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Women’s experiences of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Getting help for children affected by domestic violence and abuse

Research suggests that children can be harmed by witnessing domestic violence and abuse, and that abuse can affect children’s relationship with their non-abusing parent. Among the women we interviewed, fear for the safety of their children and the potential long-term effects on them of their partner’s behaviour acted as a trigger for many women to seek help. This was generally after they had decided to leave their partner or after some professional involvement had helped them to recognise that they, and their children, were experiencing domestic violence and abuse.

 

Jane saw the effects of her abusive marriage on her children once she was out of it. She regretted that their childhood was ‘a battleground’ not a place of ‘nurturing’.

Jane saw the effects of her abusive marriage on her children once she was out of it. She regretted that their childhood was ‘a battleground’ not a place of ‘nurturing’.

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So just reflecting back now, what do you think have been the biggest impacts of your experiences on you as a person, on your life?

My health and the health of my children, especially the mental health. You don’t always realise it when you’re in a domestic abuse relationship. You think the kids are going to be OK and that they’re going to cope. But in reality they don’t cope, you know, especially with the constant arguing between one parent and the other parent and where one person is saying one thing and the other parent is saying something else. They don’t know who to trust, who to believe and who is telling the truth. Because quite often in domestic relationships there’s a great deal of control, and how the control is gained is through emotional and through financial and also through making the abused feel that they’re worthless and that they don’t know what they’re talking about and, you know, just generally trying to gain that sort of mind control over the person. So they lose who they are, the abused loses who they are for the abuser to take control. And that sort of mental shift, as it were, is where you don’t trust yourself, where you don’t believe in yourself. It happens over a short s-space of time, but quite quickly, but you don’t usually realise it. It happens just a little bit and then a little bit more and a little bit more, and before you know what’s happened, suddenly you’re this person that you don’t recognise. And if that’s happening to you, then you can be sure that’s happening to your children as well.

So did you see that in your children, that shift?

You don’t when you’re actually in the relationship. But when you leave the relationship and you actually realise just how close you got to maybe not being here for your children, because it got so serious that, you know, you got a really severe beating that time, and also on your child’s behalf as to what they go through emotionally. A childhood should be one of growing up and being nurtured and be loved. It shouldn’t be one of where it’s a battleground. And if a child gets forced to grow up too early because they get to deal with adult emotions and adult feelings, then what happens is they don’t grow as a person, like as a child would. So there’s a great deal of mental health issues there that could happen. My oldest child, she was very badly damaged by my partner, my ex-partner, mentally and physically. And when she, when we finally left the relationship, she suffered from nervosa bulimia. And she got down to about six stone, and she was being sick all the time, she had no self-worth in herself and it was actually pitiful to see that that was the direct impact of domestic abuse. And, you know, you don’t realise it at the time, but these are really serious issues. You mustn’t just think of yourself; you must think of the children and what they could go through later on in adult life just because of domestic abuse. You have to be strong for yourself and for your children, even if it’s really hard to do. There’s lots of support out there. And the minute you make that break, you think that you’re not going to be able to cope, but you will, you will. And you’ll find that friends that come out of the woodwork that you lost contact with, family that you didn’t really tell will all rally round and they will all help you. And, you know, it’s so much easier when you’ve actually left, but you have to make that break and you have to make that decision that this is the right thing to do. And you have to think, not just of yourself and the impact on yourself, but also of your kids. 
Children can also play an important role in women deciding to stay within a relationship if they feel that disrupting the family by leaving would be worse for the children than staying. One of the biggest areas of concern is in relation to the issue of child contact following separation in domestic abuse cases. For some women, their decision to stay may be based on being able to keep an eye on their partner’s behaviour towards the children.

For Jane, getting support in place for her children and herself was an essential part of her planning to leave her long-term abusive relationship. She said that, before she left it was ‘paramount… having the right support in place for both myself and the children.’

Women sought help for their children from a number of places: their school, their doctor, a counsellor or therapist, the police, social workers, charities, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS). Many women were worried that professionals, particularly from the Department of Social Services, might question their parenting when they learnt about the abuse, and that they might lose their children. This acted as a barrier for some women in getting help.

Social Services

Women were divided on their experiences of social services. Nessa called the police during a violent attack on her, and the police contacted social services. Nessa initially found them to be un-supportive and at first she lied to them, minimising the abuse. However, she started ‘opening up’ after her partner left and she realised the importance of ‘working together’. She said ‘they’re here to help you and work with you, not to like take your children away and stuff like that’.
 

Social services involvement triggered Nessa to end her abusive relationship. She was able to keep her children safe and also get help for herself through a domestic violence Support Worker.

Social services involvement triggered Nessa to end her abusive relationship. She was able to keep her children safe and also get help for herself through a domestic violence Support Worker.

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And the trigger for that relationship to end, what was that?

Social services and legal action. I mean now, me and social services are working together great and everything’s perfectly fine, we’ve actually gone down the scale, but whereas before, because I was minimising the risks of him hitting me in front of my children and the stuff that he was doing to me in front of the children and everything, because I was minimising the risks, it went up to legal action and they threatened to either take me to court or I’ve got to leave my ex-partner. So it wasn’t until I actually had a letter come through from the solicitor saying about meeting up for, like just to hear my side of the story and stuff like that, it wasn’t until then I actually thought no, my kids are worth a million more of him, and it’s got to change so yeah.

And how did social services become involved initially?

It was, it was either, well the first time it happened, it was nothing obvious, but the second time, he had me actually pinned down on the floor in front of my children and he was repeatedly hitting me.

Was that with the belt or …

It was with his hand, it was just like slapping me and stuff, and I couldn’t do anything about it or anything like that, and I actually had my phone in my hand because like I’ve always got my phone in my hand but I had my phone in my hand so I managed to dial 999 and I rang the police and they came here because he actually took my phone off me, but I remember, I was just shouting, like, “I need help.”

Right, you … yeah.

Yeah.

Yeah.

And so they came here and obviously like I didn’t really want to write a statement yet. They didn’t really force me to writing a statement but they said to me, “Listen, we can see what he’s done to you and your children. You need to like really write a statement so we can do something about this.”

Yeah.

So I did, I wrote a statement and they asked me if it ever happened before, and I lied about it and I said, “No,” I said, “This is the first time this has like why I rang the police and everything”. I did I totally lied about it, but from there, they got social services involved because obviously he’s known by the police for violence and a lot of other things too, so social services were on to him straight away. Yeah.

And what about since you left last, last couple of months? Have you talked to them…

Yeah. Like with, well to start off with, like social services would want to know how it happened, why it happened, but I wouldn’t tell them either because I didn’t want them to be involved with me, but when he left, like I started opening up and I started talking a lot more, especially to social services and my support worker, and I told them everything, how it happened, what he’s actually done to me. It was in front of the children, and they gave, they gave me the most great like help and support I could ever ask for, literally, I mean I go to them for more help and support and to even talk to them than what I do with my family. And not because I don’t trust them or anything, but just because I feel more comfortable talking to like professionals about it than what I do my own friends and family.

So you’ve been allocated a support, a support worker …

Yeah. Yeah.

… then and how long have you been in contact … 

I’ve been …

… with them, them for?

They got involved in December.

Right. So last six, seven months.

Yeah.

And how often do you get to see them?

I see them, I see my social worker once a week and my support worker once, see her once a week, but separately, not together.

Do they come here or do you go to them?

I go to them [emergency services siren in background] and they come here.

Okay. That’s, and that’s one to one sessions?

Yeah, it’s one to one.

That support, so just thinking, so they became involved after that time that you, you know, you rang …

Yeah, I rang …

… you rang the police and, but there were times after that [pause] so you were reluctant to initially disclose …

Yeah.

Is that about everything?

Yeah, because like, yeah, because I’m, it was also like after my dad passed away as well, because it was all so much, they tried telling me that I’ve got depression and anxiety and everything else too, but it wasn’t, it was the simple fact that I didn’t want them getting involved with me, and my dad just recently passed away. My, well my ex-partner was being really violent and …

Yeah.

Yeah, it was …

So what, what have they done for you? Just thinking about the social worker and the support worker, what have they done for you in terms of, you know, the domestic abuse or the …

They got me onto the Freedom programme, because I didn’t want to go there, yeah.

Yeah, okay.

I really didn’t want to go, but they got me onto it and to start off with, like I said, I was in a relationship, I didn’t want to go, but from when I realised he was abusive and I voluntarily wanted to go there for myself.

Yeah.

It changed and, yeah, do you know what I mean and the social workers, well my support worker, she helps me out with everything. Where I haven’t got much confidence even to do telephone like phone calls and stuff, my support worker will help me out with all that. My social worker has got me bereavement like counselling and stuff for my dad.
Positive experiences of Social Services

Tanya and Jane both had a good experience of their social workers, who helped them get away from their abusive partners and safeguard their children. Tanya’s partner ‘battered’ their daughter. She was advised by her local refuge to contact social services and to leave her husband. Refuge workers told her that if she stayed the children might be taken into care.
 

Tanya found her social worker helpful in providing a range of support and referrals.

Tanya found her social worker helpful in providing a range of support and referrals.

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And how long did, how is your relationship with your daughter now?

It’s OK, it’s OK. Lots of parenting support. We got, she got, we got, she got referred to CAMHS, Child and Adolescent Mental Health. We, she had, oh, behavioural managers at school. She did eventually start kicking off in school and they wanted to get rid of her, because she’d have them, she’d be running around school when she should be sat in class, just causing disruption all through, literally all through the building. Yeah, but they still loved her because she’s very charming. And they kept sending her home from school and they put her on a part-time school table because they just couldn’t cope with her. And then I’d have to deal with her at home, and she’d be screaming at me. And we ended up with a social worker, who was very good. She got me onto the Freedom Programme.

Right, so this was a social worker who?

Social worker got me on that. My daughter had a Targeted Youth Support Worker at one point before the social worker got me on the Freedom. She tried, targeted, TYS, she tried to get me on the Freedom Programme, but she couldn’t.

TY?

Targeted Youth Support, yeah.

Right OK.

Yeah, I couldn’t get on through her, but the social worker got me on. yeah, so that was, that was really helpful that course.

What was helpful about it for you?

It was helpful because you learn that you’re not the only one. You learn that it’s actually text book stuff. The abusive man, which in the programme they call the dominator, is it’s text book, they follow the same cycle, they do similar, similar abusive activities or traits, how they behave, they control, isolate you, call you names to keep you down emotionally. So it was, yeah, it was useful to know that I wasn’t the only one.

And what other support have you received from the specialist services?

Right, yeah, so then, oh, I had [Women’s housing charity]. Their, one of their centres is based in [Town]. I think they’re a northern organisation in [Town].

How did you get in touch with them?

How? Good question. Targeted Youth Support Worker.

Right.
Jane and her daughters were referred to social services and the police via the children’s school.
 

Jane’s social workers said that with support from all the agencies, her ex should never have to bother her again. She felt safer than she had done for a long time.

Jane’s social workers said that with support from all the agencies, her ex should never have to bother her again. She felt safer than she had done for a long time.

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The social worker at the time was really, really lovely. She was nice. And she said to me, she said, “Use this,” she said, “as your opportunity to finally get away.”

Yeah.

She said, you know, “We’ll be behind you all the way. And I can guarantee that you’ll be absolutely fine. You know, we’ll get you to a safe place,” which was then when they mentioned [Local specialist domestic abuse service], I could have gone to a hostel.

Right.

On that night. But it was not something I really wanted to do, because I’d just got attacked. So they asked if there was a f- like a family member or a friend I could have stayed with.

Yeah.

So I mentioned a friend’s name and they rung up and they said, “Look, this is what happened. Is it OK if your friend and the children come to stay with you, you know, just temporarily?” “Yes, that’s absolutely fine,” you know. She had to sign a piece of paper to say that he would not sort of like come into contact with the children, because that was their main concern was that he would have absolutely no contact with the children whatsoever. And if that was to happen, she was to call the police straight away.

Just thinking about, I mean so a lovely social worker…

Yeah.

…that you were in contact with.

I think that was my main, that was my main, form of support in the first place, was that she was so nice.

Yeah.

There was her and there was her area manager.

OK.

And they made me feel so at ease and, you know, she was really, really nice to me and said, “Look,” she said, “use this as your opportunity to get away,” she said, you know, “from this moment in, if you want to, if you work with us, then he’s never had to, going to have to bother you again.”

And how did they support you then through that time?

Well literally as I’ve gone to pick up my eldest child, because they wouldn’t let him pick her up, he was obviously waiting at the school, and there was a police officer outside. So he wasn’t allowed to enter the school premises or try and attempt to get our oldest child away. From that moment, you know, when I walked into the school, was when I felt safe. Because there was, there was my daughter’s class teacher there, there was the head of year there, there was the parent support worker there, they was there on behalf of the school, and there was also two lovely social workers. And at that moment I felt actually safe because there was a policeman outside.

Yeah.

Because there was all these people there that was willing to help me.

Was that the first time you’d felt safe in a long while?

That was the first time I’d felt safe in a long time, yeah.
Negative experiences of Social Services

Lindsay and Liz both felt let down by social services. Lindsay reflected that it was easier for social workers to ‘take my kid than to deal with it’ and she was offered no support. 

Liz said, ‘I think the system is broken’. She phoned numerous agencies for help when her daughter was sexually abused by her husband, but was told by Children’s Services that she was not a priority as she was doing a good job, herself, in keeping her daughter safe.
 

Liz gave up trying to get help from professional agencies, until finally she contacted a charity, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

Liz gave up trying to get help from professional agencies, until finally she contacted a charity, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

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I think, I think the system is broken, frankly. I had the social worker, so the social worker then got involved with … from the court, you know, the CAFCASS and stuff. and I had, the report came back on Section 7, but in that report it actually said how I’d contacted lots of agencies and professionals and there was a concern, you know, was I doing this in front of my daughter, and why was I needing to talk to all these people about what I’d been through and what she’d been through? I would have loved to have a single point of contact that would have said, you know, right from the beginning, “You need to safeguard your daughter. You need to do the right thing. And we will back you.”

Yes.

You’ll not – because they were like, “Oh, you’ve, OK, you’ve said you’re going to safeguard her and do all the right things, case closed.”

Really?

Yes. Oh, this was Child Services in [county]. It was like, “Well, but I need support. What am I supposed to do?” Because he’s then threatening me, unless I give him access he’s going to do this, he’s going to not pay anything, he’s going to stop paying school. He’s doing all of these financial threats unless I – and if I do everything he says he, that I won’t believe how generous he will be. And this, I’ve got emails from him saying that.

Yeah.

I would have loved somebody to see me and to be somebody who could have got help for me from Social Services. The GP referred it to Child Services, but because I was protecting her I wasn’t seen as an emergency. And not as an emergency: nobody even bothered contacting me. They decided in their heads that I didn’t need support, so nobody contacted me. It was the NSPCC who forced the Child Services to get involved in [city]. The system’s broken.

Yeah.

I am somebody who will ring up the NSPCC. I’m relatively articulate, I can fight for help. I shouldn’t have to fight. What about all those women out there that don’t get help, who don’t have a house like I have, who can’t go into work and – I was given support through work as well.
 

Min had to endure a year of Child Protection proceedings following a false allegation made by her husband, despite immediately winning her appeal against the ‘section’ (played by an actor).

Min had to endure a year of Child Protection proceedings following a false allegation made by her husband, despite immediately winning her appeal against the ‘section’ (played by an actor).

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Within two hours I had a mental health lawyer, I had a family lawyer, I’d been visited by Social Services. And then I found out what was going on, only then. My husband had alleged, when I’d been breastfeeding and I’d taken off the baby because I was going to be sick, and I was rough because I was going to throw up, he said I’d thrown the baby across the room [sniffs]. And I said, “He’s twice my size. No matter how threatening he may or may not have thought I was, if I actually did throw the baby, why did he leave the baby with me as he bombed off to talk to the police? I would never have done that. I would have risked life and limb to take my baby. But he left the baby with me, the person who had apparently thrown the baby across the room [sniffs].” Social Services asked all kinds of things. At the time I didn’t realise that they were leading questions and they were trying to trick me [sniffs]. As it happens I, funnily enough, I picked one of the top mental health lawyers in the country, just by accident. I had the best family lawyer. My boys were put in care because Social Services – it was all child protection – Social Services said that, exactly my point, for the father to leave a baby who had been thrown across the room with, the throwing the baby across the room mother, that made him negligent.

Yes.

So he couldn’t have the babies. So they were in foster care for six weeks. I was in that hospital for two weeks because the appeals process was two weeks. Obviously I won the appeal. Apparently, according to my lawyer, it was the shortest appeal at that hospital that he had ever known. I think it was over in seven minutes, you know. So I won the appeal, but I wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital. I had to stay an extra night. The hospital staff wouldn’t let me leave, even though I’d won the appeal.

And had you seen your children at all?

No, wasn’t allowed, child protection, wasn’t allowed. Then I was allowed to see my children. I wasn’t allowed, for their own safety, I wasn’t allowed to know where they were because I was deemed so [voice falters] dangerous. I found out – do you know how I found out? My client’s best friend was neighbours with the foster carer.

Really?

Yeah.

Oh goodness.

I was teaching a lot of classes around by there. I knew quite a lot of people.

Yes, yes.

But I found out by accident. Social Services wouldn’t [coughs]. So this started a process that would last, a child protection process that would last nearly over a year.
Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS)

CAFCASS is ‘the voice of children in the family courts and helps to ensure that their welfare is put first during proceedings’. None of the women we interviewed spoke positively about CAFCASS. Many women felt that CAFCASS did not really understand domestic violence and abuse and the impact it has on mothers and their children. Min said her CAFCASS worker tried to blame her daughter’s stress symptoms, like bed-wetting and chewing her nails on her, the mum. In the family court during child access proceedings Sophie felt ‘bullied’ to stay living with her husband and put up with her situation, since there was ‘not a lot of physical violence’.
 

Sophie was thankful she had a good solicitor who was able to use the Human Rights Act to protect her from contact with her abusive ex.

Sophie was thankful she had a good solicitor who was able to use the Human Rights Act to protect her from contact with her abusive ex.

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But it destroys your sense of trust. It has destroyed my sense of trust. And I think in some ways one of the things that I found most shocking is how acceptable this sort of behaviour is, how acceptable domestic violence is in our culture. And we don’t like to say this, but it is actually pretty acceptable.

What’s, what’s making you think that, feel that the most?

Because you realise it’s very common. I don’t think what happened to me is particularly unusual. I think it’s very common, you know, across the board. I think that there is the attitude that you should learn to put up with it, particularly if it’s not, if there’s not a lot of physical violence, that you should be containing it in the home and trying to make as best job of it as you possibly can. There’s a huge, a huge influence in the family courts about, the family courts, because he went for contact of course. And of course he went for contact, and I was being pressurised into going back, basically going back into a relationship with him again. I have to accept him, I was told at one point by CAFCASS, “You have to accept him as being part of your life.” And luckily, because I’m quite bright and quite well educated and I had quite a good solicitor as well, I was able to turn around and say, “Human Rights Act. Fuck off. Can’t do that.” But a lot of women get bullied into that.

And I was being sold this thing that I’ve got to have him in my life, I’ve got to accept him in my life, in my house, in my home. You know, and I was basically, by that stage I sort of basically had got to, you know, “You’re fucking kidding aren’t you? You really are kidding that I’m going to have this man in my house. And you are the state telling me I’ve got to like being treated like that. And what century are we in?” You know, and that, and when this sort of started to hit me, how you’re coerced and bullied and pressurised into liking, sorry, liking [voice falters] these sorts of men XXXX you’ve got to be, you know, this is, sorry, I’m so sorry [crying and angry].
 

Victoria said her CAFCASS worker ‘didn’t have a clue’ and was taken in by her manipulative ex (read by a professional).

Victoria said her CAFCASS worker ‘didn’t have a clue’ and was taken in by her manipulative ex (read by a professional).

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[Name] is a liar and he will go to any lengths. He was willing to go to any lengths to put me down.

Yeah, yeah.

And I and that kind of – I didn’t sleep for, for quite a long time before the case. Because I just thought what he – he’s a tracing agent, so not only, not only is he a tracing agent, he can get free legal advice. He knows how the system works.

Yeah.

He is a dirty player. He would come up with anything, like I wouldn’t have been surprised whatever he would come up in court.

Yeah, thrown up in, yeah, yeah.

He’s a very manipulative man. So I kind of was panicking a bit because I just thought, “What is he going to come up,” you know. I found the whole process of court, I found CAFCASS absolutely useless. I had an irritating woman from CAFCASS who I’ve had to complain. Because I explained that [Son] was really affected by being withheld for six days and six nights and she just poo-pooed it. She was just like, she just dismissed it. She said, “That’s a load of rubbish, from the research that psychologists have done.” And I thought – I said to her, “Have you ever met my son? Have you ever met me? No, you haven’t. So how dare you?” And so I’m still putting in a complaint about her because she had not a clue…

Yeah, yeah.

…about our, our individual case. And I felt like she’d just done her studying and she wasn’t looking at us as an individual case and it just inflamed the situation. So I found my experience, and I’d heard awful things about CAFCASS beforehand, you know, about, oh, just awful things, because I’ve got friends that are social workers.

Yeah.

And they’ll say it all depends on the CAFCASS advisor that you have, it all depends on the individual. so – but I will continue with the complaint because I found her just useless, absolutely useless.

Such a bad experience then.

And it actually worsened the situation between [Name] and I. And I didn’t want to be in a room with him and try to mediate the situation, because this man had hurt my son deeply.

And do you think they had understanding of the abuse that you had endured?

No, no I don’t, I don’t think she – she didn’t have a clue, absolute clue. So, yeah, CAFCASS I will endure with a complaint, because I feel very strongly that this woman did not have a clue.
With regards to support for children, the police were often the first port of call for women reporting violence or abuse. In Liz’s case, police did an ABE (Achieving Best Evidence) for the court case about her daughter’s sexual abuse. She felt shocked and un-supported when police told her that it was ‘rare’ for fathers to abuse their daughters and did not take her allegations seriously. 

Schools

Schools can act as a link to social services if they are concerned about a child’s behaviour. Mothers who confided in a teacher about the abuse at home received sympathetic understanding and support for their children. Many women said how important it was to get help to stop the abusive partner picking up the children from the school as a way of accessing them. With the support of the police, social services and the school, Jane’s ex- husband was not allowed to pick his daughters up from school.

Tasha had a good experience with the school but felt frustrated that the school could only stop the partner picking the children up when a court order was in place.
 

Tasha said the school was ‘fantastic’ and found a clause that said they did not have to give any information, such as their address, to the father.

Tasha said the school was ‘fantastic’ and found a clause that said they did not have to give any information, such as their address, to the father.

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They can only work to the court order though. So again they’re sort of tied But, I mean, the first school was, was absolutely fantastic because he was trying to find where we were living and obviously the children went to school before I got my house and he was very friendly with the head teacher from the old school, so even the head teacher from the old school was trying to find where the boys were for him, but luckily the school was very clued up and there was a clause that they managed to find at the last minute to say that they do not have to give any information to, if they can, if it needs like to protect the children and the parent as well.

Yeah. 

And they found that right at the last minute because they were nearly went out of a deadline to let him know they were too. So they were very good, they, you know, it was it wasn’t actually a school, it was admissions.

Right.

So they, they did that and had a big meeting on it and stuff. But, yeah, the schools have been, been fantastic, but as I said, at the end of the day they’re tied as well, if it doesn’t say in the court order that he cannot do it, then he sees that as he can do it. 

Yeah.

Because it’s not stipulated that he can’t. 

Yeah.

And the school have to go by the same really.

Yeah.

So, yeah, it’s just the courts I think need to be more aware on how they word stuff, and not only protect the children but protect, you know, the parent as well.

Yeah.

I think they need to, you know, look at that and specifically word things that they can only do this, or they can only do that …

Yeah.

… and not leave it open.
Jane and her children first starting getting help to leave Jane’s abusive husband after her daughter told the school counsellor that she had witnessed a violent attack on her mum by her dad.
 

The school gave Jane’s daughter constant reassurance, and after leaving their Dad she was offered one-to-one sessions to recover from the trauma.

The school gave Jane’s daughter constant reassurance, and after leaving their Dad she was offered one-to-one sessions to recover from the trauma.

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And thinking back to that time, was there anything that was done particularly well for you?

The school were fantastic. You know, they supported my eldest really well. She was all she kept saying all day was, “My dad’s going to kill me, my dad’s going to kill me for this.” And she was really, really scared. She was white. She was wondering what I was going to do 

Yeah.

And what I was going to say, whether I was going to diminish it. And they kept reassuring her all the time throughout the day that now she’d said something there was absolutely no way that they are going to let like even Social Services or even the school is going to let her live with her father again.

Yeah.

Yeah, and if I chose to come with them then, you know, all well and good. But if I decided to choose him and go home then they would, they would have to go somewhere together.

Yeah.

You know, so that was incredibly frightening for her, but at the same time they made her feel, you know, that this was the right thing to do and that, “Obviously mum’s not going to go and go home, she’s going to go with you, she’s going to choose the children, she’s not going to choose an abusive partner.” You know, so they put her mind at rest there. And once I realised the enormity of the situation and then looked back as to what I’d put up with, I couldn’t believe it. You know, I was a totally different person when I came towards the end as what I was in the beginning.

Did they stay in their schools?

They stayed in their schools and they continued to go to the school even though, you know, I’d only just left. I was praised by both schools for still managing to keep their education up together during such a difficult time. And, considering the fact that it was 20 miles away from, from the school, so I got, you know, a tremendous amount of support from them, “Don’t worry if you’re late, we understand, you know you’re under difficult circumstances, you know, and if there’s anything we can do just, just say.” My eldest daughter got a lot of support from the parent support worker at her school.

And this is secondary school?

Secondary school. She gave me a lot of support as well afterwards. I got support from my daughter’s school as well through staff there. my youngest daughter, because she was quite badly affected in the beginning, because she had these mixed emotions of still wanting and needing her father and not understanding why he was taken away, but on the other hand also the fact that he had done, attacked me, and it was a very bad situation. So, you know, she needed time to explore her feelings and to try and understand what was going on. And she got a tremendous amount of support from her school over that, you know, lots of one to one sessions.

Yeah.

Exploring how she was feeling, you know, things like writing, writing things down, drawing diagrams, and it was always the same situation, it was always a really angry man, picture of an angry man, and there was myself and her and her sister on the other side with sad faces. And then after a while that changed to being no angry man and there was just me, mum, with the two children smiling, you know, and sort of like a, a happy ever after picture. So it was nice to see that, you know, she was supported well during those crucial moments.

Was that with a teacher or was that with a specialist?

That was with…

Did a specialist come in and do that?

No, no there was no specialist that came in. They had a learning mentor in the school.
After ten years of ‘hiding it’ [the domestic abuse and violence], Irina said how important it was to let the school know about problems at home. Her son received sympathetic understanding and support at his pre-school.
 

Irina was initially reluctant to talk to her son’s teacher but the teacher questioned her directly after her son frequently appeared to be distressed.

Irina was initially reluctant to talk to her son’s teacher but the teacher questioned her directly after her son frequently appeared to be distressed.

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So when was it you went to the pre-school and your son’s school to sort of tell them what was happening for them?

In pre-school they, teacher just asked me three or four times, looking at me and just, “Is everything OK in the family? Is everything OK in your family?” And I said, “Oh, yes, yes, yes, everything is fine. No, no, no.” And, oh, just a month ago she came to me and said, “You know what? We need to talk”.

Right.

“Let’s go”. 

Yeah.

And she said, “You know, [Child’s] telling that mummy was crying because daddy was drunk”. Nah, nah nah. Or, “What is going on in your life?”

Yeah.

Of course, I started to cry and I told her, “No, I’ve been hiding it for ten years, it’s not easy for me to start telling everyone about what happened and why it’s happened and why I stayed in the relationship”. Because I was isolated, I, even he made me think that it was OK …

Yeah.

… it was, that life was normal, everyone lives life like that. That you have to raise your children and work hard and, yeah, and after that I’ve decided that I have to tell my son’s teacher …

Yeah.

… and she spoke to head teacher. I went to see head teacher because my daughter was starting school, the same school, they have to know what is going on in their life. I don’t want my husband to come, pick them up from school …

Yeah.

… and out of, no, nowhere, because he’s still their father.

Yeah. 

And then …

They would say …

They have to inform me about everything and I don’t want social services to tell me, “Why didn’t you inform anyone what is going on in your…

Yeah.

…life?” 
Kate became increasingly concerned about her children’s safety as her husband became more and more aggressive. She decided to talk to the teachers at the children’s schools and ‘sobbed [her] eyes out’. She said, ‘They were fantastic and very understanding and have remained so’. The headmaster ‘took it very seriously’, escorting them safely to her car. 

Counselling and therapy

Lindsay, Liz and Min all said their children had received counselling after they had separated from the abusive partner. This was generally offered at the school or by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).

Liz’s daughter had counselling for sexual abuse through the NSPCC. Liz said:

‘The NSPCC have been brilliant because, you know, they are an organisation who puts the child first. And I really don’t think that even Social Services put the children first’.
 

The NSPCC were really supportive and got Liz’s daughter on to a Letting the Future In course for victims of child sexual abuse.

The NSPCC were really supportive and got Liz’s daughter on to a Letting the Future In course for victims of child sexual abuse.

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So, but I contacted, I’ve been also supported by the NSPCC, because my sister-in-law suggested the NSPCC. And they were brilliant. Because Social Services were awful.

Were they?

I really wanted help. I really wanted somebody to come in and tell me that they weren’t going to allow this man to have unsupervised contact with my daughter, given what he had done. But nobody.

Really?

There was nobody there. It was appalling, appalling. But the NSPCC were brilliant. And then I called them up about masturbation and said, you know, “Is this normal? What, what, what’s normal?” So the person on the line wasn’t able to tell me, but they then put me in touch with a programme called ‘Letting the Future In’. And one thing I’m good at doing is, is persuading people. So I used all my persuasive skills to try to get her on this course, because she so needed the help. And I had to really fight over weeks, because they just didn’t come back, you know. So I kept phoning them and chasing them up, and then the person was sick. But I kept on the case until they, until, and so she’s had four weeks of assessment now and then I find out, they sent away all her paintings and stuff and then they see whether the kind of help they can give can really help her, and if it can then they’ll give her a year, more or less, of [deep breath]

This is a course run by NSPCC?

Yeah, it’s for child abuse victims. And so, and so she’s had four sessions with a counsellor, that she has on her own.

And she’s happy to go, your daughter?

Yeah, because it’s play therapy. And because my fear is that she doesn’t understand the abuse that she’s had. She’s frightened of him. She understands the physical and she understands the fear, because he would shake her, shout in her face. He used to clap, and he used to do that to me as well, clap millimetres from her nose really hard in order to frighten her, because he thought that was a good way of stopping her crying. Didn’t work, funnily enough.
Shaina said her middle son had difficulty in talking about his dad after he left. He ‘struggled to let it out… he had rage issues …the stuff that was going on between me and his dad affected him a lot’. He had counselling at his school through the ‘Place2Be’ service which provides emotional and therapeutic services in primary and secondary schools, Shaina said was ‘really good’. Shaina and her children also had family therapy for over two years, referred via the local Domestic Violence Agency. She said her kids wanted to ‘protect her feelings … so it was good for them to be able to talk to a third party and express themselves’.

Tasha was worried about the impact of domestic violence on her children but she felt there was not much help available in general for children who have been exposed to domestic violence.
 

Tasha is now in a new healthy relationship. She hoped her children would learn that her relationship with their Dad was ‘not normal’.

Tasha is now in a new healthy relationship. She hoped her children would learn that her relationship with their Dad was ‘not normal’.

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How do you feel that, that abusive relationship, you know, impacted on your children?

Well the two eldest, I mean, they were, used to stay in their bedroom a lot so, and they weren’t like with me weekends. They would be with their dad, so they missed out a lot of it. But they knew it wasn’t right but they thought I was happy because obviously they were young at the time. The two youngest ones, they’re more caught up in it now …

Yeah.

… and it, you know, it’s not fair on them I don’t want them to feel as though they’re being sort of torn apart through it all, but I mean their dad’s upset them so much anyway with, through what he’s written, letters and stuff I’ve never said they can’t see him, you know, I just want them to be safe and …

Yeah.

.. you know …

Yeah.

… it’s, it was taken out of my hands, it’s the courts that said that they can’t see him. You know, they, they’re still having sort of counselling at school and stuff now you know, and I want them to know that, you know, the relationship I’m in now is a normal relationship, you know, what I was in with their dad wasn’t …

Yeah.

… a normal relationship. And I would hate for them to sort of follow on through that, through their experiences. So I’m just trying to get as much sort of help for them now while they’re still young as I can, but unfortunately there’s not a lot really in terms of children and domestic violence for, help for them. So yeah, emotionally the youngest he really does cling to anybody that he gets trust with. He’s going up to secondary school this year and he’s going to find it hard with the new teachers and that because he’s got a trust going with a couple of teachers and, you know, and to take him away from that is going to be hard for him.

Yeah.

He’s still got a friend from where we lived before who he’s close with and they are still very close and even though they’re quite young you know he still goes and sees him, because he, because he seems to just attach himself to just certain people he gets a trust in. And I think that sort of has impacted. My other son likes to keep stuff closed in, you know, and he just blows up now and again and I think that as well is, you know, a lot to do with it. So, it’s just trying to get them help now, the, this, you know, they have got problems you know.
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service

Women had mixed experiences of getting help for their children from CAMHS. Jane’s two daughters were referred to CAMHS from their school. The eldest had developed bulimia nervosa*, following physical and emotional abuse from her father, but CAMHS turned her younger sister down for help as she did not meet the criteria.
 

Jane thought the CAMHS staff should have seen through her younger daughter’s outward appearance of being ‘happy and smiling’, and offered her some support.

Jane thought the CAMHS staff should have seen through her younger daughter’s outward appearance of being ‘happy and smiling’, and offered her some support.

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She then referred on to CAMHS, which was Childhood Adolescent Mental Health Services. they said that she didn’t actually meet the threshold, which annoyed the school immensely. Because, you know, you had to be at a Tier Three to receive this report, or this support. And because when she came into the room my youngest daughter was happy and smiling and, you know, she was not concerned in any way they went on that one like experience.

Yeah.

Yeah, and because my eldest daughter was there anyway, and she really didn’t want to go, when my daughter went out for a little while because she didn’t want to sit in there, because she didn’t want to have all the story gone over again, it was then that I said I was a little bit concerned for my eldest daughter because she suffered more physical and emotional abuse than the youngest one did. So it was then that she got the help from, from CAMHS, but my youngest one didn’t. Again, that was a bit annoying to sort of like have one chosen over the other.

Just because she’s not showing it didn’t mean to say that she didn’t feel or, you know, think it. And she had such good help from the school in the beginning, but I think, you know, that was crucial, you know, she received that, that good support which was what helped her moved on so quickly.

Yeah.

So, you know, I think that was, that was paramount, was having the right support in place for both myself and the children.
Lindsay’s daughter’s behaviour became unmanageable after her dad left and she was referred to CAMHS, but it was time-limited due to lack of funding. She also had a Youth Support Worker.

*An emotional disorder characterised by bouts of extreme overeating followed by fasting or self-induced vomiting or purging.

Last reviewed February 2020.

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