It is a well-known fact that domestic abuse hurts children, whether they are physically caught up in the middle of it, or a witness, it causes emotional abuse.
Latest government statistics show that half of the children assessed as needing social services intervention are in that situation as a result of domestic abuse. If Social Services no longer consider a child to be safe at home, then the child may be removed into the care system or, alternatively, placed with a member of the extended family if safe to do so.
In most cases this means that children are removed from their primary carers, who are often the victims of the abuse, even though it is not the primary carers who are being violent. Often it is the child’s other parent, step-parent or primary carer’s partner who is being violent and abusive.
Rates of domestic abuse sadly continue to rise, with incidents considered serious enough to be recorded by the police as crimes up 5% between 2016 and 2017. Although more incidents are being recorded, charging rates have actually dropped.
Safe Lives charity estimates 130,000 children live in households considered “high-risk” in respect of domestic abuse.
Questions are being raised as to why the victims, rather than the perpetrators, are being investigated by Social Services.
Parents, rather than being assisted and supported to protect themselves and their children from the domestic abuse they have been subjected to are, all too often, accused of failing to protect their children. This can often lead to children being removed from the care of their primary carers and, in some instances, the parents even receiving criminal convictions.
Removing children from the family home can often result in breaking up sibling groups, which can be extremely unsettling for children, particularly if they are also being removed from their main care giving parent at the same time.
Taking children away from their primary carer due to domestic abuse in the home by blaming the victim for “failure to protect” is the worst kind of victim-blaming. It is no way to effectively protect a child by placing the blame and care responsibilities on the victim. This does not put any responsibility on the perpetrator, which is where it should be.
It is a known fact that perpetrators of domestic abuse frequently breach Non-Molestation Orders with little or no consequence. Accordingly, the logic of Social Services must, therefore, be defective. If the Courts are not able to deter a perpetrator from continuing to subject a victim to domestic abuse, then the victim has little or no hope of stopping this.
In some cases Social Services expect the victim to pack up theirs and their children’s belongings and leave the family home, which is not always possible with the current drought in respect of refuge places and lack of funding with support services. There are now many areas of the country in which there are no refuge places whatsoever.
When Social Services take a family to Court for removal of the children due to domestic abuse, the Judge may well be told that the primary carer has prioritised their own needs over those of the children by remaining in a relationship with their abuser. Social Services are fully aware that the abuse is not the fault of the victim, but they are likely to tell the Court that the primary carer is the only protective factor in the children’s lives and they are failing to protect.
Social Services will, in some circumstances, consider removal of the children from their primary carer as the only possible and safe option. However, the actual issue is not whether the primary carer can protect the children from a violent abuser, but that they are being left to do so on their own and then being blamed that they failed to achieve the impossible. This irrational attitude to protecting children from domestic abuse must be brought to an end.
This has been recognised by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services who, earlier this year, were quoted as saying “A focus on prevention and changing perpetrator behaviours is long overdue and the government must lead this endeavour from the front as a matter of urgency”.
It is widely acknowledged that early prevention and support for families is far better than removal of children. Regrettably, it has already been shown by East Sussex and Northamptonshire councils that such measures can no longer be afforded in austerity Britain.
In the meantime, record numbers of children are currently being taken into care, with the loss of their human right to remain with either of their birth parents. Instead, primary carers are just being blamed, rather than helped, guided and supported.
The removal of children from primary carers who are subjected to domestic abuse ranks the children’s short-term safety above a far greater goal that could, in the longer term, keep the family together both physically and psychologically.
It is only if we can start to understand that nobody, and definitely not the victim, can or should be expected to stop a violent person’s behaviour that we can start to prevent families being torn apart.
If you or anyone you know is currently being subjected to domestic abuse, please do not hesitate to contact the Domestic Violence and Abuse Department (DVAD) at Emery Johnson Astills, either by phoning 0116 255 4855, or by emailing DVAD@johnsonastills.com for advice as to what action it may be possible to take in the Family Courts to secure Orders to protect yourself.
A specially trained member of staff in the DVAD of Emery Johnson Astills will be able to provide advice as to what measures you can take to protect yourself and also whether you may be eligible for Legal Aid.