The NSPCC is encouraging schools to be vigilant in looking out for pupils experiencing domestic violence, as new figures show that children who witness family violence while growing up are twice as likely to be excluded from school.
Research by the child protection charity shows that children who have witnessed violence between their parents or other family members are three times as likely to take drugs, steal, spray graffiti or bully others than their peers; twice as likely to get drunk, smoke or get into fights than their peers; five times more likely to run away from home as their peers; and four times as likely to carry a weapon, such as a knife, or hurt someone badly than their peers.
Simply witnessing violence can cause trauma and distress to children that is so severe it can have a massive impact on their well-being and ultimately their behaviour.
Fiona Richards, head of NSPCC services in the East Midlands, said: “According to the latest yearly Department of Education figures, 120 children in Northamptonshire permanently excluded from school, and 2,520 children were suspended one or more times. Some of them will be experiencing domestic violence at home. Whilst this is not a determining factor, and does not in any way provide an excuse for poor behaviour, our research shows strong new evidence of a correlation.”
The NSPCC research shows over half (56%) of children from violent homes show three or more of these kinds of disruptive behaviours whilst at secondary school, but the evidence of family violence is also visible at primary school. Five to 10 year-olds from violent or abusive homes are two to four times more likely to hit, slap or push other children; pick on others; or break, damage or destroy someone else’s belongings.
Fiona Richards added: “Across the UK over a quarter of a million children from violent homes end up being excluded from school for disruptive or anti-social behaviour during their childhood. Our research reinforces the Department of Education’s recent advice to schools to consider whether behaviour gives cause to suspect a child is suffering from significant harm and demonstrates the immense damage caused by family violence on children’s behaviour and education. These children are acting out their emotional disturbance by causing harm to themselves or others. We know from pioneering research that a child’s brain is damaged by witnessing or experiencing physical or emotional abuse at a young age. This can result in children being more aggressive.
“Across the UK we are introducing programmes to help children who have suffered family violence and to work with families to support them and reform their behaviour. But, if we are to break the cycle of violence, we need to identify families who need support earlier. As universal services, schools can play a crucial role in the early identification of children and families affected by domestic violence. Of course, we back a head’s right to exclude pupils where needed, but if there are underlying issues these need to be identified so that agencies can work together to keep children safe and help them recover from the effects of physical abuse.
“All schools have a designated child protection officer to turn to if they have child protection concerns. Teachers, or any adults, who are worried about a child, but unsure whether to report their concerns can also turn to the NSPCC for help and advice on 0808 800 5000, email firstname.lastname@example.org or text 88858.”
The NSPCC offers a range of child protection training resources for teachers and schools on the impact of domestic violence on children. For more information about these visit www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform and click on resources for teachers.