Nowhere to turn for children and young people
Children and young people talk about their journey to refuge
Today, national domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid releases a new report, Nowhere to turn for children and young people, which documents the journeys undertaken by children and young people with their mothers as they flee to safety.
There are more children and young people in refuges than adult women (2). However, only some of the available refuge spaces are suitable for families. In addition, less than a third of refuges are able to employ a dedicated children and young people’s worker to help the children and young people’s recovery process.
This report could not have come at a more critical time, as more children start returning to school. We know that, since March, children and young people’s experiences of abuse have worsened, contact arrangements have been used to further abuse, and it has become harder for children and young people to access support.
Told in the children’s and young people’s own words and illustrated with their drawings, the report brings to life their experiences. Read the Nowhere to turn for children and young people report here.
“Because it was hard to live with 20 pounds a week.”
There is a shortage in refuge provision for families with children, in a context of a general shortage of bed spaces. The number of refuge bed spaces in England was already 30% below the number recommended by the Council of Europe before the pandemic hit, with less than half having the capacity to accept women with more than two children. Women with more than two children find it even harder to find a refuge that can accommodate them. According to the report, only 15.1% available refuge vacancies could accommodate women with three children, while only 4.6% available refuge vacancies could accommodate women with four children.
The odds are further stacked against survivors, children and young people facing multiple, often intersecting structural barriers. There are few spaces in refuges for families with someone needing wheelchair access: in 2019-2020 only 0.9% of refuge spaces were fully wheelchair accessible. There is also a chronic lack of specialist support for Black and minoritised women and children. Because housing benefit is typically required to fund the rent within refuge services, only a very small proportion of refuges are able to consider referrals from families with no recourse to public funds.
Sadly, despite the best efforts of the No Woman Turned Away project from 2019 to 2020, the government-funded Women’s Aid service (1), only 24 out of the 123 families with children (19.5%), who were supported by the project that year, were eventually accommodated in a suitable refuge.
Nicki Norman, acting chief executive at Women’s Aid, says
At Women’s Aid we always say that children do not witness domestic abuse – they experience it. We are pleased that the government has now recognised in the new domestic abuse bill that children and young people are survivors of domestic abuse in their own right.
But there is still far more to be done. Domestic abuse refuges provide life-saving specialist support for children and young people to help them recover, but funding for this remains severely insecure. We must ensure that support for all children and young people is integrated by default into funding for specialist domestic abuse services, including refuges and specialist services such as ‘by and for’ organisations for Black and minoritised women and children, and fully wheelchair accessible services.
We call for the statutory duty in the forthcoming domestic abuse bill to be fully–funded to ensure that refuge services are resourced to provide specialist support for children and young people. Women’s Aid calculates the total amount of investment needed for the refuge sector in England to meet current need is £173m a year. The Bill must also ensure that survivors and their children with no recourse to public funds can access a refuge space in reality.
Josie Austin, report author, and research and evaluation officer at Women’s Aid, says
Children and young people are often excluded from debates around their needs. This report highlights how important it is to listen to them and demonstrates the insights that they can offer when they are given a platform to do so. The report points to the strength that children and young people conjure during their difficult journeys into safety, and clearly shows the importance of the bond between children, their mothers and other non-abusive family members, who protect and support each other through the toughest times. It is vital that children and young people are offered specialist support from professionals who listen to them and are sensitive to their needs so that they may recover from the abuse and go forward with their lives.
Notes to editors
- The Nowhere to Turn for Children and Young People report is linked to Women’s Aid’s No Woman Turned Away project, which provides dedicated support to women who face particular barriers and structural inequalities to accessing a refuge space. No Woman Turned Away is funded by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
- Children and young people make up more than half of those who live in a refuge (13,787 children compared to 11,489 adult women).
- Of the 243 women who engaged with the No Woman Turned Away project and finished their support between 12 January 2019 and 11 January 2020, approximately half (123 women; 50.6%) were fleeing with at least one child.
- The report pulls on four different data sources:
- Statistical data and case studies on the women and children supported No Woman Turned Away who ended their support between the 12 January 2019 and 11 of January 2020
- National data collected by 57 organisations in England pertaining to children and young people who ended their support with accommodation-based domestic abuse services between the 1st of April 2019 and the 31st of March 2020.
- Snapshot data of all domestic abuse services in England listed on Women’s Aid’s online services directory Routes to Support on the 1st of May 2020.
- Interviews with and artwork provided by children and young people aged 11 to 17.