This week, charities across the UK are having donations doubled through The Big Give. London charity Hestia, home of the UK SAYS NO MORE campaign, share how specialist domestic abuse support is breaking the cycle of abuse, and why your donations to this kind of work are so important.
Every year, almost one million children are affected by domestic abuse across the UK and that on any given day, in any school, in any part of the United Kingdom; 1 in five of its pupils will be experiencing domestic abuse (1). These children are often referred to as the hidden or forgotten victims of domestic abuse.
Experiencing domestic abuse as a child has a long lasting impact. We know that adverse childhood experiences have a direct impact on a child’s mental health, and that these experiences continue to have an impact on their mental health as they move into adulthood. Studies indicate that 1 in 3 adult mental health conditions relate directly to adverse childhood experiences (2).
Interestingly, many adults – 1 in eight of us to be exact – (Opinium 2018) who witnessed domestic abuse in their family homes as children will go on to say that the impact of the abuse had an immense adverse impact on their childhood. Many go on to say that they felt they could not escape the abuse and that they felt helpless, constantly afraid and confused.
Now they are adults, these survivors can identify and understand that they felt isolated and alone, that they struggled to make and maintain friendships and many have said that they were constantly worried about what was happening at home and that they struggled to concentrate at school. John, who is now 24, said that he was worried all the time that he would get home from school and find her ex-boyfriend had attacked his Mum. He managed, with a lot of bad behaviour, cheeky comments and truancy to get himself excluded and finally expelled from school. This had meant that he had to be home schooled and now was able to be with his Mum during the day to keep her safe. John education was severely impacted and he left school with only 2 GCSE’s, he has since gone back to education as an adult and he is now concluding a social care qualification so that he can work with children.
A recent study commissioned by Hestia and undertaken by public opinion polling organisation Opinium indicated that out of the adults who indicated they had witnessed abuse as children more than 55% went on to experience domestic abuse in their own intimate partner relationships. This reaffirms that need for us to all work together to end domestic abuse and that for us to recognise the impact it has on children. We must all recognise that if we want to make real social change, we need to break the cycle of abuse.
How do we break the cycle of abuse?
We start by seeing and accepting that children are directly impacted by domestic abuse. Regardless of where they are when the incident happens – perhaps they are under the bed hiding or shooed out of the front door to a neighbour’s house or to school. Children know. They react to the subtle changes in atmosphere and behaviour. They are torn between loving both parents and being afraid of one. They do not bring friends home, they are quiet, perhaps even withdrawn. On the other hand, children can react in a completely different manner. They may believe that if they behave impeccably, doing really well at school and not cause any trouble the domestic abuse will stop.
Breaking the cycle means listening to these children. Allowing these children to have a specially trained worker – who understands the impact of domestic abuse on children and understands children. At Hestia, like many domestic abuse refuge providers we work tirelessly to ensure that children have access to specialist child and adolescent workers. Unfortunately, as many of these services rely on the support of the public and corporate organisations availability and access to these vital services varies across London and across the country.
We need to ensure that these children have access to mental health support that they need. We must be able to ensure this support varies from talking therapies; drama, art or play therapy to summer play schemes delivered by specialist workers and volunteers. Access to these services is essential for children who have experienced domestic abuse.
How do we know that these services make a difference?
You have told us that they do. Every day we meet people who experiences domestic abuse as children, who are willing to share their experiences.
Tom who is now 35, told me that he and his brother along with his Mum had been in a refuge in London in the early eighties. He mentioned that he remembered a little bit about his time there. They shared a room with another family and he slept with his brother in the bottom bunk. The journey to London had been his first trip on a train. Tom said the two things that stand out the most his memories is how is Mum’s body changed – she grew six feet in a week, her shoulders went back and she held her head high. Tom said the second memory had such a profound impact on his and his brother that they hold this date as the start of when things changed. They came home from school and heard a sound that they had not heard before – a belly aching laugh from their Mum. She had been in kitchen laughing with another Mum. Tom was seven and he had never heard that sound before. He still calls it the best sound in the world. Tom credits the women that worked in the refuge, in particular Sandra who played with them and the other children afterschool for helping them all understand the changes that they were witnessing.
At Hestia we are committed to providing a Children and Family worker in every refuge to provide practical and emotional support tailored specifically for the children who arrive with their mums. Our children & family workers support children in many ways, including conventional and creative therapy, stay and play sessions, plus activities and day trips during the summer play schemes. We need your help to make sure every child has access to these services.
Hestia is the largest provider of domestic abuse refuges in London. In 2016-17 Hestia provided a place of safety for 719 women and 668 children across our 29 refuges across 11 boroughs; all of whom had been made homeless by domestic abuse. In addition to our refuge services, our Independent Domestic Violence Advocates (IDVAs), Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) and floating support teams supported almost 2,300 people living in the community who are at high risk of abuse.
“Hundreds of children stay in our domestic abuse refuges and safehouses for those who’ve escaped modern slavery. They often arrive having suffered from significant trauma, either through witnessing or experiencing abuse, and can be fearful or angry about having to have left their homes, schools and friends. Our Summer Play Scheme gives these children the chance to get their childhood back. Through activities and outings, they’re able to run, play and laugh all while bonding with other children and rebuilding their relationship with their mothers. During The Big Give Week (Midday Monday 11th June – Midday Friday 15th June), all of your donations will be DOUBLED, with all funds raised going straight to creating this year’s Summer Play Scheme, and giving the children in our services the chance for a summer free from fear.”
If you want to donate to Hestia’s work, you can do so by clicking here.
A full list of charities participating in the Big Give can be found here.
- Lorraine Radford, S. C. (2011). Child abuse and neglect in the UK today. London: NSPCC.
- Kessler RC, McLaughlin KA, Green JG, Gruber MJ, Sampson NA, Zaslavsky AM et al (2010) Childhood adversities and adult psychopathology in the WHO World Mental Health Surveys. Br J Psychiatry 197(5):378–385