The single greatest cause of harm in society?

19th July 2017


By Gerri McAndrew, Chief Executive Buttle UK

Recently in the Times a senior police officer, Chief Superintendent John Sutherland, describes his experience of policing in the capital.  He tells the story of the case of a murdered 16-year-old boy:

“Within days, the team has made a number of arrests. Almost all of them are children and some of them are as young as 11 years old. One fact stands out clear from all the others. Every single one of them has grown up in a home where domestic violence has been a reality. Not a single exception. Now try telling me there’s no link. Domestic violence is terrorism on an epic scale, a disease of pandemic proportions and the single greatest cause of harm in society”.

Over the years I have seen the devastating affect domestic abuse can have in a family home, in particular on the children who are exposed every day to the vast issues connected to the abuse.  Not only is there the direct impact of witnessing an abusive relationship, but there are the consequences of never being given the chance to flourish in a home controlled by the perpetrator. This lack of self-esteem that results can manifest itself in a number of behavioural issues that will impede on the child or young person’s ability to engage in learning and building relationships with their peers.  What John Sutherland describes is the terrible place where this exposure can end.

At Buttle UK, we have developed our Chances for Children grants to specifically help children and young people who have been affected by domestic abuse, giving them a chance to access the emotional and material support they have been lacking, and therefore to aid with their social and emotional development. These grants are given at a point in their journey to recovery from an abusive relationship where they are moving into their first independent accommodation, or have been in it for a short time. Accommodation empty of any essential items, we provide the families with household items required, to help ensure this move can be sustained. But also, critically, the funding is targeted specifically at children to help them overcome their experiences and settle into their new surroundings.  This  includes tutoring lessons, computers, swimming lessons, play therapy and counselling.

Sadly, we have seen a 22% rise in grants given to families affected by domestic abuse in the last year. I was shocked to see that 34% of our grants awarded last year were to support babies and children under four years old, having increased by 35% between 2015-2016.  Our experience would seem to reflect a growing very troubling trend in domestic abuse cases. ONS figures from 2016 show 1 in 10 crimes recorded by police are domestic abuse cases.

Recently I spoke with a mother who had fled from an abusive home with her daughter who was, at the time, just 7 years of age. I asked the mother how she felt the abuse had affected her daughter after having fled the abusive home to a refuge.

‘She feels socially isolated and misses her friends a lot. She described her last birthday as the “worst ever” because she was not allowed to share it with any of her friends. She witnessed so much of the abuse between her father and I and was left traumatised.’

We gave this family a Chances for Children grant, which provided her daughter, not only a laptop and study materials so that she could complete her homework online as required by her school, but also the chance to mix and make friends with new children in the community through swimming lessons and gymnastics.

Her mother told me that our grants ‘give a lifeline for families with children during a difficult period of their life’ which ‘relieves parents from huge financial pressure when setting up a new, safe and peaceful home’. Most importantly, however this mother expressed that the grant prevented her child’s dreams from being ‘shattered’ due to her traumatic experiences, ‘which is priceless’.

Buttle UK supports a wide range of families facing a combination of social issues and financial hardship.  Of these issues, domestic abuse continues to be the main reason we receive referrals for families.  These are families who have often fled their homes with a single bin bag of possessions, with nowhere else to turn. This devastating choice; fleeing an abusive home that has a bed and a wardrobe full of clothes, to a refuge with no little more than the basics, in an unknown community, is the difficult choice that families are making every day in the UK and there simply is not enough provision to care for them all.

The Government’s current Violence Against Women and Children strategy makes very little mention of the needs of children who have experienced domestic abuse.  It focuses on local commissioning of services where account should be taken of local need, but also be sharing good practice.  We believe that the provision of small amounts of targeted funding to support families in their move to independence is practice that could be widely adopted. This will lead to savings on government expenditure later on. Last year we conducted an economic analysis of the Chances for Children grants.  The results, published in our ‘Turning Points’ report demonstrates  that a grant of £1,500 given to a family escaping abuse could result in an average saving of £7,650 for the State.

It is imperative that all political parties recognise the growing issue of domestic abuse across the UK, and that the new Government creates a dedicated policy on domestic abuse that recognises the need for children in these situations, to break the chain of abuse and allow them to have healthy and happy childhoods.

In the meantime Buttle UK will continue to provide for these families, by giving flexible and timely grants that are tailored to the needs of the children and young people. We are calling for more support of our Chances for Children campaign to raise £10m over the next five years, to allow us to keep offering potentially life-changing grants to these vulnerable children, at a time when they need it most.

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