In the UK, over 950,000 children experience domestic abuse each year of which 30,000 will live in a refuge. Whether as direct victims of abuse or by witnessing violence, the experience is highly traumatic, often resulting in psychological and physical issues which continue into adulthood.
Although there is now a clear acknowledgement of the harm that children experience by witnessing abuse, support remains overwhelmingly focused on the mother. This is underpinned by the approach that, by supporting the non-abusive parent, we are indirectly helping the child. While effective in establishing immediate safety, this effectiveness is compromised if the problems faced by each child are not individually addressed.
At Hestia, specialist Children and Family Workers are based at each of our refuges. Through conventional and creative therapy, we have learnt the value of offering a specialist service for children built around their individual needs.
Much of our work is restoring and supporting the relationship between mother and child. Whole-family activities offer huge benefits and provide a clear insight into family dynamics. Experience shows that, when supported to articulate their emotions and experiences, children are more able to rebuild the relationship with their mother, which can help them begin recovery from trauma (Hestia, 2015).
“Across all our 39 refuges in London, we work tirelessly to help women and children who have escaped violent homes so that they can be safe again. Our work with children gives them the opportunity to enjoy play sessions and resume their normal family life. With your help, and through our Hidden Child campaign, we can help them to achieve this” – Pat Ryan, CEO Hestia.
Despite the fantastic progress children at our refuges make, through access to this specialist support, many are directly affected by other obstacles. These include: delayed entry to schools; minimal access to mental health support services; a poor understanding of the impact of abuse on children among statutory agencies; and inconsistent access to support for older boys.
To help children living in refuges overcome these barriers, Hestia’s Hidden Child campaign is calling on the UK Home Office and other support agencies to make the following changes to ensure that children living in refuges across the UK are provided consistent support.
“Hidden Child is a crucial campaign, shedding light on the needs of the hundreds of thousands of children that have experienced domestic abuse. Specialist help to recover from their trauma is vital; domestic violence has a devastating impact on children and young people that can last into adulthood” – Polly Neate, CEO Women’s Aid.
Despite the hard work carried out by various members of our dedicated team, some children unfortunately never overcome the trauma they have experienced. Even after the bruises have healed, the psychological damage remains and can present itself in many ways.
Some of our children and family workers report that children have been seen to display signs of:
- Extreme personality change
- Aggressive behaviour
- Anti-social behaviour
- Difficulties at school, often displayed through truancy, or attention difficulties
- Sudden changes in behaviour, with the child presenting in a way that is out of character (e.g. being withdrawn)
- A child wetting his/herself
- Eating/sleeping disorders, as well as suffering with nightmares
- Regressing behaviour
- Outbursts of crying
- Acting out inappropriate sexual acts using their toys
- Becoming fidgety when previously calm and relaxed
- Becoming extremely introverted when previously happy to engage
- Some children become overly sociable with the strangers, and extremely unaware of boundaries
The above list is not exhaustive, and may even be confusing with children demonstrating examples in behaviour over both scales. However, the parents/teacher will know the child, and so for them it is about recognizing what is usually ‘normal’ for that particular child and how their most recent behaviour differs from that.
Thanks to the Hidden Child for this educational guest post. For further information on the work Hestia do, or to speak to someone from their team please contact:
- Abid Gangat, Hestia – Media and Communications Manager
Alternatively, you can go to their website: www.hestia.org/hiddenchild.