Families and children must be encouraged to talk about their experience of domestic violence, experts have claimed.
At a conference in London this week, health workers from around the country met to discuss how guidance published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) could help victims. This was especially important as there were more than 940,000 reports of domestic violence in England and Wales last year according to official statistics. As many as one in five victims claimed the incident had occurred in front of their children.
In their guide to the issue, members of NICE urged NHS workers to play a more active role in identifying and responding to domestic violence.
Frontline staff such as GPs, nurses, paediatricians and mental health professionals should provide “a safe and private environment” for possible victims to discuss any problems they are having. Possible indicators of abuse include repeated injuries which come with “vague or implausible explanations”, depression, anxiety and intrusive family members during consultations.
One of the speakers at the conference was Professor Gene Feder from the University of Bristol, who was involved in the development of the NICE guide. He said “almost half of all people who report domestic abuse have children” and that even if a child is not physically hurt “witnessing abuse can still have lasting physical and emotional effects”.
Children who see their parents be violent with each other “may suffer from bed wetting, insomnia, depression or anxiety” Professor Feder warned, adding that they are also more likely than other children to experience or perpetrate domestic abuse as adults.
The number of children who have witnessed such behaviour might be even higher than official figures indicate, he suggested, as “many parents are too scared to come forward”.