and concerns.
Acknowledging the link between ending domestic abuse and protecting children is only the first step – but it’s an important one. Still too often the impact of domestic abuse on children is not appreciated, even where agencies (rightly) try to help the adult victim.
But identifying victims and referring them for help isn’t enough when there just aren’t enough good services out there for children who’ve lived with domestic abuse – and even fewer where that help links to the support available for their parent.
The next step is to make sure every child and every adult victim gets the right help as quickly as possible, no matter where they live or who they are ask for help. Only then will victims and their children be able to get safe and stay safe in the long term.