Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

An Exploration of the Impacts That Experiencing Domestic Violence Can Have on a Child's Primary School Education: View of Educational Staff

Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

An Exploration of the Impacts That Experiencing Domestic Violence Can Have on a Child's Primary School Education: View of Educational Staff

Article excerpt


The issue of domestic violence (DV) was neither recognised nor accepted as a societal problem prior to the 1970s (McHugh & Frieze, 2006). More recently, perceptions of DV have been transformed from a private, unrecognised phenomenon, to a key public issue high on government and practice agendas (Harne & Radford, 2008). The issue of children living with and experiencing DV is increasingly a more widely acknowledged issue within our society (Cunningham & Baker, 2004). Contemporary research literature is beginning to recognise children living in violent households as 'victims', and adopting a more holistic view of what is encompassed in 'experiencing' DV such as witnessing the aftermath of a violent event (Jaffe & Wolfe, 2011).

The research presented here focuses on primary school children, as they are considered to be of a critical age in terms of awareness and understanding of the DV happening around them (Holt et al., 2008). The study also gathered information on educational staff opinions on the efficacy of Child Protection and Safeguarding (2010) training. A survey-based method in the form of a self-completion, postal questionnaire was employed, and questionnaires were sent to three UK primary schools. The first section of the questionnaire was quantitative and consisted of a rating scale asking participants how frequently they observed certain behaviours in children known or suspected to be experiencing DV. The second section was qualitative and consisted of open-ended questions asking for the participants' experiences of current training and how they believe this could be improved.

This article begins with a brief overview of the literature followed by the methods adopted, findings, discussion and conclusion.

Literature review

Early definitions of DV derived from criminological and sociological perspectives and therefore maintained a one-directional focus on violent and sexual acts or behaviours, exclusively between intimate partners (O'Leary, 2001). Recently however, DV has become less simplistic and encompasses a wide variety of disciplines adopting varying definitions. For example, definitions used by healthcare or social services are unlikely to resemble legal definitions and these may also vary depending how both society and individual victims construct their understanding and experiences of DV (Burton, 2008). A recent Home Office definition (2013) defines DV as:

'...any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to; psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional.'

This varies from earlier definitions by attempting to create a more holistic understanding of the notion of DV by incorporating a variety of behaviours, types of victims and abuse rather than solely focusing on violent and sexual acts between intimate partners.

Before the 1990s, the term 'child witness' of DV was used frequently in the literature, yet this was confusing for practitioners as the term tended to be associated with merely seeing or hearing the abuse. More recently, practitioners have adopted the terms 'exposure to' or the 'experiencing of' DV which reflects the more holistic view of what children undergo whilst living in a violent household (Jaffe & Wolfe, 2011). Exposure to DV also includes the passive role of the child in '...interpreting, predicting, worrying, and problem solving to protect themselves and others in the family from further abuse' (Cunningham & Baker, 2004:7). For the purposes of this research, the terms 'experiencing' and 'exposure to' DV are holistic terms which do not assume the violence has been observed by the child (Holden, 2003).

The terms encompass the following facts of being a child living in a family experiencing DV being caught up physically in adult DV, seeing, hearing or being told of a violent event, and also witnessing the 'aftermath' of a DV event (Osofsky, 1999). …

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