Catastrophic effect of child witnesses of domestic abuse revealed

Analysis shows children are at increased risk of developing conduct or behavioural disorders

Published on 7th March 2019

Child survivors of domestic abuse experience "catastrophic and lifelong damage" which needs tackling urgently, a charity has said, warning that the government's draft Domestic Abuse Bill does not go far enough.

Children who witness domestic abuse should be given special waiting list protected status  for all NHS services including Child and Adolescent Mental Health Support CAMHS, the London charity Hestia has urged.

The call comes as analysis from Pro Bono Economics, carried out for Hestia, found that the financial cost of child witnesses of domestic abuse who are not helped to overcome their trauma costs the tax payer up to £1.4 billion. This estimate includes costs to health and adult social care, education, foster and residential care and crime.

Lyndsey Dearlove, Head of UK SAYS NO MORE at Hestia said: “For too long children have been overlooked in the response to domestic abuse, seen merely as “witnesses” rather than children who have experienced deep trauma and crisis. This must change. We need measures put in place to support children early on and break the cycle of abuse. The Domestic Abuse Bill is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make this a reality and prevent catastrophic and lifelong damage which costs both individuals and the taxpayer dearly.”

Around 500,000 children in the UK have been exposed to severe domestic violence and more than one million children each year are exposed to domestic abuse. More than half of those who experience domestic abuse as a child will go on to be a victim in adulthood.

Evidence suggests that childhood exposure to severe domestic violence could increase the number of children in the UK with conduct disorders by 25,000-75,000 and the number of children in the UK with hyperactivity disorders by around 10,000-25,000.

The report  'On the Sidelines: The Economic and Personal Cost of Childhood Exposure to Domestic Violence' - which was published in response to the government’s draft Domestic Abuse Bill - estimates the potential costs to the taxpayer of children who witness severe domestic violence and go on to develop behavioural disorders as between £480m and £1.4bn.

The breakdown of this is as follows:

Health and Adult Social Care – up to £70m

Crime – up to £110m

Education – up to £790m

Foster and Residential – up to £460m

Hestia, which supports adults and children across London in times of crisis, warns that the draft Domestic Abuse Bill fails to include specific measures to protect children who live in households where domestic abuse takes place.

The charity's national domestic abuse and sexual violence campaign, UK Says No More, calls for the Domestic Abuse Bill to include measures to better protect children including child survivors of domestic abuse to be given special waiting list status for all NHS services including CAMHS. Furthermore, children in refuges and those that have had to move due to domestic abuse should have priority access to school places and there should be a duty on local authorities to respond to a change of school request from refuges within 20 days.

Lord Gus O’Donnell, Chair of Pro Bono Economics said: “Children exposed to domestic abuse suffer in the short, medium and long-term.  As a society we have a moral imperative to ensure protection from the immediate risk of such trauma but also provide support whenever – unfortunately – such exposure should occur. While these numbers are striking, and this report timely, there is always a need for more robust evidence with which we can enhance our understanding of such issues, from causes through to effects and solutions. Armed with such information we can better address these concerning social trends.”

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