I had the pleasure of speaking in London recently to senior strategic managers and Directors of Children’s and Adult Services at a Research in Practice workshop on domestic violence and abuse (DVA) and the impacts on children and young people. When I was preparing my talk, I thought I would come to some definitive recommendations about exactly when and how to intervene; the abuse would then stop and the family have a good chance of living happily ever after. However as I engaged with the research, I started to feel and think differently; and I came to a rather different conclusion.
First, reading the research was emotionally tough. I felt intensely sad at times, and knew I was in trouble when I hit the chocolate big time! Normally I allow myself four squares a day; I was nearly eating a whole bar each day by the end of the week! This spoke to me about how my emotions were doing – not too well is the answer! A depressive cloud had gathered as I read paper after paper on the effects of DVA on children and young people, and growing up with ‘multiple stressors’.
Second given the prevalence of DVA, this is not about them and us. I came to the conclusion some time ago that if you are fortunate enough to live to an old age and have not experienced DVA either in childhood or within an intimate relationship as an adolescent or adult then you have been extremely fortunate. Furthermore, vulnerabilities – we all have them and they are different for each of us – may weaken our resolve not to return to a relationship which is not good for us. At the same time, the numbness caused by continual erosion of self-esteem and the tyranny of constantly walking on eggshells, can distort perceptions of whether a relationship is abusive.
So I came to the conclusion that multi-agency partnerships should plan services around the likelihood that DVA will recur throughout the life course. Services need to focus on maximising the periods in children and adults’ lives when they can recover from the damaging effects of DVA, at the same time always keeping the front door open to re-engage if the situation changes for the worst. This gives minds and bodies time to heal with more space for improved responsive care within the home, which helps reduce harm.
Independent Domestic Violence Advisers (IDVAs) and parallel group work programmes, based on peer learning like Children Experiencing Domestic Abuse Recovery (Cedar), offer much-needed relationship-based support to build self-esteem, and strengthen the mother-child relationship thus aiding mutual recovery.
The key is to offer timely non-stigmatising help when women decide to leave an abusive relationship – the kind you could easily talk about, for example, to a close relative or recommend to a friend without fearing any kind of censure.
Furthermore towards the end of a group work programme like Cedar, facilitators and co-ordinators are well placed to point women and children in the right direction if they need more intensive help. They can also be encouraged to self-refer back into the programme, if they need to, at a later point in their lives.
When women, children and young people feedback that they have been treated with kindness and compassion each time they access and experience a service, then we will know we are getting closer to tackling the adversity DVA causes in children and young people’s lives and how difficult it can be to ask for help when you really need it. People experiencing abusive family relationships require timely, empathic relationship-based professional responses which, above all, connect with the lived reality of DVA, and its corrosive and distorting impact on well-being and self-worth.
© 2015 Jocelyn Jones
Dr Jocelyn Jones is Director, Mindful Practice Ltd www.mindfulpractice.co.uk , a Child Protection Professional Development and Coaching Consultancy, based in the south of England. She particularly enjoys working with strategic managers and multi-agency partnerships to help children and young people, living in their local areas, recover from adversity.
From 2009-2011, Jocelyn contributed to the evaluation of the Cedar Pilots in Edinburgh, Fife and Forth Valley, and had the great privilege to meet and talk with the 25 women and 27 children and young people who took part in the evaluation interviews.