Domestic Abuse & Child Contact Part 1: Understanding the issues (Speaker: Nel Whiting, Scottish Women’s Aid)
Help & Support • Men’s Advice Line – 0808 801 0327 • www.respect.uk.net/pages/advice-support-for-male-victims.html • Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 027 1234 • www.scottishwomensaid.org.uk • www.lgbtdomesticabuse.org.uk • Broken Rainbow – 0300 999 5428
Have regard to need to protect the child from any abuse: Abuse includes violence, harassment, threatening conduct and any other conduct giving rise, or likely to give rise, to physical or mental injury, fear, alarm or distress. Also includes abuse of a person other than the child Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 s24, amending Children (Scotland) Act 1995 s.11
Defining harm- National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland 2010 • ‘Harm’ means the ill treatment or the impairment of the health or development of the child, including, for example, impairment suffered as a result of seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another. In this contact ‘development’ can mean physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development and ‘health’ can mean physical or mental health. • To understand and identify significant harm it is necessary to consider the nature of the harm.
Domestic abuse • Not a fight • A course of conduct – control, fear etc • Intimate terrorism? • Tailored to the life of the individual victim (faith, immigration status, geography etc) • Overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women in heterosexual relationships • Domestic abuse occurs in same sex relationships • Also experienced by children – not ‘witness to’ • End of relationship is not the end of the abuse.
Children, Domestic Abuse & Child Protection • Children in violent homes face three risks: the risk of observing traumatic events, the risk of being abused themselves, and the risk of being neglected (Mullender et al. 2003) • Research consistently shows that children living with domestic abuse have higher rates of depression, trauma symptoms, and behavioural/cognitive problems than other children (Humphreys 2006) • Evidence suggests that witnessing domestic abuse may be as harmful to children as suffering physical abuse (Margolin, 1998) • Evidence shows there is a co-occurrence of domestic abuse and child abuse in 40% of cases (Walby 2004)
Pathways to harm (from Safe & Together, David Mandel) • Abuse by the perpetrator (towards child, non-abusing parent, neglect) • Effect on partner’s parenting (depression, undermined, energy put into placating perpetrator) • Effects on family ecology (loss of income, insecure housing) • All lead to harm to the child. • Domestic abuse is therefore a parenting choice by the perpetrator
Children’s Words “The most helpful thing was when the police came and stopped my dad and let me see my mum. When the locks were changed I felt safer and when we were given alarms from the social workers. When I went to court, they showed me around to see what it was like.”
Children’s Words “I was really scared. I didn’t want any of it to happen. Everybody was talking about it before they spoke to me. Social workers kept changing all the time. I was in one town then the other. Adults should keep their promises. I was told I wouldn’t have to see my dad in court but he was there laughing. Don’t make children go to court.”
Katie and Sophie see the reporter together and state: “they do not want to see their father and say they will run away if they are made to see him.” Aged 8 & 10 years. “There appear to be no child welfare based reasons why contact should not operate [....]I do not feel that either of the girls are sufficiently mature to be able to evaluate their feelings objectively. [....]The girls are obviously fearful of their father, but I do suspect this is a result of the perception of their mother’s reaction rather than a genuine fear of spending time with the pursuer.” Outcome: Contact ordered Weight Attached to Children’s Views (Example 1)
Louise (age 6) “She says she would not like this because she would feel scared” “While it is generally accepted that is in theory positive for children to have a contact relationship with a parent post separation, there are some cases in which that is simply not the case because of issues between the parents. This is one such case in her [psychologists] view.” Outcome: No Contact Weight Attached to Children’s Views (Example 2)