Information for Professionals Working with Children & Young People
Children and young people who are exposed to domestic abuse may develop serious emotional, behavioural, developmental and academic problems.
All children are unique and have different levels of resilience and therefore will cope with their experiences in different ways.
Effects of Domestic Abuse on Children & Young People
Physical problems - particularly stress related problems
- Stomach cramps
- Skin disorders
Changed sleeping patterns
- Disrupted sleep
- Bed wetting
Aggressive and disruptive behaviour
- Verbal and physical
- Withdrawn behaviours
- Excessively clingy
- Fear and anxiety resulting in low self esteem and lack of confidence
- Feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness, hopelessness, anger, responsibility.
- Depression/low mood leading to suicidal thoughts and self harm, eating disorders
- Alienation from peers
- General poor social relationships
- Confusion and fear in relationships with the opposite sex
Development of an Unhealthy Belief System
Impaired cognitive functioning
- An inability to concentrate
- A reluctance to attend school
Communicating with Children & Young People
Domestic Abuse causes a crisis of trust in relationships for children and young people. Research by Thomas and O’Kane (1998a) identified the following important areas when working with them;
- Relationship, trust and honesty. Children communicate best with people with whom they have relationships of warmth and trust. It is important to be friendly, and open, empathetic and above all ‘straight’ with children.
- Active listening. The skills of ‘active listening’ developed in counselling can be helpful in work with children. This means responding to cues, restating and drawing out the meaning of what the child is saying combined with the expression of warmth, empathy and acceptance. It should also be remembered that body language-an adult’s tone of voice, facial expressions, and even style of dress-can affect how children communicate.
- Choice, information and preparation. Children must have a choice about whether and how they participate in a decision-making process. They are more able to have their say if they have been prepared for the discussion and given time to think about things beforehand.
- Support and encouragement. Children need support and active encouragement to speak up, especially when they have something difficult or negative to express. An adult may sometimes need to offer to express children’s views for them. Children do not like it when they feel they are being judged or criticized, and they do not like to be ‘put on the spot’.
- Activities. Many children find it very boring to ‘just sit and talk’. Games, writing, drawing and other activities can be used to make the process more interesting. ‘Life story work’ can be an excellent way to involve children in reflecting on their situation (see Ryan and Walker, 1993).
- The child’s agenda. It is important to give children space to talk about issues that concern them rather than just respond to adults’ questions.
- Serious fun! The fact that serious matters are being discussed does not mean that everyone has to be po-faced. Some children find this threatening, and most find it alienating. If decision-making processes are made more enjoyable, children are more likely to get involved.
- Risk-taking: Safe risk-taking when participating allows children to learn from their mistakes, to take responsibility for their own actions, and to gain a growing sense of autonomy: adults need to learn to ‘let go’ sometimes.
(Taken from ‘Children in Society’ edited by Pam Foley, Jeremy Roche and Stanley Tucker)
Messages that Children & Young People Need to Hear
- Violence is not OK
- The troubles between your parents are not your fault, you are not to blame
- It must be scary for you
- I will listen to you
- You can tell me how you feel-it is important
- You do not deserve to have this in your family
- There is nothing you could have done to prevent/change the situation
- Do not intervene in incidents-we can talk about how to keep you safe if it happens again
- You don’t have to choose between your parents
Surrey County Council Children’s Services
Are the lead agency for Child Protection. If you are a professional worker with information or concerns about a child or young person, you should call their Contact Centre on 0300 200 1006. In addition, you should also confirm your referral in writing as quickly as possible. If you are in doubt about making a referral to Surrey Children's Services, you should consult, within your agency, with the manager or practitioner with designated responsibility for child protection.
Surrey Safeguarding Child’s Board - Important Information on the following issues can be found using the links below;
Help for Professionals Working within Education
Schools may be the only place where children and young people affected by domestic abuse and violence feel safe. They can play a vital role in supporting them, and in preventing abuse in the future by promoting healthy relationships and gender equality. ESDAS is happy to discuss how you can appropriately & safely raise awareness of domestic abuse and violence within your school. Alternatively Women’s Aid have produced a Toolkit for Education called Expect Respect which can be found at www.womensaid.org.uk
Research shows that those children who are supported and given an opportunity to work through their experiences show the best recovery and go on to form good relationships in adult life.