Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Children’s Commissioner (DAB43)

This submission sets out the ways in which the Children’s Commissioner considers that the Domestic Abuse bill could be improved to provide protections for children. We are seeking protections both for children who are experiencing abuse within their own intimate partner relationships, as well as children who are experiencing the domestic abuse of a parent, carer or someone else in their home.  

Under 16s in Abusive Relationships

The Bill aims to provide all public services, as well as the general public, with a common and clear definition of Domestic Abuse. The definition in the Bill contains an age limit of 16 – meaning that no child under 16 will be considered a victim of Domestic Abuse.

The Children’s Commissioner is concerned that if children under 16 are excluded, they will not be helped to understand and identify signs of abuse in their own relationships, or feel confident to come forward and seek help if they are experiencing it. Likewise, professionals will not be encouraged to explore children’s own relationships for signs of abuse, or provide services to help them.

At present, abuse children experience in their intimate relationships is not well enough understood or addressed; there is no mention made of it in within the over-arching statutory safeguarding guidance, even though other forms of extra-familial (or ‘contextual’) dangers are outlined such as Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE). Department for Education guidance on CSE is currently focused on certain models of abusive relationship, and does not cover all abuse in children’s own intimate relationships – particularly where that abuse is not sexual. As a result of this, we do not properly track or tackle domestic abuse amongst children, though it is thought as many as a quarter of girls experience physical violence in their relationships, and nearly three-quarters experienced emotional abuse (NSPCC: 2009). The Children’s Society has recently found that 77% of Local Authorities do not have a policy on dealing with relationship abuse for under 16s, and only a third collect the data on the number of under 16s affected.

The Government response to the Joint Bill Committee’s recommendations originally said that there would be consideration given to a review of children’s abuse in their own relationships – yet the most recent response has said this review is not needed as there is enough in place for these children. For the reasons outlined above, the Children’s Commissioner does not share this assessment. We believe excluding from the Domestic Abuse Bill is a missed opportunity, which would compound an existing gap in our response to domestic violence. Recognising in statute that this abuse does occur would mean it would be routinely identified (and recorded by police and children’s services). It would also mean professionals and commissioners would be much better placed to understand the level of need and provide services accordingly

There are some concerns that removing the age limit could criminalise under 16s, but the Bill does not introduce a new crime of domestic abuse. Under 16s can already be prosecuted for all the crimes associated with Domestic Abuse (including coercive control, assault, GBH). The best way to mitigate the risk of criminalisation is through clear guidance. The Children’s Commissioner therefore support the removal of the age limit.

We therefore believe the age limit should be reviewed. We are also supportive of Amendment no 47, tabled by Christine Jardine, Liz Saville Roberts and Nickie Aiken, which would amend Clause 66 to require statutory guidance to be introduced on responding to abuse within children’s own relationships. This guidance must cover under 16s as well as 16 and 17 year olds.

Ensuring all victims get the support they need

The Commissioner welcomes measures within the Bill to guarantee victims access to accommodation-based services. However, the exclusion of community-based services means vital protections for children will be missed out

We know that almost 70% of victims of Domestic Abuse remain in the family home, and that for some going to a refuge is much more difficult if not impossible – particularly for those with older sons.

It is essential that all victims of Domestic Abuse, including the 831,000 children that we estimate are living in households where they experience Domestic Abuse, as well as those who experience abuse within their own intimate relationships are able to access help in their communities. There is a risk that without a requirement to provide community-based support, those who do not access refuges will be at a significant disadvantage.

We therefore are supportive of amendment NC20 tabled by Jess Phillips to Clause 53 to require Local Authorities to provide both accommodation based and community based Domestic Abuse services. We believe it should be made clear that this includes services for children of any age who experience abuse within their own intimate relationships.

Children Experiencing Abuse of a Parent or Carer

The impact on children of living in homes with Domestic Abuse is not sufficiently acknowledged in the Bill. We know that 831,000 children a year live in homes where Domestic Abuse occurs, but that not all those children are getting support. Although Domestic Abuse is identified in 50% of cases of Children in Need, this could mean that 600,000 children are living with abuse but not identified as ‘in need’.

We believe it is essential that children are identified as victims in their own right, in order to ensure that they are not treated by services simply as ‘witnesses’ who may not have been affected themselves.

This not only plays out in the support given to children, but in child contact arrangements, as the impact of a perpetrator’s abuse of a parent on their child is often under-acknowledged.

We are therefore supportive of amendment 50, tabled by Jess Phillips, to the definition in Clause 1 which will acknowledge that children can be victims of Domestic Abuse in their own right.

June 2020

 

Prepared 11th June 2020