Children's harrowing accounts of domestic violence during lockdown

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

"We should be allowed back to school now so my step-dad stops hitting mummy.”

The NSPCC has received 26 calls a day – more than one an hour – concerning the impact of domestic violence on children since the Covid-19 lockdown began.

The quote above, from a 10-year-old boy, is just one of many included in a harrowing NSPCC briefing published on Wednesday (June 10).

Between March 23 and May 17, the charity’s Childline service received a record number of contacts regarding domestic violence – around 1,500, which is an average of 185 a week. This is up from an average of 140 a week before lockdown.

Another caller, a girl aged 13, told Childline: “Before lockdown happened, dad was seeing a counsellor for his anger problems. I’m pretty sure those meetings have stopped and I’m worried what he’s gonna be like if lockdown carries on like this. I love my dad and don’t want anything to happen to him, but I just needed to tell someone.”

And a 15-year-old boy said: “I’m really scared of my dad, especially when he’s been drinking. Sometimes he gets really angry and throws things at my mum. It’s been getting worse since the coronavirus and I worry a lot. I have no idea what to do as I can't escape because of the lockdown.”

BEST PRACTICE ADVICE: Spotting the signs of domestic abuse (SecEd, May 2020):

It is feared that the NSPCC figures are just the tip of the iceberg given concerns that many safeguarding issues have gone unreported due to families being locked down since March 23.

On the flipside, the stay at home order may have resulted in some domestic abuse being recognised and reported as, for example, there are more neighbours at home to hear or spot the tell-tale signs.

Either way, schools are being urged to be on alert for safeguarding issues and disclosures as pupils return both this month and from September.

In particular, there have been a number of pleas for schools to ensure the autumn term is one of “readjustment” with plenty of pastoral support and opportunities for pupils to talk about their lockdown experiences (SecEd, 2020).

The NSPCC says that more than half of the 1,500 or so calls have led to the children being referred to local councils or social services for urgent action to protect them.

The charity wants to see provision included in the Domestic Abuse Bill, which is currently going through Parliament, to ensure support to help children who are victims of domestic abuse.

The impact of domestic abuse on children can be wide-ranging, including on their mental and physical wellbeing and their behaviour. The NSPCC briefing warns that it can lead to anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts, self-harming, eating disorders, nightmares or problems sleeping, drug or alcohol use, aggression, difficulty concentrating, and running away from home.

Key problems casued by the lockdown, and highlighted by the NSPCC, include reduced access to support networks for children, including CAMHS, teachers, counsellors, and health visitors – which also reduces opportunities for disclosures.

Many of the contacts have been from children in families that have suffered from domestic violence for years, but the lockdown has exacerbated the situation and brought problems “into sharp focus”.

Other factors include adults being cut off from their usual support for things like anger, alcohol dependency, or mental health problems. On top of this lack of support, many of these problems have worsened during lockdown, especially issues with alcohol.

The briefing states: “The restrictions on everyday life, imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic, are increasing the risk for some children who are experiencing domestic abuse in their homes. It can be more difficult for people to access to support and protection they need.

“But in some cases, the stay at home rules have resulted in domestic abuse being recognised and reported, when it was previously hidden.

“The NSPCC is calling on government to recognise the impact of domestic abuse on children and ensure that their welfare is taken into account when legislating around support for those experiencing domestic abuse.”

The figures come after a report last year from charity Action for Children (2019) found that on average in England there are 692 children’s social care assessments carried out every day that highlight domestic violence as a feature of a child or young person’s life.

It also revealed a picture of barriers to accessing support, including four of the 30 local authorities where there were no support services available for children affected by domestic abuse at all.

Emily Hilton, the NSPCC’s senior policy and public affairs officer, said: "This crisis has shone a spotlight on children who are living with the daily nightmare of domestic abuse. The Domestic Violence Bill has the chance to transform the help available for these children but, despite pleas from multiple experts, the government is deliberately turning a blind eye to the impact it has on children. The government should grasp the landmark opportunity offered by the Bill and ensure children get the protection and support they need."

Head of policy and research at Action for Children, Eleanor Briggs echoed calls for provisions to be included within the Domestic Abuse Bill.

She added: “This alarming new evidence shows that for thousands of children exposed to horrifying physical and psychological abuse under lockdown, the ‘stay at home’ message sadly did not mean ‘stay safe’.

“Throughout the crisis our frontline workers have been carrying out doorstop visits at a safe distance to give us eyes on families we know are at risk, but what these children desperately need in the long term are the right laws to keep them safe.”

  • Action for Children: Patchy, piecemeal and precarious: Support for children affected by domestic abuse, November 2019:
  • NSPCC: Protecting children from domestic abuse during coronavirus (briefing, information & resources), June 2020:
  • SecEd: The 'trauma gap': Schools must not return to 'business as usual' post-lockdown, May 2020:


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