Skip to main content

Domestic Abuse, Neglect, and GIRFEC: a seminar report

Children in Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid, with support from the Scottish Government, ran three free seminars across Scotland in October 2016 exploring the impact of domestic abuse on children and young people, and whether GIRFEC enables practitioners to provide better support.

The expert presentations and delegate discussion revealed that living with domestic abuse can have devastating consequences for a child. 

GIRFEC provides a framework for delivering good support. However, everyone involved with the child and their family must have a good understanding of its principles and how these can be applied in practice. These seminars reveal that there are gaps in knowledge and understanding among individuals and across agencies.

Appropriate support also relies on everyone involved with the child and their family having a good understanding of the complex issues associated with domestic abuse. There were gaps identified here too.

‘Many of the children who are referred for concerns about neglect are experiencing domestic abuse’

We were delighted to welcome Scotland’s expert on neglect and GIRFEC, Professor Brigid Daniel. Download Professor Daniel’s full presentation here

She described neglect as “encompassing the full spectrum of child experience of unmet need and associated risk”.

Many of the children who are referred for concerns about neglect are experiencing domestic abuse.  Although women who experience domestic abuse are often able to parent successfully and mitigate risk to their children, the parenting choice of a perpetrator to be abusive can lead to children missing out on some of their needs being met (for example, one of the main needs that is being neglected by the male aggressor is the child’s need for safety).

Professor Daniel believes that GIRFEC, when it is properly understood and implemented, provides a means for considering a child’s needs; identifying neglect; and working within the family to address this.

However, the complexity of domestic abuse with its gender, social and psychological impacts also require compassionate and skilled practitioners who understand how to work with these children and young people, as well as their parents and wider family. A key element to this is supporting the adult victim, and holding the perpetrator of abuse to account for their behavior and the impact on children.

The benefits of GIRFEC and ongoing challenges

Following Professor Daniel’s presentation, delegates reflected on their experience of working with families affected by domestic abuse and on how GIRFEC supports them. Their discussion highlighted benefits and ongoing challenges. Download a summary of the key points raised during delegates’ reflections here

How Equally Safe can help us prevent the neglect of children

Marsha Scott, Chief Executive, and Kay Steven, Child Policy Officer, both of Scottish Women’s Aid, presented a case to make Equally Safe, Scotland’s strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls an effective strategy for tackling the causes of domestic abuse early and preventing and intervening early to tackle the neglect of children. Listening to children and appropriately supporting the non-abusive parent were two of the key themes to this discussion.

They also discussed the many ways that children are affected by coercive control against their mother, and the opportunities that introducing ‘coercive control’ as an offence will bring to get the right support and protection.

Download Marsha Scott and Kay Steven’s full presentation here

Delegates’ reflections, led by Marsha and Kay, revealed insight into how coercive control can affect women, children, young people, mothering and fathering. Download a summary of delegates’ reflections here