Children & Domestic Violence

Children are particularly at risk in family environments where domestic violence or abuse is a feature. There is a consensus amongst the global medical, psychological, and social welfare communities that the emotional development of children exposed to domestic violence may be seriously impaired. The harm arises whether the children are exposed directly to the violence, or whether they experience it indirectly – seeing it, hearing it, or seeing a parent in the aftermath of abuse. The research supporting this view is accepted beyond serious debate.

Courts therefore take the potential for harm to children through domestic violence extremely seriously. Judges are required to consider at every stage when dealing with children cases whether domestic violence is an issue, and the factual and welfare issues that arise if it is.

When there has been a history of domestic violence or domestic abuse in a family, it is vital that the children are protected from further harm during contact with the violent parent. Appropriate safeguards to manage contact safely must be put in place.

A pattern of domestic violence is not an automatic bar to children having contact with a parent in the future. However, that pattern will inform the court about how contact is best managed. For example, is there a need for behavioural or other therapy by the violent parent before contact can take place safely? Are other forms of contact – indirect – better to enable the link to remain whilst ensuring children are protected? The domestic violence history will be looked at to decide whether contact should occur, and if so on what terms.

In the event contact with a violent parent is thought appropriate, there are many practical safeguards which can be deployed. These include:

  • monitored indirect contact only;
  • supervised contact (one-on-one close supervision) or supported contact (less intensive supervision, with trained professionals on hand but at a discreet distance to manage situations if they arise);
  • special arrangements for handover, for example, to ensure that children do not see abusive behaviour between the adults;
  • a course of therapy for the individual or the family as a whole.

These measures can also be used in conjunction with the orders under the FLA and / or the PHA.

How can we help?

  • Identify domestic violence situations and whether and how they should influence decisions to be made about children;
  • Advise in relation to contact with a parent who is violent, and how that ought to be managed and regulated;
  • Identify resources to work with families and children where domestic violence is a feature to improve the quality of parental / child relationships;
  • Decide with you whether protection under the FLA and / or the PHA are appropriate in your case, and if yes to represent you in any court proceedings.

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