On Day 8 of the Women's Aid 16 Days of Action, June Tinsley, June Tinsley, Head of Advocacy, Barnardos writes about how domestic violence affects the children and families they work with each day across Ireland.
We estimate approximately 40% of the families we work with across our 42 centres experience domestic abuse. We see through our daily work with these families that children are too often the forgotten victims. In reality, bearing witness to domestic abuse leaves children with deep emotional scars and too often there is nowhere to turn for suitable support. Worryingly, its impact affects children of all ages from young babies and toddlers not receiving the emotional comfort and nurture they need to school age children believing it is their fault to teenagers feeling torn between their parents. Living in fear and harbouring the secret of what is happening at home results in deep anxiety or aggressive outbursts, never mind the impact on their health, schooling, peer relationships and other developmental aspects. It is, simply, a form of child abuse.
“No one told me it was a secret but I knew I was not supposed to tell.” Child, 11 years old
We know that without appropriate support there is a huge risk of irreparable damage to the child-parent relationship, and frighteningly, the cycle of abuse continuing. This is because research shows children who grow up experiencing domestic abuse are more likely to become perpetrators or victims in their adult life.
While we do all we can to support children to feel safe in their home by creating a safety plan with them, to understandit is not their fault and to rebuild the non-abusive parent’s confidence in their parenting, we cannot provide all the solutions. An additional problem we face is the lack of therapeutic services available to children and families, which would greatly assist our family support in aiding a child and family’s recovery.
“Daddy bit Mummy’s face. I was very scared. I told him to stop.” Child, four years old
Barnardos believes we must take urgent action to ensure we better support children caught in these chilling situations to offer them greater protection but also to break the cycle so domestic abuse is not seen as a normal part of a healthy respectful adult relationship. This means improving child protection in the current Domestic Violence Bill 2017, ensuring sufficient family support services are available, establishing a family friendly court service and building an infrastructure of related supports, including funding for child contact centres, more family friendly refuge centres and free legal aid.
“I know it’s my fault when Mammy and Daddy fight. I can be naughty sometimes.” Child, seven years old
For more information on how domestic abuse affects children please check out our short video and report here.