Blog by Julie Walters, Patron of Women's Aid

Listen to the voices of child survivors of domestic abuse

By Julie Walters, Patron of Women’s Aid

Published Friday 24th September 2020: This week, Women’s Aid, for which I am a proud patron, has released a report, Nowhere to Turn for Children and Young People. It shares the stories of children and young people telling us, in their own words and drawings, what it is like to leave home with their mothers and escape to a refuge.

Read Nowhere to Turn for Children and Young People

When we think about domestic abuse, it is often the women we are thinking of, but all around the country there are refuges full of children, who have travelled with their mother to escape a perpetrator of domestic abuse. Often that perpetrator will be their father, and it can be an extremely difficult time, with mixed emotions. There can be uncertainty, sadness at leaving their friends and feelings of relief at leaving the home where they did not feel safe. As Leah said: “…There could be a million feelings that I feel in just a few minutes.”

“Domestic abuse has a devastating impact on children and young people that can last into adulthood.”

One in seven children and young people under the age of 18 will have lived with domestic violence at some point in their childhood*. Sometimes the children cannot be told in advance for safety reasons that they were leaving. Sebastian said: “I never knew I was going to come here…I was shocked.” He knew that staying at home was not an option, yet he felt his choices were taken away from him and this was emotionally traumatic to deal with, “I just felt like I was in a bad place and I couldn’t get out.”

“Children are survivors of trauma and need dedicated, specialist help to recover.

There are not enough refuge spaces for those who need them, and sadly, even once they are safe in a refuge, less than a third of refuges currently have the funding for a support worker to help children and young people recover.”

There are more children and young people in refuges than adult women. Even before the pandemic, there was a chronic shortage of vacancies – 30% below the number recommended by the Council of Europe with less than half having the capacity to accept women with two children. Women with more than two children find it even harder to find a refuge that can house them. According to our new report, only 15.1% of available refuge vacancies could accommodate women with three children, while only 4.6% of available refuge vacancies could accommodate women with four children.

It is even harder for women who face additional barriers. For migrant women who do not qualify for housing benefit because they have no recourse to public funds, finding a refuge place is incredibly difficult because the funding is not there to pay for the bed space. It is also hard if you need an accessible refuge for your child who has a wheelchair – the report found only 0.9% of refuge vacancies were in fully wheelchair accessible accommodation. There is also a chronic lack of specialist support for Black and minoritised women and children, especially outside of London.

“The government has now recognised in the domestic abuse bill that children are not witnesses – they are survivors in their own right. This is a really important move, but there is so much more than needs to be done.”

Please join me in reading this important report, and listen carefully to the voices of the children and young people who have survived domestic abuse. Together, we can help them get the help and support they deserve.

* Radford, L, Aitken, R, Miller, P, Ellis, J, Roberts, J, and Firkic, A, Meeting the needs of children living with domestic violence in London Research report Refuge/NSPCC research project Funded by the City Bridge Trust November 2011 (London: NSPCC and Refuge, 2011), p. 9 


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