SafeLives Insights national briefing on children living with domestic abuse

At the time they start school, at least one child in every class will have been living with domestic abuse since they were born. 

SafeLives Insights dataset reveals that two in five children (41%) in families where there is domestic abuse have been living with that abuse since they were born. For some children, this exposure to abuse does not only start early, but persists into later childhood. Of all the children in our dataset who had been living with abuse for their whole lives, over a third (37%) were more than five years old.

Combined with information on the percentage of all children who have been exposed to domestic abuse in their homes, we estimate that at least one child in every reception school class has been living with abuse for their whole life.

Earlier intervention is needed to prevent this ongoing exposure. In a minority of cases (76 of the 20,821 children in our dataset) the child was seventeen years old, and had lived with abuse from birth to adulthood.

Domestic abuse has a devastating impact on children, whatever their age.

Our Insights dataset shows that families known to Children’s Services were more likely to have children under the age of 5 years old compared to those not known to services (65% vs 55%). National data on the ages of children who are referred to children’s services is not available, but the ages of children who are subject to a child protection plan indicates that younger children are more likely to receive this safeguarding intervention. Fifty children out of every 10,000 aged 1-4 were subject to a plan, compared with 44 of those aged 5-9 and 38 of those aged 10-15.

While older children may be at less physical risk, exposure to abuse has an effect on children of all ages, unrelated to their ability to keep themselves safe. For instance, children over ten were much more likely to try to intervene to stop physical abuse (27% of children over ten, compared to 15% of those under ten). Additionally, Children’s Insights data reveals that over half (52%) of children exposed to abuse said they found it difficult to sleep, and almost a third (30%) felt like the abuse was their fault. The same children exhibit higher rates of behavioural problems than their peers, and engage in more risk-taking behaviour, making them vulnerable to other forms of abuse, exploitation and harm.

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