Responding to domestic violence

Crying womanJune 2006

The ESRC's Children 5-16 Research Programme has informed debates about child care legislation and amendments to the Children Act 1989.

Domestic violence against women is widespread but mainly hidden. As a result, the number of children who live in households where their mothers are abused by their partners, or harassed by ex-partners, is large but unknown.

A groundbreaking study on domestic violence, from the ESRC's Children 5-16 Research Programme, was carried out by key domestic violence experts led by Professor Audrey Mullender. The research shows that rather than suffering in silence as previously believed, children often display remarkable coping strategies and want to be heard and involved in service responses (where safe), but agencies rarely consult them. Their views are largely ignored.

Impact

  • Professor Mullender's research has informed debates about legal reforms to child care legislation, resulting in amendments to the Children Act 1989. An amendment that came into effect in 2005 updated the definition of harm as including the impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another - strengthening the case for significant harm through domestic violence.
  • It has also influenced policy initiatives and frameworks, such as the Department for Children, Schools and Families' programme Every Child Matters.
  • Government ministers are now considering adding domestic violence lessons to the national curriculum in schools, following Professor Mullender's recommendation.
  • The findings have informed the design and delivery of support provided to children and young people by local government authorities and charities including Women's Aid and Alcohol Concern. The study provided the basis for the 'Expect Respect' education toolkit produced by Women's Aid.
  • London Councils – which represents all 32 London boroughs, the City of London, the Metropolitan Police Authority and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority – have used the research in its guidelines for service providers.
  • The Social Care Institute for Excellence, set up by the government in 2001 to improve social care services for adults and children, has also included the findings in its literature.
  • The study underpinned further research on ways mothers (and others) can help children recover from living with violence in the home, resulting in the publication of 'good practice' materials by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Further information