Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Children’s Commissioner (DAB10)

Children’s Commissioner’s Evidence to the Domestic Abuse Public Bill Committee

Definition

Under 16s

Research shows that often under-16s have experienced abuse within relationships [1] but that many are not able to identify it as abusive [2] . We believe this may be in part because no UK definition of domestic abuse has included under 16s, so services miss opportunities to help children identify abusive behaviours – for example there is no mention in the stator guidance on safeguarding children ( Working Together to Safeguard Children ) of abuse in intimate partner relationships.

We therefore believe that the definition in the bill should be amended to remove the lower age limit of 16; our suggested amendment would be for Clause 1, s2 (a) to read A and B are personally connected to each other, and’

If a decision is reached that the definition should not be amended to include under-16s, we believe statutory guidance should be introduced alongside the bill to make clear that children can suffer from abuse from partners, and give guidance to agencies on identifying and responding to this . Other statutory guidance, including Working Together , should be updated to reflect this.

All Children

Analysis by the Children’s Commissioner shows that 831,000 children in England are living in households that report domestic abuse [3] . The evidence about the long-term impact of experiencing domestic abuse on children is clear. We are therefore supportive of amendments proposed by leading children’s charities to amend the bill to include the impact on children in the definition in the bill, to show that they are victims in their own right.

In addition in order to ensure that child protection systems adequately protect children from all forms of domestic abuse, we also support an amendment to the Children Act 1989 s31 (9) to expand the definition of significant harm. The definition of significant harm is very important, as decisions about whether to place children on Child Protection Plans or into care will be based around whether they are suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm.

We believe that the current wording saying that significant harm can include ‘impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another ’ should be amended to ‘ the impairment suffered from seeing, hearing or experiencing the ill-treatment of another including coercive control and all forms of domestic abuse as defined in the Domestic Abuse Act’ . We believe that this would help to put paid to ideas that if a child doesn’t directly witness an incident of physical abuse, that does not mean they are not harmed – to live in a house where financial abuse or coercive control is being exercised is to experience harm.

Together these two changes could move us towards an understanding that a perpetrator has not just harmed their partner, and a child may have been caught up in this , but that they have also directly caused harm to their child.

Service Provision

We are supportive of the proposals announced in the recent response to the MHCLG consultation to introduce a statutory duty on Local Authorities to ensure there are adequate services for victims of domestic abuse and their children, and we welcome this being included in the Domestic Abuse Bill. However, current proposals are concerning as they only refer to accommodation-based services. Many victims will not be able to flee to refuges or dispersed accommodation – for example those with sons over the age of 14 or women with No Recourse to Public Funds who are not eligible for the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession – and would not yet be able to be at the point of openly seeking help from a sanctuary scheme.

Some victims will need long periods of community-based support from IDVAs or other services to get to the point of being able to access safe accommodation schemes. We are concerned that by making only accommodation-based support statutory, Local Authorities will understandably prioritise them and perhaps squeeze out other kinds of community provision. It also seems to be a missed opportunity that this duty would introduce statutory requirements for organisations to work together to identify needs, and not to identify need for non-accommodation-based services.

We therefore believe that when the proposals are introduced, they should require Local Authorities to provide services for all those affected by Domestic Abuse, including community-based services. If children are not included as victims in the definition, the duty should require support services for the children of victims as well.

As under-16s are not defined as being victims of Domestic Abuse (as per the current definition), they will be excluded from this statutory provision. We would suggest therefore that the duty to ensure services should apply to all victims of domestic abuse, their children, and those of any age who are or have experienced abuse from someone they are personally connected to, if the age limit in the definition remains as it is.

Migrant Women

Women with certain immigration statuses, and their children, may find it more difficult to flee abusive relationships if they have no recourse to public funds. The Destitute Domestic Violence Concession can be an incredibly effective safety net for women with NRPF on spousal visas, but we believe that this must be extended to all women with NRPF regardless of their immigration status.

October 2019

 

Prepared 31st October 2019