SafeLives calls on Government to invest in mental health support for children living with domestic abuse

10th October 2019

On World Mental Health Day, new data from UK domestic abuse charity SafeLives highlights the devastating mental health impact of domestic abuse on children – who are too often ‘hidden’ from the support they need.

SafeLives’ 2019 Children’s Insights data[1], which is collected from children accessing specialist domestic abuse support services, found that a third (32%) of children living with domestic abuse reported mental health impacts. Of these, just under half (47%) have anxiety, 28% have problems sleeping, and 23% have feelings of shame or responsibility for the abuse. 3.5% have planned or attempted suicide.

The vast majority of children experiencing domestic abuse were directly exposed to the abusive incidents; 87% directly saw the abuse taking place, and a fifth have intervened to try and stop physical abuse. Devastatingly, the average age of children who attempted to intervene is just ten years old.

Despite the severe impact of domestic abuse on children, specialist support is a postcode lottery. Almost one in five police force areas have no support for children and young people experiencing domestic abuse[2].

Unsurprisingly, the impact of these experiences can last well into adulthood. Rebecca*, who experienced domestic abuse at home as a child, said: ‘At 11 I took my first overdose, at 12 I self-harmed for the first time, at 15 I  threw myself off a wall, at 17 I took a second overdose and at 35 I lay in the road and hoped the pain would end. I wanted to be noticed. I wanted my Dad to get help. I wanted someone to ask me how I felt or why I was behaving the way I was.’

Suzanne Jacob OBE, Chief Executive of SafeLives, said: ‘These heart-breaking findings echo what survivors tell us every day; that children do not simply “witness” domestic abuse, they experience it too and are therefore victims in their own right. Often we ignore that until their coping strategies become severe, then we try to tackle the coping strategy, not the problem causing them harm in the first place.

‘No child should have to grow up in an atmosphere of fear. For those who do, there needs to be specialist, wraparound support that meets the needs of the whole family. Children should not be left to deal with the mental health impact of domestic abuse alone – but all too often that’s exactly what is happening.

‘We urge the Government to recognise children as victims in their own right in the Domestic Abuse Bill, and ensure they implement a full statutory duty on local authorities to commission the specialist services children and their families urgently need – alongside further investment in CAMHS.’

*name changed


For media enquiries and interviews, contact Ruth Davies, Senior Communications Officer: ruth.davies@safelives.org.uk 0117 403 3220

Notes to Editors

About SafeLives

We are SafeLives, the UK-wide charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, for everyone and for good.

We work with organisations across the UK to transform the response to domestic abuse. We want what you would want for your best friend. We listen to survivors, putting their voices at the heart of our thinking. We look at the whole picture for each individual and family to get the right help at the right time to make families everywhere safe and well. And we challenge perpetrators to change, asking ‘why doesn’t he stop?’ rather than ‘why doesn’t she leave?’ This principle applies whatever the sex of the victim or perpetrator and whatever the nature of their relationship.

Last year alone, nearly 11,000 professionals working on the frontline received our training. Over 65,000 adults at risk of serious harm or murder and more than 85,000 children received support through dedicated multi-agency support designed by us and delivered with partners. In the last three years, nearly 1,000 perpetrators have been challenged and supported to change by interventions we created with partners, and that's just the start.

About Insights

SafeLives runs the largest national database of domestic abuse cases in the UK. Our Insights database has records of more than 75,000 unique cases of adults experiencing domestic abuse from 2009 to date, and a further 4,000 unique cases of children in domestic abuse households from 2011 to date. These datasets give us an unparalleled overview of the national picture of domestic abuse. We hope that everyone working to stop domestic abuse will be able to use this data to improve their services so that victims and families get the right help sooner.

For more information on the research, contact rea@safelives.org.uk