Domestic or family violence or abuse can be physical, emotional, psychological, financial or sexual. It can include any situation where someone is forced to alter their behaviour due to fear of their family member’s reaction.
Research tells us that men are more likely than women to be the perpetrators of domestic violence.
Incidents of domestic violence are rarely a one-off and often become more frequent and severe over time. Domestic violence can affect anyone, regardless of age, social background, gender, religion, sexuality or ethnicity.
Impact on children and young people
Being in a household where there is domestic violence is distressing and scary for children and young people. They may hear violent or controlling arguments; they may witness violence directly; they may feel powerless to protect a carer.
They are likely to be well aware of their parent or carer’s distress and injuries after an incident. They may also get hurt themselves.
Domestic violence is characterised as an adverse childhood experience (ACE). ACEs are a significant cause of long-term problems for children’s mental health and physical health. Effects can be traumatising and long lasting and can have an impact on:
- children and young people’s understanding of normal or acceptable relationships with others and their ability to form relationships in school and beyond
- their emotional wellbeing: increased anxiety, fear and stress levels
- their ability to learn
- their view of the family and the broader community and society
- levels of aggressive and anti-social behaviour.
Find out more about domestic violence and its impact on children and young people
MindEd is a free educational e-learning resource for professionals on children and young people’s mental health. Resources can be used for individual professional training as well as prompting wider staff discussion. These sessions aim to help staff better understand family violence and its impact on children:
Identifying the signs
Education staff should be vigilant and appropriately trained to signs of domestic violence.
Although there may be physical signs of domestic violence, like injuries, that schools may notice, it is also key that school staff are alert to changes in a student’s behaviour. Some common indicators may include:
- becoming aggressive or becoming a bully
- becoming quieter or withdrawn, which risks them going unnoticed
- not doing well at school; may even regress
- may be defiant and/or disobedient
- lagging behind when it’s time to go home
- arriving at school early/leaving late
- signs of anxiety or depression
- difficulty sleeping
- finding loud noises or loud voices unusually disturbing.
What schools and further education settings can do
If you are at all concerned about a child or young person, you should always speak to your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority. They will be able to advise on suitable next steps, and speaking to them about any concerns should always be the first action you take, ahead of any of the suggestions on this page.
How children and young people respond to domestic violence will differ, depending on many factors including their age, sex and stage of development. How they react will also be influenced by the support they receive and their ability to be resilient and move forward after such adversities.
If pupils are known to be experiencing family violence:
- Talk to your designated safeguarding lead (DSL).
- Where possible, work in partnership with the non-abusing parent to support the child and encourage the parent to seek help too.
- Be aware of practicalities:
- Homework clubs can give children affected by domestic violence a safe place to do their work.
- Know what support there is locally for parents/carers affected by domestic abuse.
- A buddy system in school/college can help induct new pupils who have moved after being affected by domestic violence.
- Be aware of managing risk – don’t send communications home that may put parents and families at risk.
- Some teaching resources also specifically seek to reduce the likelihood of children becoming victims or perpetrators of domestic violence, through challenging stereotypes and unhealthy gender power dynamics, helping them form healthy relationships and resolve conflict. These themes should be embedded in the whole-school ethos and should be picked up in health and wellbeing education lessons.
- Work on anti-bullying can usefully include a focus for children on effective problem-solving and resolving disagreements.
- An environment where staff demonstrate effective conflict management, and use restorative approaches when conflict arises, can help children avoid repeating family patterns of behaviour. Find out more about restorative practice in education settings.
- Positive relationships in the setting that are built on trust, safety and security, promote pupil wellbeing and help children and young people talk about worries that might be affecting them.
- Schools and colleges can be important places to help parents get the support they need to make changes, so that they, in turn, can help their children. Staff should try and engage with parents/carers whenever they can and be a potential source of help, signposting them to appropriate support. We also have advice about how to open up a conversation with a parent or carer.
- Some children and young people will need a extra help, either through school pastoral care/counselling support or through referral to the school nurse, national helplines or community-based support (e.g early help services, local voluntary sector support or specialist CAMHS).
Place2Be case study
The following case study from Place2Be shows how difficult it can be to access help but how the awareness of teachers and the support of professionals can have positive outcomes for both the parent and child. Names and some details have been changed to protect identities.
‘Tommy had been struggling at school for some time with concentration and behaviour. Some of his drawings were also concerning his teacher. She was worried about his wellbeing and his progress in school. She also noticed that his mum was looking ‘out of sorts’ when she saw her at the school gate. She asked to see Tommy’s mum who said she was worried about him too and that she wanted to help him but didn’t know how. She said that there had recently been ‘a lot of stress’ in the family – but didn’t elaborate. A Place2Be parent counsellor regularly attended the school so Tommy’s teacher suggested that seeing a counsellor might help Tommy’s mum get through her stressful situation. With a little persuasion, she agreed. Tommy’s mum told the counsellor that she was worried about talking to someone else because she was always frightened that Tommy might be taken away – but she also wanted to do the best for her child. This motivated her to attend sessions with the counsellor. She said it was the best thing she could have done. Over a number of sessions she revealed that she had been the victim of violence from her partner and talked through her worries about this affecting the children. She then made the decision to separate from her partner, her confidence increased, her mental health improved, she secured employment and Tommy began to settle again in school’.
Concerned about a child or young person?
If you are worried that a child or young person is at risk, inform your designated safeguarding lead as a priority. They will contact the parents/carers and other services as necessary. If the child or young person is at immediate risk, please ensure that they are taken, urgently, to their GP or A&E – either by their parents/carers or, where parental contact is not possible, by the school’s designated safeguarding lead.Find out more