If I tell the social worker I am a victim of violence or abuse, she will take my baby away to punish me.
This is a really dangerous myth as it can stop people asking for help when they need it. If you are a victim of violence or abuse you will not be punished for that. People want to help you. BUT it is sadly true that the available support is often not ideal and sometimes is not easy to access.
But the assertion that YOU as victim of abuse will be deliberately punished by having your children taken away is simply wrong. If children are removed, it will be to keep them safe. However, we can see how for some victims of violence, it will certainly feel like punishment.
Therefore, what we will do in this post is discuss:
- when it is difficult to separate from an abusive partner;
- what kinds of abuse and violence will worry a social worker;
- what will the social worker do if worried about abuse in your home; and
- practical things that you can do if you are in this situation, to avoid having your children removed from your care.
IMPORTANT UPDATE RE LEGAL AID FOR VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE
In February 2016 the Court of Appeal decided that Regulation 33 was unlawful. This is set out by section 12 of LASPO (Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012).
The regulation specifies the type of evidence that was required to show that DV had taken place and which would allow someone to apply for legal aid and provided that these incidents had to have taken place within last 24 months. The court found that this requirement had no ‘rational connection’ with the statutory purpose of LASPO.
See further Rights of Women, R (on the application of) v The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice  EWCA Civ 91 (18 February 2016).
Difficulties in ending abusive relationships
What causes a lot of problems in cases involving violence or other forms of abuse between partners, is that very often they find it difficult to separate from one another. They may know that their relationship isn’t healthy or happy for either of them, but they may have been together for a long time and sometimes it can be hard to walk away and not look back. Ending a relationship is often described as a ‘process’ not a one off ‘event’.
Or the victim of the violence/abuse may be utterly emotionally worn down by the abuser and find it very difficult to find the energy and courage needed to leave.
But, for whatever reason, if the adults can’t stay apart and the violence/abuse continues, the LA will have to act to protect the children. Children exposed to even just seeing or hearing violence suffer – there is no doubt about that.
We do appreciate that it is a difficult situation to manage and isn’t always managed well. This article from the Guardian Social Care Network sets out a number of concerns about the way professionals attempt to deal with situations where children may be at risk of violence in the home:
Her experience of chairing domestic homicide reviews for the Home Office – and quality assuring those carried out by others – has led James-Hanman to believe that social services are at best a neutral factor but more often a negative one in the most terrible outcome of all, where a victim, and sometimes their children, are killed. Well before long-standing abuse erupts into tragedy, she says, social services should not be “starting from a position of telling women ‘If you don’t do what I tell you we’ll take your children off you’ but ‘What do you need to help you and your children become safer?’ And that means safety planning done properly, not just handing over a list of things to take with you when you leave.”
What will worry a social worker – defining abuse/domestic violence
‘Abuse’ is a wide term that can cover a variety of behaviour; some will be considered more serious than others but ALL have the potential to harm you and your child. It is not true to think that just because someone doesn’t hit you, that means they are not abusive. Read the government’s definition of ‘abuse’ from 2013.
Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse:
The risks to you and your children of staying in an abusive or violent relationship are very serious and very real. According to Refuge, two women a week are killed by a partner. Even if you feel you are coping OK, you need to think about just how harmful it is to your children to repeatedly see or hear you being abused.
Have a look at what survivors of abuse say here.
You may also be interested in this publication from the Early intervention Project which looks at the damaging consequences of domestic violence on children families and communities:
The damaging impacts of witnessing domestic violence and abuse on children can cast a long shadow with inter generational consequences sometimes leading to a repetition of abusive and violent behaviours. Moreover, domestic violence and abuse is not confined to a small section of the population but highly prevalent with 30% of women having experienced any domestic abuse since the age of 16 and 1.2% of people aged 16-59 having experienced partner abuse involving severe force in the last year. It also comes with immense costs – it is estimated that the overall costs to society of domestic violence and abuse stands at over £15.7bn.If you have a violent or abusive partner and you are not able to take steps to remove that person from your children’s lives then yes, you are at risk of having your children taken away. Because the harm done to children who have to witness or listen to someone they love being abused, is potentially extremely serious.
What is likely to happen if a social worker is worried about abuse in your home?
Children should be living with their parents whenever possible, but if they are not safe with the parents, the LA may ask a court to make a care order to allow the LA to remove the children from their parents’ care. If only one parent is abusive, the concern about the other parent often is one of ‘failure to protect’ – i.e. you didn’t leave when you could have, or you didn’t report your abusive partner to the police.
However, removing children from abusive relationships is never automatic.
Please read this article by the Pink Tape blogger. She says, and we agree:
Indicative also is the statement that there is an “assumption [in the family courts] that children must be removed if their mum is a victim of violence: that their mothers have not protected them“. There just isn’t. That isn’t the law and it isn’t the practice either. Sometimes those of us working in the system wish there was more support available to facilitate mums to leave nasty partners, and to help them stay away, but the provision of such services is not within the courts’ gift – and there is no presumption.
In fact the presumption is in entirely the opposite direction – children should remain with their parents if at all possible, can only be removed if necessary on safety grounds, and if there is a risk of significant harm (I’m summarising the law, but hopefully doing so more accurately than the CiF article). So, no presumption, but it is sometimes necessary to remove children.
Please see this article, also on Pink Tape, which talks about domestic violence in family cases.
The House of Commons Education Committee Fourth Report ‘Children First: the child protection system in England’ said this in 2013:
72. In cases of domestic violence, there should be no presumption that an abused parent cannot be a good parent. Wherever possible, the focus should be on supporting that parent and helping them to protect their children themselves, rather than on removing the children. But the interests of the children must come first. Guidance and specialised training in this sensitive area should be reviewed and updated and highlighted to all social workers. The Department for Education must liaise more closely with the Home Office on issues relating to child protection and domestic abuse.
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme or ‘Clare’s Law’ is in full operation across the country as of 8th March 2014. It is named after Clare Wood who was murdered by her boyfriend in 2009. The scheme allows the police to disclose information on request about a partner’s previous history of domestic violence or violent acts. But some criticise the scheme as most abusers do not have a previous police record..
My partner is violent or abusive – what do I do?
Tell someone. Get help to get him or her removed from your home. You can talk to the police, Childrens Services or have a look at some of the organisations we include on our Links and Resources page. We know how difficult it can be to separate from someone who is abusing you within a relationship – often there have been good times together and you can’t just turn your emotions on and off like a tap.
Look at the Refuge ‘Get Help Now’ page.
Don’t have any kind of contact with the abusive ex partner unless you absolutely have to. Please don’t phone or text and then tell the social worker you haven’t – it is relatively easy to get hold of copies of mobile telephone records and people will find it difficult to trust you in the future if you don’t tell the truth about this.
If you are a female victim of male violence and a social worker thinks you would benefit from going to a course like the Freedom Programme, please take that seriously and think hard about it. And, if you do decide to go, don’t do it reluctantly just because someone else is telling you to do it – go with an open mind and see how it could benefit you.
Look at some of the positive feedback about the Freedom Programme.
Men as victims of violence from women
We accept that men are victims of violence and abuse from women too. Unfortunately there appears to be less available in terms of support for male victims as traditionally domestic violence is seen in terms of men hurting women.
Contact the Mens Advice Line – advice and support for men experiencing domestic violence and abuse. Call 0808 801 0327. –
Non Molestation Orders and Occupation Orders
You can apply to the court to get a non-molestation order and an occupation order under the Family Law Act 1996, to have an abusive person ordered out of your home. You can still get legal aid for these kinds of applications and it is a very good way of showing your social worker that you are serious about doing something to protect yourself and your children.
- For more information about non molestation orders etc, see the Custody Minefield site.
- See the Women’s Aid ‘Survivors Handbook’ about non molestation and occupation orders.
The Government have also recently introduced Domestic Violence Prevention Orders (DVPO) to help protect people immediately after an attack by stopping the abuser contacting the victim.
If the police want to investigate what your ex partner has done, please co-operate with them. If you want to withdraw your statement or refuse to make one in the first place it is sending a very worrying message about your insight into the problem and your willingness to protect your children.
Remember – good, loving, healthy relationships NEVER involve one partner being violent or abusive to the other one. They just don’t. You deserve better, and so do your children.
Controlling or coercive behaviour
Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 creates a new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or familial relationship. This is intended to make patterns of repeated or continuous coercive or controlling behaviour a criminal offence.
The section came into force on 29 December 2015. On 5 December 2015 the MoJ published statutory guidance to provide information about:
• identifying domestic violence, domestic abuse and controlling or coercive behaviour
• circumstances in which the new offence might apply
• the types of evidence which establish the offence
• the statutory defence
Advice from one of our readers
We are grateful for this contribution from one of our readers who works in this field. She discusses what commonly happens when a mother reports DV and what women can do to take back their control and ensure the safety of themselves and their family.
What happens if you report DV?
Most mothers who flee abuse do so because they realise just how damaging domestic abuse is to their children. It’s one of the main reasons given for finding the emotional resources to leave. Often the point of leaving (or saying help me I need to leave) will be the first time they have openly admitted they are experiencing abuse or been open about its impact.
This sets in a chain of events usually started by a referral to children’s services by the agency you approach for help. Sometimes this will just prompt a letter saying “we have a report of a DV incident, we are not taking any action at the moment but please call if you want to.”
Sometimes it results in a phone call or visit. It would be quite usual, even expected (and desirable), to offer supportive intervention to a victim of rape and DV. The vast majority of the time this support is very useful to the family.
Sometimes there may be a concern that the non-violent parent is unable to protect the children from the violent parent or from witnessing further abuse or that the non-violent parent is so traumatised by the abuse they need more intensive support. Again, this support is usually a good thing.
It can be very frightening but in the vast majority of cases it really is just a case of offering help, support and guidance during a very stressful emotional recovery.
What can you do to help yourself?
There are a few things anybody in this situation can do to really help themselves and make it clear to children’s services that they are not at risk of returning to the abusive situation and exposing their children to emotional harm and physical risk. Things like:
- obtaining protection orders (or trying to);
- cooperating with the police if needed;
- Engaging with the social worker and other advised sources of help, not communicating with the abuser or meeting up with them;
- the Freedom Programme;
- being aware of security:
- specialist support from a respected organisation (either face to face or otherwise)
- as odd as it sounds a respected parenting programme can be very useful. Even if you are a experienced parent, one of the aspects of DV is the very effective grooming that is a part of it and without you even noticing it can really effect how you parent.
- avoiding seeking a new relationship until you have completely emotionally healed and are able to identify early warning signs is also helpful.
- of course real life quality respected legal advice and keeping accurate records and relevant paperwork is vital.
Don’t be afraid to get help – show others you want to take back control
Whilst the vast majority of social workers follow the rules and are decent sensible people they are human beings and as such, just like any other group of people, some may make mistakes and some may be arses. Please don’t let fear of them put you off seeking support. Without a doubt the single most effective method of removing the risk of abuse to your child if you are experiencing domestic abuse is to leave and do it safely.
A woman is significantly more at risk of serious harm at the point of leaving and shortly after than at any other time. Support to do this from qualified professionals will usually make it much much safer.
Over the years the vast majority of my service users who either have no intervention or very limited intervention from children’s services are the ones who actively seek support and take the necessary steps without delay or without needing it to be arranged by CS.
To clarify what I mean by do things yourself without waiting is, seeking the support yourself ASAP preferably within days. Women’s Aid (if you do not have a face to face specialist service locally) are incredibly useful for signposting both to local services and online respected ones.
It’s incredibly difficult to wrongly assume someone is not committed to changing their future based on preconceived feelings or any thing else if that person is already on the waiting list/has just started/ has an appointment booked/ is engaging with every single almost automatic suggestion any social worker would be talking about under these circumstances. And doing so can really aid your recovery and help put you back in control of you.
And it sends a very clear positive message to professionals working with you.
Further Reading/Other issues
- Applying for legal aid as a victim of domestic violence – see the guidance at the GOV.UK site.
- Concern that the ‘domestic violence exemption’ which allows applications for legal aid has lead to increased rates of false complaints against men.
- For the debate which followed the decision about violence towards children in a ‘cultural context’ in re A (Wardship, fact finding, domestic violence)  see this article from Family Law Week.
- Listen to the CEO of Refuge talking on Womans Hour on Radio 4 on 3rd February 2015 about the current ‘dire’ situation with funding being withdrawn from refuges and inadequate response from agencies such as the police and children’s services.
- The CAB survey finds that restricted access to legal aid is one of the biggest barriers to support for victims of domestic abuse in England. In their work helping victims of domestic abuse only 12 per cent of advisers reported being unaffected by the changes that came into force from April 2013.
- For guidance on how to apply for legal aid in family cases involving violence, see this useful summary in Family Law Week, published in April 2015.
- See the Mothers Apart project -The aim of this project is to develop a multi-agency workshop for professionals responding to mothers who have become, or are at risk of becoming, separated from their children. Mother-child separations often occur in a context of domestic and/or sexual violence and abuse (DSVA), particularly the non-physical kinds of abuse that involve coercive control.
- See Pink Tape’s response to the Women’s Aid report ’19 Child Homicides’.
- The 2016 Review of Practice Direction 12 J which governs how the court must deal with cases involving allegations of violence.