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Supporting children affected by domestic abuse

Living with domestic abuse can have a devastating impact on children. Sadly, domestic abuse happens to families in Surrey, just as it happens all over the UK. As a professional who comes into contact with children and families, early years and playwork practitioners have a role to play in tackling the issue but what exactly should you be doing?

We talk to Barbara French, Surrey County Council's Domestic Abuse Strategy Manager, to find out how you can identify, support and signpost families affected by domestic abuse.


What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse is more than physical violence. It involves the use of power and control by one person over another. Elements of domestic abuse can include slapping, kicking, rape, ridicule, constant criticism, threats, manipulation, sleep deprivation, social isolation, financial abuse and controlling behaviour. Domestic abuse can affect everyone regardless of race, age, gender or sexuality.

How does it affect children?

Children can be traumatised by seeing and hearing violence and abuse. They may also be directly targeted by the abuser or take on a protective role and get caught in the middle. In the long term this can lead to mental health issues such as depression, self harm and anxiety.

What are the signs to look out for?

Children affected by domestic abuse reflect their distress in a variety of ways. They may change their usual behaviour and become withdrawn, tired, start to wet the bed and have behavioural difficulties. They may not want to leave their house or may become reluctant to return. Others will excel, using their time in your care as a way to escape from their home life. None of these signs are exclusive to domestic abuse so when you are considering changes in behaviours and concerns about a child, think about whether domestic abuse may be a factor.

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What can I do to help?

Make sure you are skilled in identifying domestic abuse and understand your role in tackling the issue. The best way to do this is to go on What is Domestic Abuse? training.

Keep your safeguarding children training up to date. If you have only just started working with children, or have just moved to Surrey, you need to do a Working together to safeguard children: introduction workshop as soon as possible. You also need to update this training every three years. For more information about these workshops, visit our training programme webpage.

Put up posters about domestic abuse helplines and local services so your families know who to ask for help if they need it. Think about where you put them so they are prominent but also allow people to read them in private. Can you put them up on the back of toilet doors as well as in reception?

What should I do if I suspect a family is affected by domestic abuse?

If you think a family is at risk of harm and needs immediate police protection, call 999.

If you don't think the situation is urgent but you are worried about a family then get advice from an expert, don't try and talk to them about it yourself. The situation needs to be handled safely so families should only be approached by trained and experienced staff. To talk through your concerns call the Surrey Domestic Abuse Helpline on 01483 776822 or talk to your local outreach service.

If you think that a child or adult is being abused, neglected or is at risk, you should call our dedicated safeguarding team.

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Find out more

Surrey's specialist outreach services support people in heterosexual and same sex relationships that are affected by domestic abuse. They can also support professionals.

  • East Surrey Domestic Abuse Services - Covering Reigate & Banstead, Mole Valley and Tandridge - 01737 771350
  • Your Sanctuary Outreach Service Covering Woking, Runnymede and Surrey Heath - 01483 776822
  • North Surrey Outreach Service - Covering Epsom & Ewell, Elmbridge and Spelthorne - 01932 260690
  • South West Surrey Outreach Service - Covering Guildford and Waverley - 01483 577392

Surrey's Domestic Abuse Helpline

This helpline is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and offers confidential support and information for victims and professionals.

01483 776822

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