Child witnesses of domestic abuse need greater support

The cost of failing to protect child exposure to domestic violence is costing UK taxpayers up to £1.4bn, new analysis has warned.

Pro Bono Economics’ (PBE) analysis carried out for the charity Hestia found that children witnessing domestic violence are more likely to experience conduct and hyperactivity disorders. In fact, the evidence suggests that childhood exposure to severe domestic violence could increase the number of children in the UK with conduct disorders by 25,000-75,000 and the number of children in the UK with hyperactivity disorders by around 10,000-25,000.

The long-run cost to the taxpayer from supporting these children is likely to be in the region of £0.5-£1.4 billion, the analysis revealed, which is equivalent to £1,000-£2,900 per child exposed to severe domestic violence.

Lyndsey Dearlove, Head of UK SAYS NO MORE at Hestia said: “For too long children have been overlooked in the response to domestic abuse, seen merely as “witnesses” rather than children who have experienced deep trauma and crisis. This must change. We need measures put in place to support children early on and break the cycle of abuse. The Domestic Abuse Bill is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make this a reality and prevent catastrophic and lifelong damage which costs both individuals and the taxpayer dearly.”

Around 500,000 children in the UK have been exposed to severe domestic violence and more than 1 million children each year are exposed to domestic abuse. More than half of those who experience domestic abuse as a child will go on to be a victim in adulthood.

The analysis has been published in response to the government’s draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which, Hestia says, fails to include specific measures to protect children who live in households where domestic abuse takes place.

The report ‘On the Sidelines: The Economic and Personal Cost of Childhood Exposure to Domestic Violence’ estimates the potential costs to the taxpayer of children who witness severe domestic violence and go on to develop behavioural disorders as between £480m and £1.4bn, which is made up of:

Health and Adult Social Care – up to £70m

Crime – up to £110m

Education – up to £790m

Foster and Residential Care – up to £460m

The report urges better quality evidence on the impact of childhood exposure to domestic abuse. Hestia’s national domestic abuse and sexual violence campaign, UK Says No More, calls for the Domestic Abuse Bill to include measures to better protect children including:

– Child survivors are given special waiting list status (protected status) for all NHS services including Child and Adolescent Mental Health Support (CAMHS).

– Children in refuges and those that have had to move due to domestic abuse have priority access to school places, with a duty on local authorities to respond to a change of school request from refuges within 20 days.

Lord Gus O’Donnell, Chair of Pro Bono Economics said: “Children exposed to domestic abuse suffer in the short, medium and long-term. As a society we have a moral imperative to ensure protection from the immediate risk of such trauma but also provide support whenever – unfortunately – such exposure should occur. While these numbers are striking, and this report timely, there is always a need for more robust evidence with which we can enhance our understanding of such issues, from causes through to effects and solutions. Armed with such information we can better address these concerning social trends.”

Pro Bono Economics helps charities and social enterprises understand and improve the impact and value of their work, matching professional economists who want to use their skills to volunteer with charities.

Hestia support adults and children across London in times of crisis and last year worked with nearly 10,000 people including women and children who have experienced domestic abuse, victims of modern slavery, young care leavers and older people.

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