Rethinking Domestic Violence: The Social Work and Probation Response

By Audrey Mullender | Go to book overview

Chapter 6

The needs of children living with domestic abuse

There is a paradox in the fact that social workers in Britain, intervening in situations where women are being abused, appear often to be motivated chiefly by the presence of children (see Chapter 3)—and yet social work as a profession has not systematically recognised the issue of children living with domestic violence as a matter of concern in its own right. In situations where this is recognised, there tends to be a rather unsophisticated and sometimes punitive child protection response (see Chapter 4) as opposed to constructive work with the non-abusing parent—the mother—to help her and the children be safe. The child-centred responses to living with woman abuse in North America—disclosure work, children’s groups, links with prevention in schools—are not seen in Britain and, despite the existence of a veritable industry of child protection agencies in Britain, it is left to Women’s Aid to be the major national repository of expertise in such work. It is not even yet the case in Britain that child care professionals routinely ask questions to ascertain whether children newly referred with emotional, behavioural or other difficulties might be showing the impact of distress caused by living with the abuse of their mothers.

Britain is just beginning to see the development of literature, research and general awareness in this area—1994 saw the publication of the first major text on the subject in the country, for example (Mullender and Morley, 1994). This was preceded by conference reports; the first to be published (though not the earliest conference) was from the London Borough of Hackney (1993) and was called The Links between Domestic Violence and Child Abuse: Developing Services. Others have followed, from Hammersmith and Fulham: Suffering in Silence: Children and Young People Who Witness Domestic Violence (Holder et al., 1994), and from Scottish Women’s Aid (undated): Children, Equality and Respect: Children and Young People’s Experience of Domestic Violence. Previously, the only specialist literature had been from overseas—the best known source being the Canadian book Children of Battered Women by Peter Jaffe et al. (1990), which is limited by its clinically orientated, individualistic model. A further, much fuller North American book has just appeared (Peled et al., 1995),

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