On 8 July 2022, the Government published Statutory Guidance to accompany the Domestic Abuse Act which had come into law in 2021.
Among the welcome measures in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 were a clearer and more comprehensive definition of domestic abuse and recognition that children who are exposed to domestic abuse actually experience domestic abuse as victims in their own right – they are not merely witnesses.
The statutory guidance published in 2022 aims to ensure that the complexity of domestic abuse is properly understood and to promote a ‘whole system’ response.
During the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill through the House of Lords, The For Baby’s Sake Trust led a campaign, in partnership with the Institute of Health Visiting and the First 1001 Days Movement, seeking amendments to recognise the specific needs of babies, including unborn babies, and their parents.
We argued that a baby’s first 1001 days from conception to age two are a time when domestic abuse is highly prevalent and particularly harmful to the baby and the parents. Equally, this is a time when parents want and need trauma-informed and attachment-focused support to break the cycle of domestic abuse and give their baby the best start. We called for specific reference to this in legislation to overcome the ‘baby blind spot’ in public policy, because decision-makers regularly overlook the needs of babies and their parents when designing services and systems for children and families.
Our Parliamentary Briefing prompted two hour-long debates in the House of Lords on these issues, at Committee Stage and then at Report Stage, led through cross-party amendments tabled by Baroness Stroud and Baroness Armstrong of Hilltop. You can read the briefing issued to Peers at Committee Stage here and listen to the full debate on the amendments.
The For Baby’s Sake Trust, in partnership with the Institute of Health Visiting and the First 1001 Days Movement, coordinated a letter to the Home Office Minister, Baroness Williams of Trafford, signed by over 70 signatories, advocating for babies, including unborn babies, and their parents. You can read that letter here.
Although this campaign did not result in changes to the Domestic Abuse Act, it did cause Baroness Williams on behalf of the Government to commit to ensuring that the Statutory Guidance would recognise explicitly the needs of babies, including pre-birth, and of their parents, again starting in pregnancy.
This commitment was honoured through the publication of the Statutory Guidance in July 2022. In particular, as the extracts below demonstrate, our recommendations are reflected in three sections of the guidance: Impact on Child; Pregnancy; and Integrated Response.
Extract from ‘Impact on Child’ section
Children and young people of different ages may respond in different ways to domestic abuse, depending on their stage of development. Babies and young children may be particularly vulnerable when living with domestic abuse, with protective factors often minimal for this age group (unable to seek help or remove themselves from danger, often ‘out of sight’ of regular contact with professionals, dependent on others and may not be able to recognise abusive behaviour). Babies experiencing the effects of domestic abuse may be more likely to have difficulty sleeping, have higher levels of excess crying and disrupted attachment…….
Extract from ‘Pregnancy’ section
Domestic abuse experienced during pregnancy in utero and in the earliest years is harmful to birth outcomes and babies’ early development. Whilst pregnancy may increase risk of abuse, it should also be recognised that the interaction with health professionals may provide an opportunity for women to seek support, as well as for professionals to reach out to women who may be experiencing domestic abuse. Health and social care professionals should also be alert to the need to offer support and safeguarding to the child post-birth if necessary.
Access to trauma-informed support during pregnancy, post-birth and into childhood can be of benefit to adult and child victims.
Extract from ‘Integrated response’ section
Health services should be encouraged and supported to set up robust partnerships with local domestic abuse specialist services and build referral pathways that are clear and easily accessible, to ensure staff feel confident to respond to victims. The NHS has a key role in providing care and support to victims of domestic abuse, including children, and babies through a wide range of health care services, including services for physical and mental health.
You can access the full Statutory Guidance here.
Marking the publication of the Statutory Guidance, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, said: “Domestic abuse has a horrific impact on victims, children and society more broadly. I welcome the publication of the statutory guidance which gives us a detailed blueprint for how we understand domestic abuse and how we improve our response to it. It’s essential that we all work together to tackle domestic abuse and take a holistic approach to this issue which the guidance helps sets out.”
The For Baby’s Sake Trust concurs with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner about the need for a holistic approach. We would add an emphasis that this holistic approach needs to be trauma-informed and take a whole-family approach, including by seizing the unique opportunities to empower parents during the vital time of their baby’s first 1001 days, starting in the womb. We welcome the Statutory Guidance as an important step forward and encourage decision-makers to have babies and their parents front and centre of their vision for breaking the cycle of domestic abuse.