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Children’s experience of domestic abuse and criminality

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Victims' Commissioner explores the overlap between children’s experience of domestic abuse and children’s offending behaviour and makes recommendations for early intervention and consistent practice.

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Sowing the seeds

Earlier this week the Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, published a new report: Sowing the Seeds: Children’s experience of domestic abuse and criminality

In her accompanying press release, Dame Vera is keenly aware that the review was published in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown, with everyone subject to measures designed to contain the spread of the virus. The same measures present an unprecedented risk for victims of domestic abuse, who are compelled to stay within the home shared with an abusive partner. 

The findings of this report suggest this should not be regarded as a short-term problem; children who are exposed to domestic abuse are not casual bystanders and the evidence suggests impacts will be huge and far reaching.

The review finds there is an overlap between children’s experience of domestic abuse and their offending behaviour. 1/4 of children who are identified as having socially unacceptable behaviour, also have identify concerns about domestic abuse of a parent or carer. Workers who support children out of a gang-related activity report that the children and young people they work with commonly come from backgrounds of domestic abuse.

The review finds children who experience domestic abuse may seek alternative relationships outside of the home, leaving them vulnerable to sexual and criminal exploitation. Children in alternative school provision, those in unregulated care homes and children sent far from home are also particularly vulnerable.

The criminal justice response to child criminal exploitation is inconsistent, with different police forces taking different approaches. Children who are victims of criminal exploitation through county lines drug dealing may be seen as offenders rather than victims, depending on which police officer or police force they encounter.

Early intervention to identify and support children and young people who experience domestic abuse is crucial. Thresholds for intervention are currently so high that things have to be “really serious” before children’s services intervene.

Key findings

The report looks at the impacts of domestic abuse on children and young people and presents just how widespread the problem is:

  • The Children’s Commissioner estimates that 3 million children under the age of 17 live in a household where an adult has ever experienced domestic violence and abuse.
  •  One in five children see or hear what happened in cases of partner abuse. 
  • More than half of Children in Need assessments identified domestic abuse as a factor for children in England. 
  • Stakeholders and practitioners identified severe and multiple effects of domestic abuse for children and young people. These include harms to emotional and psychological well-being as well as effects on education, relationships, risky and harmful behaviour and housing and accommodation.


Dame Vera makes a number of strong recommendations to try to tackle this enduring problem. These include:

  • A call for children who experience domestic abuse to be recognised in statute as victims of crime.
  • These children to receive targeted interventions and support to help them recover from domestic abuse.
  • Children who are victims of domestic abuse must not be made more vulnerable to exploitation by sending them far away from their homes and support networks when taken into care.
  • All care home should be regulated, including those for young people aged 16 who can be just as vulnerable and susceptible to exploitation as younger children.

The Victims’Commissioner concludes by saying:

“I hope that instead of sowing the seeds of violence, we can sow the seeds for a brighter future for our children and young people.”


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