OPINION: Supporting children must be a priority post-pandemic 

Police fear end-to-end encryption of messages on Facebook will make it harder to detect abuse online

Domestic abuse cases have increased over the past year of lockdown - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

As we pass a year of some form of coronavirus restrictions being in place, I have been reflecting on the many challenges that we have faced and will continue to face in the coming months.  

It has been a difficult period and life has changed so much in the last year, especially with the lockdown measures that have been in place for large parts of the year. 

Lockdown has been particularly challenging for those experiencing domestic abuse, which has been reflected by the increases Leeway has seen in the number of people contacting for advice and support. 

It is alarming that so many people have experienced domestic abuse, but also encouraging that they have felt able to come forward to access support. 

There will be many more that have not though and are still experiencing domestic abuse, highlighting the continuing need to raise awareness of the support that is available. 

One of my major concerns as we start to journey on the road back to normality is the impact that all of this will have had on children

It has been a challenging year for children, being unable to play with their friends as they usually would and spending large chunks of the year being home schooled.   

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Many will have also experienced domestic abuse whilst they have been at home, especially given the increases that Leeway has seen during the pandemic. 

Some indications that a child may be experiencing domestic abuse at home will often be presented at school, such as a change in behaviour or the quality of their work may decrease. 

With children not at school as they usually would be over the last year, this may not have been picked up on and they won’t have got the support they need.  

Domestic abuse has significant short and long term impacts on children that experience it, which may only be exacerbated if they do not receive support. 

As well as potentially impacting their performance at school, it can have an impact on mental health, their behaviour at home and they may experience difficulty sleeping. 

This may continue in the long-term too and they may also experience alcohol and drug misuse issues as they grow up as well. 

These impacts highlight the importance of accessing support and why it is vital that it happens at the earliest possible point, minimising these long-term effects.

At Leeway we are lucky enough to have a dedicated team supporting children and young people, helping them to come to terms with their situation and express their emotions in a safe way. 

Many areas in the country are not as fortunate though and may not have funding or services in place to support children. 

Recent research by Action for Children found that children faced barriers to accessing support in at least two thirds of the local authorities interviewed, with no support services available in four areas.  

This is a massive worry and it highlights the work that is still to be done when ensuring that service provisions are able to meet demand. 

As the road back to normality begins and as the Domestic Abuse Bill moves ever closer to becoming legislation, more has to be done to ensure that support is in place for children who have experienced domestic abuse. 

There needs to be funding and projects dedicated to supporting these children and young people, helping to mitigate the impacts of domestic abuse in the short and long term. 

It is encouraging that the bill will now recognise that children experience domestic abuse, opposed to treating them as witnesses, but it must go further to fully protect them.

It is possible that many children may slip through the cracks and not get the support they need, whilst not realising the full potential of the bill.  

Mandy Proctor is chief executive of Leeway