The problem is extensive, and its impact is highly damaging.

One in five children has been exposed to domestic abuse.[1]

Domestic violence is a factor in more than half of all Children in Need assessments.[2] An estimated 130,000 children are currently living in households with high-risk domestic abuse. A quarter of these children are under three years old.[3]

Domestic abuse often causes emotional trauma, which can be lifelong and severe.[4] Infants exposed to violence can experience stress levels which impair brain development and cognitive and sensory growth.[5] Domestic abuse destabilises children’s lives: they may have to move home and school multiple times. 

We provide crucial support to children who have experienced domestic abuse.


Children need support to process what has happened, and to develop an understanding of healthy relationships. Specialist children’s services reduce the impact of domestic abuse and improve children’s safety and health outcomes.[6] Early intervention and prevention services are particularly vital: abusive behaviour in children exposed to domestic abuse dropped from 25 per cent to 7 per cent after receiving appropriate support.[7]

Action for Children delivers dedicated domestic abuse services, including a specialist counselling service for children aged four to 16. Children using this service report that their emotional wellbeing and family relationships have improved since the counselling sessions.

"In the sessions, I have learned to forget the bad things and concentrate on the good things in my life."

Young Person

The current funding environment means that many early help services have closed or been reduced, leaving some families without support until they reach crisis point.[8] Cuts to local authority funding have also impacted considerably on specialist domestic abuse and sexual violence services for adult survivors. Our service staff felt that therapeutic, one-to-one interventions represent a key gap in the support available.


The Government must acknowledge children as victims.

We’ve been calling on the Government to recognise the impact of domestic abuse on children.

Action for Children is part of a group of leading organisations from the children’s, domestic abuse and Violence Against Women and Girls sectors, who have come together to call on the Government to address the needs of children within the Domestic Abuse Bill.

Action for Children made recommendations for the Bill in three key areas:

  • The proposed statutory definition of domestic abuse must take account of the impact of domestic abuse on children.
  • The proposed Domestic Abuse Commissioner role must include monitoring and oversight of services specifically for children and young people affected by domestic abuse.
  • Specialist support services for children must be made available. The Bill could include a requirement on local authorities and their partners to provide this, ensuring that the right level of support for children is delivered across all local areas.



Read our responses to the Home Affairs Select Committee Domestic Abuse Inquiry and the Government Consultation on Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse.

We are encouraged to see that the consultation response and draft bill indicate a change in the Government’s approach to children who have been exposed to abuse. In particular, we welcome the introduction of a Domestic Abuse Commissioner, whose remit will include overseeing services for children.

Read our blog responding to the draft Bill.

Going forwards, we will continue to work with Government to ensure that children are recognised as victims of domestic abuse.

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[1] NSPCC [2011] Child Abuse and Neglect in the UK Today [Online] Available from:

[2] Department for Education (2018) Characteristics of children in need: 2017 to 2018 [Online] Available from:

[3] SafeLives (2015) Getting it right first time [Online] Available from:

[4] UNICEF (2006) Behind Closed Doors: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children [Online] Available from:

[5]  UNICEF, Behind Closed Doors.

[6] Safe Lives (2014) In plain sight: Effective help for children exposed to domestic abuse [Online] Available from:

[7] Safe Lives, In plain sight.

[8] Action for Children (2017) Revolving Door Part 2: Are we failing children at risk of abuse and neglect? [Online] Available from:

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