The Local Government Association says the specific needs of children affected by violence in the home are ignored by the Children Bill, currently going through parliament.
The LGA is calling for the needs of this vulnerable group of children to be specifically recognised and embedded in the new structure for delivering services set out in the Children Bill.
At present, no post or body proposed by the Children Bill has the needs of children affected by domestic violence specifically under their remit. The LGA is calling for the welfare of these youngsters to be set out as a specific responsibility of the new Directors of Children's Services and Local Safeguarding Boards proposed in the Bill(1).
The association is also calling for social services risk assessments to include compulsory questions to identify children affected by violence in the home or at risk from their parent's attacker, so that early intervention and support can be provided.
Alison King, chair of the LGA's children and young people board, said: 'Local authorities up and down the country are leading the way by setting up innovative partnerships and ways of working to reach out to youngsters affected by domestic violence.
'Now ministers must take the initiative to make sure the needs of these vulnerable youngsters are embedded at the core of the new ways of working set out in the Children Bill.
'In addition to the risk of physical harm, children who experience violence in the home often have to cope with emotional trauma and anxiety that can impact on their education and wellbeing.
'The Children Bill and the new structures for children's services it puts in place must not become a missed opportunity. Change is vital to protect the wellbeing of one of society's most vulnerable groups of youngsters.
'There is a clear link between domestic violence and child abuse. Specific risk assessment questions and procedures must be put in place to detect children at risk from domestic violence as a matter of course so they can be given the support and protection they need.'
1. Under the provisions set out in the Children Bill, every local authority in England will be required to appoint a director of children's services who will have responsibility for, as a minimum, the council functions relating to children and young people. Councils will also be required to establish Local Safeguarding Children Boards, which will replace the current non-statutory area child protection committees, to co-ordinate and oversee local arrangements and services to safeguard children.
2. Research on children affected by domestic violence has found that their two primary needs are to be safe and have someone to talk to. The LGA believes the best way to achieve this is to treat the non-abusing parent and the kids as one unit, helping them to stay together and stay safe.
3. Research by Cheshire CC has found that:
- last year Cheshire police attended over 10,000 domestic violence incidents in households in which over 10,000 children were present;
- domestic violence features in the lives of 41 per cent of children receiving any kind of social services intervention and 58 per cent of looked after (ie - fostered or in care) children;
- Over half of cases where domestic violence is a factor also have child mental illness recorded, compared to 15 per cent where domestic violence is not a factor.
4. The LGA is working with the Home Office on a three-year project to identify and promote good practice in tackling domestic violence. The project will develop local partnerships, ensure more effective co-ordination between agencies, work for a better criminal justice process and improve training.
5. The LGA publication 'Leading the Agenda', which contains case studies of local authority good practice in tackling domestic violence, is available from the LGA press office or at www.lga.gov.uk.
6. LGA briefings on the Children Bill and the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill are available on the association's website at www.lga.gov.uk.