According to Women’s Aid, one in seven children and young people under the age of 18 will have lived with domestic violence at some point in their childhood. 

Domestic abuse always has an impact on children and being exposed to domestic abuse in childhood is, in itself, child abuse. Put simply, domestic abuse undermines a child’s basic need for safety and security. Its effects can include short and long-term emotional and behavioural difficulties and physical symptoms associated with trauma and stress. Every child will respond differently, and some may not exhibit any negative effects. 

Children may experience domestic abuse directly, but according to the NSPCC they can also experience it indirectly by:  

  • hearing the abuse from another room
  • seeing someone they care about being injured and/or distressed
  • finding damage to their home environment like broken furniture
  • being hurt from being caught up in or trying to stop the abuse
  • not getting the care and support they need from their parents or carers as a result of the abuse (Holt, Buckley and Whelan, 2008)

The role of Family Court 

The ability of the Family Court to safeguard the experiences of victims of domestic abusehas been explored frequently. One challenge being striking the balance between theneed to protect children,the need to protect victims of domestic abuse, and protecting people against false allegations – which can happen when one parent accuses another of abuse. At this point a fact-finding hearing would take place, to determine whether the allegations are true. 

Currently, the Children Act 1989 presumes that the involvement of a parent in a child’s life will further the child’s welfare. If any allegations about domestic abuse are true, this presumption unfortunately places a perpetrator at an unfair advantage.  

Newly proposed reforms will compel the court to be aware of any allegations of domestic abuse at the earliest opportunity. An allegation of abuse does not necessarily mean that parents will be prevented from seeing the child, but what is relevant is whether there is a risk to the child and, if so, whether this risk can be managed. This includes both physical and emotional harm to the child. 

CAFCASS: Keeping children front and centre 

There have long been calls for reforms of the way which the court system is able to protect and support victims of domestic abuse and their families. For example, there have been cases where survivors and their children have been let down and retraumatised through the process. In Family Court, CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service) is there to ensure that the needs of the child remain front and centre of the process. You can find out more about CAFCASS’ role in our recent article.  

When it comes to domestic abuse cases, the court may ask CAFCASS to provide an assessment which will focus on the impact of the domestic abuse on the child and any future risk. This will include interviewing both parents and the children and will keep to a structured framework called the Domestic Abuse Practice Pathway 

What’s changed? 

CAFCASS’ pivotal role in court remains the same, however new domestic abuse legislation (Section 3 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021) announced late last year – means that children affected by domestic abuse will be automatically recognised and treated as victims, regardless of whether they were present during violent incidents. 

This change means that young people (under 18) will get automatic access to the mental health support and safeguarding services that they may need to recover.  

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) argues that the new legislation not only offers children automatic support but also means the effect on them is considered as part of the justice process. It believes that having a clear understanding of the family dynamic and how a young victim may respond to the criminal justice process, will help to bring more abusers to court. 

If you or a loved one have experienced domestic abuse, it is vital that you are aware of your legal rights and the protective measures that are available to you. We can help. 

At RHL Solicitors, we’re here to help make your life easier when it comes to legal support, while providing you with an exceptionally high standard of care. Our Bristol-based team don’t just try to reach a settlement for you; we help to the very best outcome by tailoring our advice to your own individual needs. 

RHL Solicitors will have no delays or waiting times in advising you on your situation and will be quick to get you the support and care you deserve. Get in touch with our team of approachable, highly experienced solicitors and legal advisors today.