The NSPCC said an opportunity to protect such children will be missed if the Government fails to recognise child victims in a proposed new definition of domestic abuse - which it says “ignores” the effect growing up in an abusive household can have on children.
The Government launched a consultation on domestic abuse last year, which will form the basis of a White Paper for its Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, which is due soon.
The NSPCC said the proposed new statutory definition of domestic abuse only refers to the effects of abuse on those aged 16 and over - despite it being a factor in more than half of child protection assessments across England last year. According to the Department for Education, domestic violence was a factor in 246,720 child protection assessments across England in 2017/18, leaving potentially a quarter of a million child victims “unrecognised by the justice system”.
In Yorkshire, it was a factor in 22,609 assessments, with more than 5,000 alone in Leeds; 3,139 in Bradford and 2,641 in Sheffield.
The charity said legal recognition as victims would give children greater protection through domestic abuse protection orders, would help professionals to take action to protect children at risk, and would help authorities ensure there are specific services to help young people overcome the trauma of exposure to abuse.
The call is backed by brothers Luke and Ryan Hart, from Moulton in Lincolnshire, whose father murdered their mother and sister in 2016 after two decades of domestic abuse. Claire Hart, and daughter Charlotte, 19, were shot by Lance Hart outside a leisure centre in Spalding five days after the pair had left him.
Ryan said: “We didn’t recognise it as abuse because there was never any violence but it was coercive control, financial, emotional, psychological abuse.
“What is often missed is the effects of living in that environment has on kids, growing up not only witnessing abuse but experiencing it day in and day out, how that affects us growing up and into adult life. Children living with domestic abuse are not just witnesses to the abuse, they are victims themselves.”
Head of policy at the NSPCC, Almudena Lara, said: “It is quite astonishing that the government is dragging its feet when deciding whether to recognise young people as victims. As well as the day-to-day distress that living with domestic abuse creates, it can cause long-term problems into adulthood that can only be addressed through targeted services that understand the complex trauma children living with domestic abuse experience.
“For this to be done effectively we need government to open their eyes to the harm domestic abuse has on children and give them victim status in the upcoming White Paper to ensure they receive the services they need.”
The Government said it was “determined” to ensure anyone facing the threat of domestic abuse has somewhere to turn.
A Home Office spokesperson said the draft Domestic Abuse Bill, due to be published soon, will “transform” the response to domestic violence. He added: “We fully recognise the devastating effect that domestic abuse can have on children. That is why last year we launched an £8m fund for projects designed to intervene early to help children who have been directly or indirectly affected by domestic abuse. We have awarded £163,000 to Operation Encompass, a charity which supports children who attend school following a domestic abuse incident.”