Caring for children who have experienced domestic abuse

Caring for children who have experienced domestic abuse

Dr Hedy Cleaver, Wendy Rose OBE


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Although research and other data suggest that up to 60 per cent of children in foster, adoptive or kinship placements have experienced or been exposed to domestic abuse prior to coming into care, this has received little attention in policy and practice. Indeed, it is only with the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 in England that children have been recognised as victims of domestic abuse if they see, hear or experience it.

Exposure to domestic abuse can have long-term consequences for children’s health and development. These may not be immediately apparent once children have been removed from an abusive home and are living with alternative carers, and can be missed in assessment and planning, resulting in children not receiving the level of care and support they need.

This is the first Good Practice Guide to shine a spotlight on the thousands of children who have experienced or witnessed domestic abuse prior to coming into care – its possible effects, the care these children need, and how best to assess, prepare and support them and the families caring for them. This ground-breaking guide places children’s experiences following domestic abuse at the top of the agenda.

Who is this book for?

This guide is essential reading for social workers placing and supporting children who have been exposed to domestic abuse and those providing, developing and managing services for them. It will also inform policy-makers of the issues to be taken into account locally and nationally in service development.

What you will find in this book

Packed with information, this guide focuses on several pertinent issues around how best to work with looked after and adopted children who have previously experienced domestic abuse, including:

  • What are the legal protections available to the abused parent as well as to children?
  • How does domestic abuse impact on parenting?
  • What are the effects on children who have experienced or been exposed to domestic abuse?
  • How should social workers consider these in their assessments of, and plans for, a child?
  • How should children’s contact needs – with family members as well as previous foster carers – be addressed?
  • What information and skills do alternative families need to help care for them and promote their welfare?

The guide describes the impact of domestic abuse on children of different ages and charts the effect on their developmental progress across health, education and cognitive development, emotional and behavioural development, identity, family and social relationships, social presentation and self-care skills. It also considers assessment and planning for children and their alternative families, and the preparation and support needed and available, both statutory and voluntary. A list of useful resources signposts to further information and support.


Dr Hedy Cleaver:
Dr Hedy Cleaver is an Emeritus Professor at Royal Holloway College, University of London. She has written extensively on domestic abuse and how children are affected. Most recently, she was part of the research team responsible for the last triennial review of serious case reviews (Brandon et al, 2020). The findings from her research have had an identifiable impact on policy and practice in the UK in respect of children and families throughout the last 30 years.

Wendy Rose OBE held children’s policy responsibilities at the Department of Health as Assistant Chief Inspector, and was a senior Research Fellow at the Open University. She acted as a professional adviser to the Scottish Government on developing its children’s policy, Getting it Right for Every Child. Latterly, she worked with the Welsh Government on its safeguarding reforms and was an Honorary Research Fellow at Cardiff University.