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Child victims of domestic violence 'must not be collateral damage of Brexit'

By Margaret Davis, PA Crime Correspondent

Child victims of domestic violence could become "collateral damage of Brexit" without action by the next Government, a charity has said.

Action for Children said that research suggests one in 10 local authorities have no specialist support services for youngsters affected by the issue, while two-thirds say their existing services are at risk due to lack of funding.

It carried out research with the University of Stirling, including interviews with staff from 30 local councils.

Action for Children, the NSPCC and Barnardo's are urging the next Government to bring in measures to guarantee support.

The Domestic Abuse Bill did not pass through Parliament because of the aborted prorogation and then the election being called.

It would have obliged local authorities to provide shelter to families fleeing violence, as well as creating a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to champion the rights of victims.

Action for Children's chief executive Julie Bentley said: "Leave or Remain, our politicians must not allow children living in the terrifying shadow of domestic abuse to become part of the collateral damage of Brexit.

"Every day our frontline workers see the emotional scars of domestic abuse on children. From nightmares, flashbacks and bed-wetting to depression, or even wanting to end their lives, the effects can last a lifetime.

"Too many are facing these horrors unnoticed or without the right help, and we have to recognise these children for what they are - victims, not just witnesses.

"These vulnerable children desperately need help from our politicians. We're urging all parties to commit to prioritising a Bill on domestic abuse in the next parliament and fund the specialist services children desperately need."

Figures from the Department for Education estimated that around 252,580 children in England and Wales were affected by domestic violence in 2018/19.

Anna Edmundson from the NSPCC said: "Living with domestic abuse strips away a child's sense of security and can have a devastating impact on their emotional wellbeing and mental health.

"Right now the law simply does not recognise that this sort of abuse can derail a childhood and there isn't enough help out there for young people who need support.

"The next Government must bring forward legislation that recognises the effect it has on families. Not only that, it must place a duty on local authorities and their partners to make sure specialist services are available to children who have experienced this nightmare."

Her view was echoed by chief executive of Barnardo's, Javed Khan.

He said: "Without the right support, children in this situation are at risk of becoming trapped in a lifelong cycle of violence.

"The next government should introduce a statutory duty on local authorities to make sure all children can access the vital services they need to recover from harm and work towards a positive future."

Katrina Wood, from the Local Government Association, said authorities have to prioritise those at immediate risk due to a rise in demand.

She said: "Tackling domestic abuse is an issue that councils take very seriously which is why we support further measures to improve work with local partners to help support more victims and stop this horrendous crime.

"Surging demand on children's services means that councils are increasingly being forced to prioritise spending for those at immediate risk of harm, rather than on vital earlier support services and prevention schemes which help stop domestic abuse occurring in the first place.

"The next Government needs to ensure councils have long term and sustainable funding to help protect children and families from harm."