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This essay will explore and critically discuss issues about domestic violence and effects on children with regards to the framework for constructing childhood. I will also briefly describe the historical definition of childhood comparing it to the current definition and the links to children and domestic violence.
James and Prout (1997) stated that Childhood can be understood as a social construction as it provides an interpretive frame for contextualizing the early years of human life and it is different from biological immaturity. He also suggested that to an extent the definition of childhood is dependent on the views of the society. The concept of childhood has changed overtime, due to social construction that is fuelled by our views of children, our attitudes towards them and views constructed through human understanding. This change has a big impact on children and how society sees them; these changes are due to political and theoretical influences (James and James, 2004). James and James (2004) suggested that there is a sense loss of childhood, as children are being denied their right to childhood and they are exposed to the unpredictable and impulsive of the adult world too early.
History of childhood
In Western Europe during the middle ages children were seen as miniature adults, with same thinking capacity and personal qualities, but not the same physical abilities. From 15th century Aries suggested that the idea of childhood has changed but the images and paintings of children changed as a new understanding of childhood emerged allowing children to be seen as distinct from adults because they had their own needs. Shahar challenged the Aries views, she argues that the perceptions of children as adults goes beyond the 15th century; children were perceived as either been born innocent or sullied by original sin (James and James, 2004). The image of the child born into original sin came from the Aristotelian notions overlaid with Judeao-Christian; in this children were seen as wicked and needed redemption. Susannah Wesley recommended that parents must discipline their children so they can be saved from their sinfulness. In the 18th century, children were seen as the nature child, nature wants children to be children and not merely as adults in the making. John Wesley recommended that parents should break the will of their children in order to bring his God’s will into subjection so they will be subject to the will of God. During the 19th century children were portrayed as naughty rather than evil, but this has continued today for example in books such as my naughty little sister. Towards the end of the 18th century, the perception of childhood was influenced by the romantic and evangelical. Romantic portrayed childhood as a time of happiness and innocence, children were seen as pure and should be protected before facing trials and responsibilities of adulthood; for example by Rousseau’s Emile, but it was later propagated by Blake, Coleridge and Wordsworth. Blake saw childhood not as the preparation for what was to come but as the source of innocence, but his views were confused by Wordsworth emphasised that children were blessings from God , as childhood was seen as the age where virtue was domiciled, (James and Prout, 1997). The romantic child was short-lived by the evangelical child, the evangelical Magazine advises parents to teach their children that they are sinful polluted creatures.
Currently, childhood is seen as vulnerable to exploitation especially the way which the media plays a big role in the commercialisation of children’s merchandise such as toys and games. Childhood in Britain is often perceived as being a time of innocence and happiness, a carefree time when children should be protected and sheltered from the adult world of sex, drugs and violence (Foley et al, 2001). Children are viewed as vulnerable especially when it relates to abuse or protecting them; Holt et al (2008) suggested that the perception and understanding of children has changed overtime in relation to abuse as there is more research on children and young people who have experienced abuse.
The framework for constructing childhood consists of welfare of children, children’s rights and children in a social context. The welfare of children is still a concern which continues to change the policy and legislation in order to promote and safeguard the welfare of children in society. The UK government chose three main points in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1999 which is quality protects (programme to support children aged 0-3 yrs and their families, sure start and National Childcare Strategy to ensure good-quality childcare for children aged 0-14 (James and James, 2004). Race, class, religion, gender and disability shape children’s lives; all these factors have an impact on their health, life chances and educational experience.
UNCRC came into force in the UK in 1992, all organizations working with children refer to UNCRC, for example Children’s express and Article 12, aim to increase children and young people’s participation in the society. Unlike adults, children have fewer rights for example they do not have the right to vote as children do not yet have the competence to make such decisions. These special rights are for their protection rather than participation (James and James, 2004).
James and James (2004) stated that the social positioning of children is inextricably linked with wider social changes associated with the roles of men and women, families and the state. Changes in the composition of the family structure and the increased involvement of women in the workforce in Western Europe and US have an impact upon the lives of children. External materials and cultural forces of the families, both subtlety and directly shape children lives; but also schools, childcare and healthcare settings influence the lives of children (James and James, 2004).
Domestic violence is a health issue that is hidden but statistics shows that it is a problem not just in England but worldwide and it is also an indicator of other forms of child abuse. Evidence from Brandon et al’s (2008) study shows that if domestic violence is present it leads to two-thirds of cases of child deaths and serious injury, therefore this shows that domestic violence is one factor that leads/contribute to death in children’s cases where children have been killed or seriously injured for example Victoria Climbe and baby P cases. It affects everyone in the society regardless of age, gender, wealth and sexuality. Home office (2010) defines Domestic violence as “Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners of family members regardless of gender or sexuality.” This includes issues of concern to Black and other Minority Ethnic communities such as ‘honour killings’. McGee (2000) stated that domestic violence is experienced by women and children of all social classes, ethnicities and abilities. BCS (2001) estimates that one in five (21%) women and one in ten (10%) men has experienced at least one incident of non-sexual domestic threat or force since they were 16. Also when financial and emotional abuse is included, 26% of women and 17% of men had experienced domestic violence since the age of 16. The most affected group as a result of domestic violence are women, as statistics shows 32% of women had experienced domestic violence from this person four or more times compared with only 11 per cent of men (Mullender, 2004). Statistics from British Crime Survey (BCS) (1996) shows that half of families who suffered domestic violence had children aged 16 or under living in the household. Mirrless-Black (1999) suggested that 29% of children experiencing domestic violence were aware of what was happening, children were more likely to be witness abuse against women who suffer abuse themselves. In the UK it is estimated that every year at least 750,000 children witness domestic violence and over a 100-day period an estimated 205,000 children will witness domestic violence (DoH, 2009).
Children are affected not only by directly witnessing abuse, but also by living in an environment where their mother (main caregiver) is repeatedly victimised. Children in a home where the mother is being abused are also at greater risk of being abused themselves, or being used to control their mother, Hidden hurt (2010). There are many ways that children and young people can experience domestic violence such as directly being abused or witnessing the abuse as children are aware of what going on, and could be listening whilst the abuse happens. Mullender (2004) stated that what children see or hear when their mothers are being abused can not only include physical violence but also emotional abuse and put-downs, threats and intimidation, sexual jealousy and abuse. Children may witness the family being kept short of money or the abuser taking money from other family members and also experience isolation from family and friends. Also children could witness domestic violence by actually seeing violent and abusive acts/behaviours, hearing arguments and seeing the physical and emotional effects of abuse and when trying to intervene to protect their mother or siblings; but young people may experience domestic violence in their own relationships (DoH, 2002).
Research has shown that children are likely to be at risk of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse if they have witnessed or live in an abusive home. The National Children’s Home (NCH) Action for Children study (2002) found that children living with domestic violence frequently experienced direct physical and sexual assault and that ten per cent had witnessed their mother being sexually assaulted. Abrahams (1994) study found that of women and children who had left a domestic abuser 10% of mothers had been sexually abused in front of their children, 27% of the partners had also assaulted the children, including sexually and 1/3 said that the children became violent and aggressive, including towards their mothers; 31% developed problems at school; and 31% of children had low self-esteem. DoH (2009) stated that although the statistics shows that a high numbers of children witness domestic violence, official statistics are likely to underplay its prevalence. It is difficult to estimate the exact number of women or children that experience domestic violence as not every incident is report or disclosed; therefore the true figures are likely to be higher.
Domestic violence has a big impact on children emotionally, socially, behaviourally, developmentally and on their cognitive ability. It can be difficult to research the effects of domestic violence on children due to ethical issues as they are very vulnerable, but it is important to find out what children experience in order to understand the possible impact on children on how to support them to cope. Hester et al (2000) stated that there is evidence that domestic violence has an impact on children but there is lack of knowledge to how factors such as age, race, economic status, gender, disability and children’s resilience influences children.
Children can react to violence in different ways depending on whether they are witnessing or experiencing violence as some are more sensitive than others, but it depends on their age. There are two types of behaviours that can manifest in children, this could be externalised and internalised as some children could be more aggressive and are at a high risk of depression (DoH, 2009). McGee (2000) and Frantuzzo (1999) pointed out that children exposed to domestic violence tend to display more aggressive behaviour, have problems in school/home and also behavioural problems such as depression, fears, suicidal behaviours, bed wetting and low self-esteem. Other behavioural and emotional effects could be feeling powerless/helpless, withdrawn, anger, and lower academic achievements; Hester et al, (2000) suggested that this could be short or long term. However, all children could suffer from all of the above at any stage in their life without being affected or witnessing violence, research has shown that it is higher among children who witness domestic violence.
Domestic violence can also affect children’s cognitive abilities as research has shown that what is happening at home can disrupt their education. Veltman et al (2000) found that 75% of cases children had delayed cognitive development and 86% had delayed language development. Research has shown that children exposed to domestic violence have difficulty in school, lack concentration and more likely to refuse to attend school (McGee, 2000 and Humphrey and Mullender, 2001).
There are long-term consequences of exposure to domestic violence especially to younger children as it is thought that they don’t remember what happened; however the effect can be carried to adulthood and could jeopardize their development. Cunningham and Baker (2004) suggested that if domestic violence is carried into adulthood it can contribute to a cycle of adversity and violence. Osofsky (1999) stated that studies have indicated the link between exposure to violence and negative behaviours in children of all age group; similarly Cunningham and baker suggested that exposure to domestic violence can have varied impact at different stages. The social issues of domestic violence are more likely to affect adolescent due to difficulties forming healthy intimate relationships with peers as a result of their experiences; Levendosky et al (2002) suggests adolescents exposed to violence are less likely to have a secure attachment style and more likely to have an avoidant attachment style, indicating perhaps that they no longer feel trust in intimate relationships.
Violence experienced by infants and toddlers can cause more emotional or behavioural problems as they tend to have excessive irritability, immature behaviour, sleep disturbances, emotional distress, fears of being alone, and regression in toileting and language (Holt et al, 2008 and Osofsky, 1999). Due to their age they are dependent on the mothers/care-giver for care, safety and security so they form the attachment. Studies have shown a link between secure parent-child attachments in infancy with later positive developmental outcomes and these could affect how they relate to people in later life which could affect their normal development of trust and create social problems; research on attachment in infancy has shown that the more serious the level of domestic violence, the higher the likelihood of insecure, disorganised, attachments (DoH, 2009). Furthermore, it can be very difficult for these young children who often cannot describe their experiences in detail as their development is limited and their feelings/emotions are manifested as temper tantrums and aggression, crying and resisting comfort, or sadness and anxiety (Cunningham and Baker, 2004).
Children welfare and rights
Safeguarding and children welfare is defined by HM government (2006) as the process of protecting children from abuse or neglect, preventing impairment of their health and development, and ensuring they are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care that enables children to have optimum life chances and enter adulthood successfully (p 27). Children are defined as ‘in need’ when they are unlikely to reach or maintain a satisfactory level of health or development which will be significantly impaired without the provision of services (S17 (10) of the Children Act (1989). Some children are in need because they are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm which justifies compulsory intervention in family life in the best interest of children. The Child Act (1989) places duty on every local authority to provide a range of appropriate services to ensure that children in need within their area welfare are promoted. The Act also places a duty on local authorities to make or cause enquiries to be made, where there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering or likely to suffer, significant harm (s 47). The Children Act (1989) recognises that to promote the welfare of children, services may need to be provided to address the difficulties their parents are experiencing.
In order to promote the welfare and safeguard children, all the services and agencies working with children have to come together to provide effective support and services, as when children experience serious inquiries it is evident that there has been a failure of agencies working together; this was an issue raised in the 2003 Victoria Climbié Inquiry report. Cm 5730 (2003) from Victoria Climbié Inquiry report recommended that many agencies have to work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children which cannot be achieved by a single agency as every service has a part to play. The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004), Family Law Act (1996), Protection from Harassment Act (1997) and safeguarding children all state that it is a criminal offence if a child dies as a result of an unlawful act of the parents/adults (member of the family) who do not take actions to protect the child.
The Children Act s11 (2004) and Working Together to safeguard children (HM Government, 2006) stated that safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children is everyone’s responsibility and central to all local authority functions. Similarly HM Government (2006) stated that protecting children from significant harm, safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children depends on effective joint working between agencies and professionals that have different roles and expertise (p 33). Furthermore the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) main aim is to ensure the effective safeguarding of children by all local stake holders and the promotion of their welfare, both in a multi-agency context and within individual agencies (HM Government, 2010). LSCB should ensure better collaboration and co-ordination in cases which require services such as agencies working with both children’s and adult services such as agencies working with parents experiencing domestic violence.
Working Together to Safeguard Children (HM Government, 2006) states that LSCBs should make appropriate arrangements at a strategic management level to involve among others, domestic violence forums (p 86). HM Government (2010) states that all health professionals working directly with children and young people should ensure that safeguarding and promoting their welfare forms an integral part of all elements of the care they offer. The Children Act (2004) places a wider duty on the police for example ensuring policy plans including child protection strategies. They also specify the need to respond quickly and effectively to domestic violence incidents (Cleaver et al, 2007). Police have a key role in safeguarding children and working with other agencies to stop abuse (HM Government, 2010).
In the past professionals have not worked together to address the impact of domestic violence for children, but measures have been placed to reduce this impact. As health professional we have to be able to identify the impact of domestic violence on children in order to help/support them. Research has shown that professionals struggle to identify and understand children’s experiences so cannot respond appropriately to their needs (Mullender et al, 2002). Children have several coping strategies can be through resilience and being listened to about their experiences but some children can recover quickly as children are different so we as professional need to consider each child’s coping strategy. DoH (2009) stated that identifying protective factors and increasing resilience can reduce the risk of harm (p 30). Mullender et al (2002) suggested that a secure attachment to a non-violent parent/carer is a protective factor for children in distress from violence. Similarly, Osofsky (1999) stated that the most important protective resource to enable a child to cope with exposure to violence is a strong relationship with a competent, caring, positive adult, most often a parent. This is because violence can jeopardize the development of a child’s ability to think and solve problems, but with the support of good parenting by either a parent or other significant adult, a child’s cognitive and social development can progress.
It is important as professionals that children are listened to, taken seriously and are kept informed and involved in decisions; Mullender et al (2000) pointed out that professional lack sensitivity to children who do not feel noticed or supported appropriately. Professionals need training on how to communicate to children to experience domestic violence by using language which will allow them to talk openly. Children want their voices to be heard as this will allow children to disclose any violence; Mullender et al (2002) stated that listening to children who have lived with domestic violence has meant not only hearing voices that were silent but seeing other cases of violence from a child-centred perspective (p 206). Nevertheless when assessing child’s needs, it is important to consider support for the family; Holt et al (2008) and Humphreys and Mullender (2001) both suggested that it is essential to provide an holistic assessment that will take into account the risk and protective factors in each family, especially the mother and child. Likewise Hester et al (2000) suggested that any intervention strategy needs to be individualised to children family context and should focus on stabilising the home environment to minimise disruption.
They are several service and support for children who have/are experiencing domestic violence such as the hide out, family care support, NSPCC counselling for children and counselling and strong families programme. The hide out is a child friendly website for children and young people, it was created by Women’s Aid to help children and young people to understand domestic abuse, and how to take positive action if it’s happening to you.
Stronger families programme is a 12 week therapeutic group programme from children and mothers who have experienced domestic violence. The aim is to achieve safety, empowerment and a safe place to discuss feelings. It helps towards the reparation to mother child relationship through a mother and child group. It is an inter-agency collaborative model that is offered throughout Nottingham city. The Stronger Families programme is based on the successful model originally initiated in Ontario, Canada. The Community Group programme for children exposed to women abuse has over 20 years of experience and research. It is based on early research by Peter Jaffe et al in London Ontario. In 1986 first manual and groups for children, 1996 favourable evaluation and in 1997 practitioners manual published. The London borough of Sutton has been instrumental in introducing the programme for children affected by domestic violence in the UK. Nottingham is now one of the first areas in the UK to offer the full group treatment programme to local mothers and children. In 1996 the programme was evaluated and it was found that children improved their ability to identify abusive actions and behaviours and children improved in their strategies to manage interpersonal conflict. Overall there was a positive satisfaction post group from both mothers and children.
To improve the outcomes of domestic violence for children and young people, professional need to make children more aware of domestic violence and where to get help/support if they or friends are experiencing violence, especially in the community for example schools or places young people are more likely to go. McGee (2000) suggested that children and young people need more information about domestic violence and leaflets should be avialblae thorough schools and community, whilst Humphreys and Mullender (2001) suggested that raising awareness in youth settings is another to help change people attitudes.
Young people suggested that an educational campaign involving discussion about the media pressure and peoples’ attitudes towards violence (Mullender et al, 2000); similarly McGee (2000) recommended the need to have a public education campaign which is aimed at adults and children to address domestic violence, for example the Zero tolerance campaign in schools, media campaign to direct young people for support and information and raising awareness as well as providing support in schools for children experiencing domestic violence.
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