At first glance, it is possible to view domestic violence and risks to children as only occurring if they witness domestic violence to their parent growing up. Another presumption is that if they have witnessed this then they are more inclined to either commit violence on their partner in the future or be more susceptible to being victims of abusive partners when they are adults. However, through research with victims of domestic violence and their children we can see that it is much deeper than that. This essay aims to delve further than that and look at the importance of safeguarding vulnerable adults and their children as children can not only become victims by witnessing abuse but they can be used either as a weapon in an abusive relationship or become involved in the abuse itself. It is of imperative importance that this area is researched to understand how best to prevent and stop domestic abuse to adults and their children.
As described by HM Government (2018), although parents and carers of children are their primary caregivers, under the Children’s Act of 1989 and 2004 it is also down to local authorities such as social services and other children’s service’s to ensure a child’s safety. This is especially necessary in cases where a parent/carer is experiencing abuse at home. However, as described by Hester (2011) it can be difficult to ensure and sustain the safety of both parents and children in these circumstances. This may be due to the fact that ensuring the safety of the victims involved also requires the involvement of the perpetrator which can be a very complex issue to address. For many years, the safeguarding of children and the safeguarding of adults has been deemed to be as if they are from planets apart. There are 3 planets that are described by Hester (2009). The first is the domestic violence planet, the second is the child protection planet and the third is the child contact planet. Unless we can align these planets of abuse then it may not be possible to make sure that the safety of women and children is met. To be able to do this to reduce any “tensions” between the safeguarding of adults and children there must be a better understanding between multiple agencies and services involved in safeguarding. Not only this, but there must be better research into the perpetrators so that their violent behaviour can be challenged and stopped. A study by Peckover and Golding (2017) brought another issue to light. One of their participants stated that adult and children’s services simply do not have a unified approach and understanding of how to address the link between domestic violence and children. The tensions between the two services are also made apparent by research done by Stanley and Humphreys (2014) which states that the complexity of the problem of domestic abuse is made worse by defining what it is to be “wicked” and also that the tensions inherent within safeguarding services are primarily adult-focused or child-focused; never intertwined. It is possible to be able to do this by understanding and assessing the risk between safeguarding children and domestic abuse work. By making clear specific guidelines of the two interlinking subjects and providing these to relevant organisations this could help to make the complex issue slightly easier to manage. One document that has aimed to do this is the CAADA (2014) document. In this it helps to identify children that are living in households that could be suffering from the effects of domestic abuse and it also helps to support the parent who is suffering from the abuse. By intertwining the two services, this can have a much more positive effect on both suffering individuals. Through analysis of the research provided one may argue that to be able to more forward and support victims further then the two services have to become more unified to be able to do this. Furthermore, perhaps rather than looking at domestic abuse from three separate planets it may be more useful to look at them as whole because without doing this then the tensions between adult and child safeguarding will continue to be separate issues.
Although the main issue may appear to be the safeguarding of children as they can appear to be the most in need as they cannot defend themselves against an adult, surely it can be argued that the first safeguarding should be for the vulnerable adult. The department of health (2000) set out a “no secrets” agenda and defined a vulnerable adult as someone who is “unable to protect him or herself from significant harm or exploitation”. This definition can be applied when someone is suffering from domestic abuse because they are being exploited by someone in seek of having power over them in their domestic situation. This could not only be a person of normal physical capacity but it could also be someone who suffers from a disability as well. One way that the safeguarding of adults could be implicated is by informing places of work. The Local Government Association (2013) has produced a document with the aim to inform practitioners and managers about how to spot abuse and the relevant local authorities to inform when this is taking place. Within the document it describes the complexity of work trying to safeguard adults and also to offer advice to ensure that the best help is given. By ensuring an adults safety it is also possible to ensure a child’s safety if the adult suffering is a parent. However this may not be as simple as it seems. It may not be explicitly obvious whether someone is suffering in an abusive relationship because often it is kept a secret out of fear of embarrassment from the victim. If domestic abuse is not spotted in a parent who if suffering then it may not be recognised in a child who is also in an abusive situation. One way to be able to successfully tackle this problem is the use of the Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy Service (IDVAS). The IDVAS are a project that came about because of the concerns raised within community safeguarding in relation to mortality rates when people are victims of domestic abuse (Basu et al 2014). Because of this, many IDVA services are based in the emergency rooms of hospitals; where a lot of people suffering may appear. This not only makes them a visible presence in places where adults and children are in need of help but they can also speak to hospital staff to offer advice and can help identify families that may be at risk. This may help the complex issue regarding adult and child safeguarding as they can help refer people to the relevant services. Although the IDVA services do not have a separate individual services for children they all have a duty to inform Children and Young People’s Services if they believe that due to an abusive household that a child may be at risk.
Leading on from the previous analysis of adult and safeguarding services and the need for them to be interlinked, as much as this is an easy statement to make in practice it may not be so easy. In research by E. Szilassy et all (2017), it was uncovered that when interviewing 42 General Practitioners (GP’s), 12 Practice nurses and 15 Practice managers, more than half of the GP’s and the majority of the practice nurses claimed that they would probably not make a link between chid protection concerns and the possibility of domestic abuse being prevalent in the household. This research is backed up by that of Tompsett et al (2010) which found that there were many tensions and professional issues regarding the safeguarding of children’s welfare which went beyond the family and parents safeguarding. Through analysis of this research it is clear to notice the lack in safeguarding for children which can also lead to a lack in safeguarding for adults too. If a parent is suffering from domestic abuse this may have been happening before the child was born so they may have instilled defence mechanisms within themselves which means they can cover up the abuse that is happening. Children may not be able to do this as easily therefore if the people working in GP surgeries were able to connect the warning signs and reach out to children that may be suffering this could help a lot of families.
One main reason why there needs to be successful safe-guarding for children in family situations where domestic abuse is prevalent is because it can have not only severe but lasting effects in a manner of ways. Children that grow up in abusive homes are more likely to be victims of child abuse and this risk increases in households where there are younger children rather than older children (UNICEF 2006). It has also been found that even those that do not experience direct abuse they can still have the same behavioural and psychological issues as those that do experience physical abuse. It also does not just occur to children that have been born yet. It has been found by Lewis and Drife (2002) that 30% of domestic violence begins or escalates during pregnancy and that it is identified as a prime cause for miscarriages and still births. These statistics show the importance of services for children and adults alike. In January 2014, the Early Intervention Foundation (2014) published a systematic review of literature and research on domestic abuse and children at risk. Within this systematic review there is a study by Helton in 1986, a random sample of 290 healthy pregnant women 8.3% of those women had reported being physically abused during their current pregnancy. Although this is still tragic for the women suffering, this could affect the unborn baby prenatally and once the baby has been born as well. Jasinki (2004) concluded that some of the possible consequences of experiencing domestic violence during a pregnancy can lead to premature labour, foetal trauma and then after birth there may be a lack of maternal instincts or even an increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse. If pregnant women are at a much higher risk of experiencing abuse from a partner then surely it can be argued that during pregnancy there should be a service for women that is clearly stated can help herself and the baby. This links with the importance of safeguarding adults as well as children because if an adult cannot protect themselves how can they be expected to look after their child.
Although pregnant women are more likely to be at a greater risk of abuse this does not lessen the fact that people with children also suffer from domestic violence. One of these links between domestic violence and risks to children is explained by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (2019) when they say that children of any age that witness abuse can develop ‘Post-traumatic stress disorder’ (PTSD) which is also prevalent in adults that suffer from abuse. The long term effects of PTSD when acquired as a child can include symptoms such as, being more aggressive; feelings of anxiety such as nervousness or being on high alert; have problems in school; worry about dying at a young age; sleeping problems and depressive feelings (University of Rochester Medical Centre, No Date). Knowing this information highlights the importance of attempting to lower the risk to children that may be suffering from domestic abuse in their household. One way that this is possible is through the MARAC services. The MARAC services not only safeguard adults but once someone is referred to a MARAC service it is because the victim is classified as a high risk case. In these circumstances the aim of a MARAC would be to share information to increase the safety of the victim which includes their children as well (Reducing the Risk of Domestic Abuse, No Date). A MARAC is able to help the adult victim and children because of the amount of agencies that have access to the service such as Children and Young People’s Services and IDVA Services (SafeLives 2014). The MARAC services is one way that helps to aid the complex issue of child and adult safeguarding.
In conclusion, considering the fact that 20% of children in the UK have lived in a household where one parent is either a victim or perpetrator of abuse (NSPCC 2011) and 62% of those children are directly harmed (Safelives 2015) it is clear to see that there is a definite link between domestic violence and a risk to children. This is why it is of imperative importance that services like the MARAC service are utilised to ensure that the safety of adults and children alike that are suffering is protected.