20 December 2023

The role of councils in supporting child victims of abuse

The role of councils in supporting child victims of abuse image
Image: 271 EAK MOTO / Shutterstock.com.

Dr Jo Casebourne, chief executive of Foundations, discusses the crucial role local authorities play in supporting child victims of domestic abuse.

As 2024 approaches, the stark reality of domestic abuse casts a shadow over the wellbeing of children in the UK. Recent figures from Foundations estimate that at least 827,000 children in England and Wales may have experienced domestic abuse in 2023. These figures are not just statistics; they represent the lives of vulnerable children who urgently need – and deserve – the best support available.

Yet right now, there isn’t enough evidence to confidently say what the best support looks like. This needs to change. As we head into 2024, we’re highlighting the role that local councils can play in ensuring that attempts to prevent domestic abuse and support for child victims is firmly anchored in robust evidence.

With a recent increase in police reporting, there are concerns that the numbers of children affected by domestic abuse in England and Wales have escalated. Indeed, incidents of domestic abuse are likely to increase over the upcoming Christmas period, with a minimum of 669 child protection referrals anticipated on Christmas Day alone. These shocking figures underscore the urgent need for robust measures to protect children from domestic abuse and its pervasive impacts.

In 2024, we need a radical shift in the generation and use of evidence to find out how best to prevent domestic abuse and support child victims. Children exposed to domestic abuse face enduring consequences, with heightened risks of susceptibility to abuse in future relationships, mental health problems and an increased risk of substance misuse. We know that local councils cannot resolve these issues on their own – but they can play a crucial role. Existing support for child victims, often provided by the voluntary and community sector, is crucial. But it often relies on short-term funding from a variety of sources which can make services unstable and difficult to evaluate as funding often runs out too soon.

As a What Works Centre, we know we have a huge role to play here. In 2024, we'll be announcing the interventions that we'll be evaluating as part of our evaluation accelerator fund, all of which aim to improve outcomes for children impacted by domestic abuse. We're really excited to be working with some fantastic delivery partners on this project. We’ll then work with local areas to apply this knowledge.

We know that services across the country are already working hard to support children experiencing domestic abuse. In 2024 we want to elevate the urgency of this matter to be a priority for society at large. This requires urgent evaluation of the most promising types of support, followed by support for councils and partners in the voluntary sector to deliver the support that has been shown to make the most difference.

This is not just the case for domestic abuse; it applies across all aspects of child wellbeing. Local councils can play a crucial role. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that all children are receiving support that is grounded in robust evidence, and that domestic abuse no longer casts a shadow over the lives of the most vulnerable members of our society. It is through proactive leadership from local councils that we can forge a more secure future for our children, helping the next generation to flourish.

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