Charity report reveals tragic impact of domestic abuse on children

  • Three-quarters (76%) of children heard or witnessed the abuse that their mother experienced at the hands of the perpetrator
  • More than half (54%) of children experienced emotional, verbal, or physical abuse themselves at the hands of the perpetrator
  • Nine in ten mothers (92%) said their child’s safety was a key factor in their decision to leave the abusive relationship

Read 'Journey to Refuge' 

Three-quarters of children heard or witnessed the domestic abuse that their mother experienced, with over half also experiencing emotional, verbal or physical abuse themselves at the hands of the perpetrator. That’s according to a new report from the crisis charity Hestia, which highlights the impact that domestic abuse can have on children, their well-being and education, and how they cope when moving to a refuge.

Hestia, is warning that all too often children’s needs are being ignored, despite the charity successfully campaigning for the recent Domestic Abuse Act to recognise children as victims in their own right. Hestia’s new report, ‘Journey to Refuge: A Child’s Experience of Domestic Abuse’ reveals the experiences of 71 children living in its refuges.

Nine in ten mothers (92%) said their child’s safety was a key factor in their decision to leave an abusive relationship and three quarters of children experienced a negative emotional change after hearing or witnessing their mother’s abuse.

The charity is highlighting the positive impact of having specialist support in place for children during their time at a refuge. Two thirds of mothers (67%) said that their relationship with their children and their children’s behaviour improved after arriving at a refuge. The report also found that nine in ten (89%) children who started a new nursery or school after arriving at a refuge, saw an improvement in their educational performance.

During lockdown the charity, who launched the Safe Spaces scheme in pharmacies nationwide, saw demand for specialist support surge by over 30 percent. This Christmas, the charity is raising vital funds that will help support more children recover from the trauma of domestic abuse.

Nina who escaped with her children to one of Hestia’s refuges and whose story is being told in a new film that the charity have released, said:

I was married for ten years and during that time my husband controlled my life and enjoyed publicly humiliating me. At times he was violent. I remember on one occasion I locked him out as I was so scared.

At first I stayed for the children but when my daughter, who was seven years old, told me that she had heard her father saying that he wanted to kill me, I knew I had to leave. It wasn’t right that she was hearing these things and it was badly affecting her. She was very anxious; she’d started wetting the bed and she was always wanting to come and sleep with me.

When we arrived at Hestia’s refuge, I couldn’t believe I had left, I was so relieved. The children found it really hard at first, but I knew it would be okay. When they saw the playroom in the refuge and were given some of their own things by the Hestia worker they started to settle down. The children are so much happier now, and I can see them getting their confidence back.

Nahar Choudhury, Director of Operations at Hestia said:

The findings in our report confirm the tragic experiences of far too many children. We hear time and time again from survivors that the deciding factor to make the journey to refuge was because of increasing concerns about their children's safety at the hands of the perpetrator.

For many of the families we support, right now is a critical point in their journey. Although children are now identified as victims in the Domestic Abuse Act, they are still not guaranteed access to specialist support.

Children and family workers are vital when it comes to supporting children but we have to fund this work ourselves and there is so much more that we could do. Escaping to a refuge is only the start, these families need support to recover and look forward to a life beyond crisis.

END

 

Notes to editor:

Contact: Josh McLean / [email protected] / 07845 555 995

A full copy of Hestia’s ‘Journey to Refuge’ report can be sent in advance. A full breakdown of all the findings from our survey can be found below.

Methodology:

An online survey was created and distributed via Hestia’s Children and Family Workers. The survey was live for just over a month, between the end of September and the end of October 2021. 49 women, who were either currently or had recently lived in one of Hestia’s refuges, completed the survey. We asked each woman to complete one survey for each of their children, with the experiences of 71 children shared with us from their mothers’ perspectives. Out of the 71 children, 48 were aged two years and above.

Experiencing domestic abuse and fleeing home

  • Three-quarters (76%) of children heard or witnessed the abuse that their mother experienced at the hands of the perpetrator
  • More than half (54%) of children experienced emotional, verbal, or physical abuse themselves at the hands of the perpetrator
  • Children aged two years and above were more than twice as likely to experience abuse themselves at the hands of the perpetrator, with 65 per cent of children over two years old experiencing abuse directly, compared to 30 per cent of children aged below two
  • Three quarters (74%) of children experienced a negative emotional change after hearing or witnessing the abuse experienced by their mother (i.e. becoming clingier, shyer or more aggressive). This figure increased to eight in ten (81%) for children aged two years and above
  • Four in ten (44%) children experienced a negative change in their behaviour after hearing or witnessing the abuse experienced by their mother (i.e. complaining of feeling unwell, nightmares, not eating, not sleeping or bed-wetting)
  • Almost one-third (30%) of nursery and school age children (aged two years and above) experienced a negative impact on their academic performance after hearing or witnessing abuse at the hands of the perpetrator
  • 78% of mothers said they feared for their child’s safety while at home
  • Nine in ten mothers (92%) said their child’s safety was a key factor in their decision to leave the abusive relationship
  • Four in ten mothers (41%) said they considered not leaving the abusive relationship for fear of disrupting their child’s lives
  • In almost a third of cases (31%), the mother and her children were living at home with the perpetrator before fleeing to Hestia’s refuge, while others were staying with friends or family, staying at hostels or bed and breakfasts, or living in the family home without the perpetrator at the time of fleeing.
  • Four in ten women (39%) were referred to Hestia’s refuge after phoning a domestic abuse helpline
  • Four in ten women (41%) were referred to Hestia through social services

Life at a refuge

  • Seven in ten (71%) nursery and school age children (aged two years and above) missed their friends and family
  • Nearly two-thirds (63%) of nursery and school age children (aged two years and above) missed their old nursery or school
  • Nearly half (48%) of children missed their old toys after arriving at a refuge
  • Nine in ten children felt safe (96%) and happy (93%) while living at a refuge
  • The majority (85%) of children have been able to make friends while living at a refuge
  • Two thirds of mothers (67%) said that their relationship with their children and their children’s behaviour have improved since arriving at a refuge
  • Nearly all of the children (96%) in our survey have been able to use the toys and garden space at the refuges (68/71 children)

Education

  • Nine in ten (89%) children of nursery and school age (aged two years and above), who have started at a new nursery or school since arriving at a refuge, experienced an improvement in their educational performance
  • Almost all children (97%) of nursery and school age (aged two years and above), who have started at a new nursery or school since arriving at a refuge, enjoy their new nursery or school and have made friends

Life beyond crisis

  • On average, families stay in Hestia’s refuges for five and a half months, with about 15 weeks spent actively searching for appropriate move-on accommodation
  • Four in ten (39%) mothers expressed feeling anxious about the prospect of moving out of a refuge
  • 57% of our mothers said they were feeling ‘hopeful’ about life beyond the refuge

About Hestia

For over 50 years, Hestia has provided support and hope every step of the way of recovery. Today, millions of people are experiencing domestic abuse, modern slavery and challenges with their mental health. Hestia believes no-one should suffer alone. Together, we can make sure people find a life beyond crisis.

At Hestia we support adults and children in times of crisis. We deliver services across London and the surrounding regions, as well as campaign and advocate nationally on the issues that affect the people we work with. Last year we supported 15,238 men, women and children. This includes victims of modern slavery, women and children who have experienced domestic abuse, young care leavers and older people. From giving someone a home, to helping them to get the right mental health support, we support people at the moment of crisis and enable them to build a life beyond a crisis. We are supported by over 900 volunteers across London who provide specialist skills such as art therapy, yoga, IT, gardening and cooking, as well as befriending and fundraising.