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Friday, 5 July, 2002, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
Children 'to be taken' from violent homes
Man shouting at woman
Children can be deeply affected by domestic violence
Children who witness domestic violence could be taken into care under new powers for local authorities.

Courts will also take into consideration whether domestic violence has taken place when granting access orders to separated parents.

There is a greater risk of child abuse in homes where domestic violence happens, but campaign groups like the NSPCC argue that just witnessing it can significantly harm children.

The new moves are covered in amendments to the Adoption and Children Bill, which is currently going through Parliament.

Ninety per cent of incidents of domestic violence take place when the child is in the same or next room, according to research cited by the NSPCC.

'Treading on egg-shells'

The charity says children who grow up in homes where domestic violence takes place are themselves at greater risk of abuse.


My youngest son is repeating the pattern that was given towards me by his father

Mary, domestic violence victim
Other research suggests that one in three children protection cases shows a history of domestic violence for the mother.

In a report published in May, the NSPCC said 8 out of 10 young people who had suffered serious physical abuse had also experienced domestic violence.

For nearly half of these, the domestic violence was constant or frequent.

"Domestic violence often follows a pattern where the male partner seeks to control every aspect of the life of the mother and children, including their thinking and freedom of expression," the report says.

Harriet Harman
Harriet Harman: Wants changes to domestic violence laws
"The violence is unpredictable, with mothers and children often treading on egg-shells because they cannot tell what will provoke new violence.

"As a result children often live in a climate of fear and uncertainty, which terrorises children even if they are not directly assaulted.

"Mothers' and children's fears for each other are exploited and used as weapons to control both."

Under the proposed changes to the Bill, local authorities will be able to use domestic violence as a reason to inquire into a child's welfare.

The legal definition of what causes a child "significant harm" will be changed to include the suffering experienced by witnessing domestic violence.

Gay adoption

When a child is at risk of "significant harm", intervention by local authorities will be compulsory.


The emotional damage that witnessing domestic violence has on children is devastating

NSPCC spokeswoman
"We have to get these kids away from this quickly," said an NSPCC spokeswoman.

"The emotional damage that witnessing domestic violence has on children is devastating."

Mary, a victim of domestic violence whose two-year-old son witnessed her being beaten by her husband, told BBC Radio Five Live her children had been left with a wide range of behavioural problems.

"I feel it's left them in a position where they have low self-esteem and aggressive behaviours.

"I now have children who lie, who use verbal abuse, who use physical abuse, who manipulate.

"My youngest son is repeating the pattern that was given towards me by his father, so I can't see how people can say that there's been no effect on my children."

Overseas adoptions

Other issues contained in the Bill include whether to allow gay couples to adopt children.

In May, this moved a step closer, with the defeat of the last Commons move to block the change.

The whole Bill, which has now moved to the House of Lords, aims to speed up the adoption system by establishing a register.

It sets a target to try to ensure that the number of children in care who are adopted increases by 40% a year.

In the wake of the notorious Kilshaw case - where a British couple got around rules by going abroad, the Bill also sets tough penalties for those who avoid new safeguards when adopting from overseas.

As well as changes to child protection laws, a major overhaul of domestic violence laws is under consideration as part of a government crackdown on this type of crime.

Solicitor General Harriet Harman's changes could include anonymity for victims and a new law preventing harassment from abusive partners.

See also:

20 May 02 | UK Politics
07 May 02 | UK Politics
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