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Guest blog: The effect of domestic abuse on children

Sally Hanson is a children’s services practitioner for the NSPCC’s DART (Domestic Abuse Recovering Together) programme in Prestatyn.

The Welsh Government’s Christmas campaign to help raise awareness and challenge attitudes towards domestic abuse in Wales has been launched by the First Minister in Cardiff.

The devastating effects of domestic abuse on adults are well documented. Far less is reported about the impact it has on children who witness a parent or care-giver being subjected to violence.

Jan Pickles & Des Mannion from NSPCC Wales with First Minister Carwyn Jones

These children – the forgotten victims of violence in the home – are the focus of this latest campaign and the people that I work with on a daily basis.

I’m a practitioner for the NSPCC’s DART (Domestic Abuse Recovering Together) programme which works with children and their mums to help them overcome their experiences of domestic abuse and build stronger relationships.

We run a group of up to eight mums and their children over 12 weekly sessions, starting with a session together and then separately with the mums and children.

Over the 12 weeks, we run a variety of activities with the mums and their children designed to help each other to understand the feelings they have about what they have experienced, so that they can let go and move on together.

Before every meeting, myself and the rest of the team sit down to discuss any developments that may affect how the families will be feeling today. We could, for example, have had a call from an upset parent whose ex-partner has been threatening them on a social media site, or have been contacted by a teacher concerned that one of the children hasn’t been in school that week.

At the beginning of a group session we start talking about people who were important in their lives, including those who they may have left behind because of the circumstances. This could be a grandparent, friends or even a family pet. The mums and children create their own family tree and then present it together to the rest of the group.

These exercises allow everyone to talk, maybe for the first time, about the things they missed and also see that they are never alone in their feelings of sadness and loss.

We also work with the children separately to help them express their feelings by creating masks – one being the face they show to others and the other to show how they really feel inside. We also work with the mums to explore how their children’s feelings might be manifesting itself as bad behaviour, and how they might also be masking their negative feelings.

The children are able to learn about how to manage loss and change through the sessions. We start talking about things that make us sad and then write these down on paper clouds. We then move on to think about some of the good things that have come out of the sadness. For example, they were sad when they saw their mum being hit, but they feel happy that their mum is much better now and they can have friends around to play in their new house. We then put the good things on a rainbow.

We’re able to talk about changes in their lives and, although some changes can be sad, they can also be good. They write their sad feelings and memories on paper, get back together with their mums and tie their feelings and memories on to a helium balloon. They’re then able to let go of them together.

It seems like such a small thing, but that’s really what this programme is about – helping mums and their children to understand the feelings they have about what they have experienced, so that they can let go and move on together.

‘Live Fear Free’ is the latest campaign to be launched by Welsh Government as part of its ongoing ‘Right to Be Safe’ agenda. The campaign’s website – http://www.livefearfree.org.uk – includes information on how to seek help along with two high-impact videos focusing on violence against women and the effects of domestic abuse on children.

A range of services are available across Wales to provide practical and emotional support in response to domestic abuse. For information about these services available please contact the All Wales Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 80 10 800. Children and young people seeking help can ring ChildLine on 0800 1111 while adults worried about the welfare of a child or young person can contact the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000.

If you would like more information about the DART programme please contact the NSPCC in Prestatyn on 0844 892 0275 or email lyn.hartnell@nspcc.org.uk.

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