Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) (DAB72)

ADCS submission to the Public Bill Committee’s inquiry on the

Domestic Abuse Bill


1. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the Public Bill Committee’s inquiry on the Domestic Abuse Bill. ADCS is the national leadership organisation in England for directors of children’s services (DCSs) under the provisions of the Children Act (2004). The DCS acts as a single point of professional leadership and accountability for services for children and young people in a local area, including children’s social care and education.

2. Whilst ADCS welcomes the re-introduction of the Domestic Abuse Bill, we remain firmly of the view that the measures outlined in it fall short of what is required to address the scale and reach of this pervasive issue. The latest crime survey data show that in the year ending March 2019 an estimated six million women and three million men aged 16 to 74 had experienced some form of domestic abuse since the age of 16 while recent Home Office research (2019) suggests between three and four million children and young people will be exposed to domestic abuse in their lives.

3. It is increasingly clear that Covid-19 is exacerbating many of the issues and challenges children, young people and families were already facing, including parental conflict and domestic abuse. Refuge has recently reported a ten-fold increase in visits to its National Domestic Abuse Helpline website whilst calls to its helpline are up two thirds. Since the UK entered lockdown, the government has released multiple emergency funding streams via the Home Office, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Ministry of Justice to address domestic abuse and the Prime Minister chaired a Hidden Harms summit on 21 May. It is hoped this focus and investment can be sustained going forward and meaningful amendments to the Bill secured.

4. It remains the case that domestic abuse is the most prevalent factor in children’s social care assessments; this includes children themselves being the subject of domestic abuse, them being exposed to a parent or carer being abused or concerns about the abuse of another person in the household. The trauma of growing up in a coercive or violent household can have a lifelong impact on children and young people’s mental health, their educational attainment and the success of their own future relationships (Early Intervention Foundation 2016). ADCS members firmly believe that greater focus is needed on children’s rights and needs in the Bill alongside new funding to turn the tide on this silent epidemic. This new funding should be both equitable and sustainable.

5. ADCS is clear that a keen focus on prevention, protection and the repair of harm is needed to systematically tackle domestic abuse. A public health style campaign sadly does not form part of the Bill, despite the widespread nature of domestic abuse, its impact on the workload of professionals and the substantial costs to the public purse, not to mention the human costs. A campaign which tackles entrenched societal norms and pervasive public attitudes whilst deterring existing (or potential) perpetrators is long overdue. A 2012 report by the Department of Health, ‘Protecting people promoting health,’ notes that the impact of violence on the health of individuals and the cost to the health care systems are similar to those for other major public health priorities e.g. smoking and alcohol and supports the use of a public health response to violence prevention. This approach has been adopted locally e.g. the ‘Be a lover not a fighter’ campaign in Cheshire and Merseyside.

6. Education is a powerful tool to raise awareness of abuse and to help children and young people to understand what healthy relationships look like, thus contributing to both preventative and protective aims. The Children and Social Work Act (2017) placed relationships and sex education (RSE) on a statutory footing, however, rollout had been delayed until 2020/21 and looks likely to be further delayed by Covid-19. Whilst this latest delay is disappointing, if understandable in the circumstances, it does present the opportunity to give more thought to training and support in schools. The introduction of RSE will result in pupil disclosures and the NICE guideline on domestic violence and abuse (2014) highlighted the importance of training for staff conducting routine enquiries. This has not yet been meaningfully addressed in the Bill to date.

7. The trauma of living in an abusive home can have a lifelong impact on children’s mental health. Much more must be done to ensure all children and young people can access emotional, psychological and practical support when, and where, it is required. The difficulties in accessing CAMHS provision are widely known. Developments are in train but progress is slow; in 2018 the government announced plans to have a designated mental health lead in all schools by 2025 whilst only a quarter of all schools are expected to have access to mental health support teams by 2023. CAMHS requires greater focus and funding to in order to help repair the pain caused by domestic abuse and to break the cycle of abuse.

8. The Bill does not sufficiently deal with online threats and the role of technology in abuse despite its growing use to exert control and further exploit or harm victims of all ages. It is vital that support for parents and carers is given specific consideration; children are using technology and social media at an ever-young age. Parents often do not understand the importance of frequently changing security settings or may not closely monitor online activity, which could give rise to abusive situations within young people’s own intimate relationships.

9. The Bill recognises the importance of helping perpetrators to break the cycle of abuse. The Joint Targeted Area Inspection report on multi-agency response to domestic abuse (2017) highlighted significant gaps in the services available for adult perpetrators of domestic abuse and long waiting times. Without renewed focus and urgent investment, perpetrators will continue to perpetuate harm. Preventative measures, such as the completion of a drug rehabilitation programme, can be attached to Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs), but these services are difficult to access and it is not clear what will happen if the court mandates the completion of a programme but the perpetrator does not meet the criteria or there is no such provision available locally.

10. Ongoing funding reductions in the public, voluntary and community sectors have resulted in patchy provision across the country and lengthy waiting times. In recent years, new funding to support victims, survivors and their families has frequently been allocated via a competitive bidding process rather than level of need. Similarly, failure to boost investment in offender programmes increases the likelihood abusers will perpetuate the cycle of violence in the future with new partners and families. In 2018 ADCS surveyed its members on safeguarding pressures, 137 local authorities responded to this exercise reporting that domestic abuse was present in 50% of referrals to children’s social care in 2017/18; there was a 20% increase in incidences of domestic abuse as a primary factor in assessments from 2016; and, 69% of the children entering care had experienced domestic abuse whilst living at home. Despite this reality funding for local government has fallen by 49%, in real terms, since 2010 (NAO, 2018). An equitable, sustainable funding package for all local authorities, indeed for all public services, is urgently required.

11. As the 2017 JTAI report notes, domestic abuse has an enormous impact on the workloads of professionals in all sectors. The Bill does not sufficiently deal with the role of government in facilitating the work of local partnerships in responding to domestic abuse. Difficulties in pulling together timely information is a common barrier and the JTAI notes the provision of effective support is only possible if systems are a help, not a hinderance: "Inspectors found variability in systems and processes, this is an area the government could make significant headway rather than each local area attempting to develop a local, bespoke solution." A common way of working would assist in the identification of high-risk children and families who move frequently, for example. A collaborative, cross-government strategy for tackling domestic abuse is urgently required, this should address the drivers of abuse as well as supporting those already at risk.

12. Children living in (or close to) poverty, are at an elevated risk of multiple individual and family-level vulnerabilities e.g. increased levels of conflict; domestic abuse; and, neglect (Early Intervention Foundation, 2017). Family income has a causal relationship with poor child outcomes and that there is a correlation between parental stress linked to worries over the family income and parenting capacity. Whilst it is the case that domestic abuse affects families from all circumstances, those on lower incomes are more likely to come into contact into children’s social care and experience financial barriers to seeking counselling or other forms of support.  Around a third of England’s 12 million children and young people live in poverty we do not have a national child poverty reduction strategy.

13. There is little reference to the evaluation of interventions nor the commissioning of research to inform the design and commissioning of services in the Bill. The NICE guideline on domestic violence and abuse (2014) highlighted gaps in evidence around intimate partner violence between adolescents, violence directed at parents or carers by children as well as whole-family interventions.

14. Whilst ADCS welcomes the renewed focus on domestic abuse, the lack of meaningful legislative reforms or a funding package that fully reflects the scale, reach and severity of this pervasive issue, is disappointing. One of the stated intentions of the draft Bill is to increase reporting of this issue but the necessary support services for perpetrators, victims and their families are either lacking or absent. Too many of the proposed reforms are reactive rather than preventative and the drivers of abuse are overlooked.

15. Members of ADCS would welcome the opportunity to give oral evidence to the Committee. Please contact the relevant ADCS policy officer.

June 2020


Prepared 16th June 2020