Improving outcomes for children experiencing domestic abuse at home

Improving outcomes for children experiencing domestic abuse at home

Today, we are taking the first step on our mission at Foundations to generate and champion actionable evidence to improve the quality and availability of domestic abuse services to support families and improve outcomes for children. We are launching a funding call for domestic abuse programmes. We are looking to fund the delivery and evaluation of up to three domestic abuse programmes to help us understand what works to prevent domestic abuse, support victim-survivors and improve child outcomes. 

Domestic abuse is an all too prevalent and devastating problem and there is limited evidence on what works to prevent it and how to support children. 

Domestic abuse affects up to one in five children, and children who experience domestic abuse at home are more likely to suffer from mental health problems and have poor long-term outcomes. The new Domestic Abuse Bill was a positive step forward in recognising children as victims of domestic abuse in their own right, but the goal now is to stop domestic abuse from happening, and in the tragic cases where it does, to make sure that every child who experiences the trauma of domestic abuse gets the support that they need, when they need it. 

There are significant gaps in the evidence of what works to prevent domestic abuse and support children who have experienced it. Our previous work showed that less than a third of the 100 domestic abuse programmes we identified had been evaluated (and of those evaluated, many suffered from serious methodological weaknesses). This means that we do not know what impact, if any, most domestic abuse programmes are having on children. We are pleased to see government efforts to build this much needed evidence, with the Home Office funding an independent evaluator to evaluate 21 projects funded through their Children Affected by Domestic Abuse fund.  

As set out in our strategy, we are committed to developing the pipeline of programmes that can be evaluated for impact. Our publications today are the first step on our journey to understand how to prevent and respond to domestic abuse in order to support children to thrive.   

We know that domestic abuse is a complex problem that will take time to solve, but we are committed to working towards this. 

We know that there are challenges to evaluating programmes that support children and families affected by domestic abuse. These are often intensive and complex interventions which can be very difficult to evaluate. The findings from the feasibility study published today takes us a step forward in understanding how to measure impact of programmes and practice. We worked with four different domestic abuse interventions across England to better understand their models, how they could be evaluated and their evidence of promise. We found that, despite the programmes seeking to address a relatively wide range of outcomes, there was alignment between them on some key areas such as increased safety; improved wellbeing or mental health; improved relationships; improved motivation to engage with the programme and other services; and improved emotional regulation. There is, of course, still more work to do to develop a common set of outcomes and to ensure that these reflect the experiences and priorities of different stakeholder groups, including survivors, the sector and academics. This is relevant to  the work by University College London on core outcomes for family and child-focused interventions. We are keen to support these attempts to develop greater consensus on priority outcomes and how to measure these.    

We also now understand more about how to successfully deliver and evaluate domestic abuse programmes thanks to our feasibility study, alongside the Oxford Rapid Review, the case studies of high-quality evaluations and our report on data usage within a DA service context.  For example, although these studies re-iterated concerns around the appropriateness of using randomised controlled trials within the domestic abuse field, they also highlighted a potential way forward that was perceived as acceptable, whilst still yielding robust findings.  We recognise there are concerns around research designs that assign individuals to different practices such as a new vs. an existing practice. The important point is that existing forms of support are never removed in an evaluation. We were encouraged by the feasibility study’s finding that participants agreed that there were acceptable and robust methodologies that can be used to evaluate domestic abuse programmes. These include comparing a new programme with service-as-usual, comparing two different programmes, or comparing the outcomes of the group taking part in the programme to another group who were not, because they, for example, lived in a different area. We will be using this learning going forward as we develop the evidence pipeline.  

The University of Oxford Rapid Review, commissioned by Foundations, has shed light on promising models from overseas that may offer potential in a UK context. Firstly, a programme in the United States (US) that targets fathers called ‘Fathers for Change’, which was found to be effective in significantly reducing domestic abuse and children’s exposure to parental violence. Secondly, a psychoeducational service called ‘Project Support’ that focuses on helping mothers with the parenting of children. This was also a US based intervention, and it was found to be effective in reducing the need for social care but did not report changes in children’s mental health. We will be considering whether there are interventions that could be transported, adapted, and evaluated in a UK context, as part of our ongoing work to build the evidence pipeline.    

We will be using this learning to commission new evaluations of programmes designed to prevent domestic abuse and support victim-survivors.  

If we can understand how to effectively prevent and respond to domestic abuse, the positive impact on children and families could be huge. 

Launching the Domestic Abuse Evaluation Accelerator Fund  
 
Foundations is today launching our first funding call to evaluate domestic abuse programmes in England. We are seeking to commission evaluations of programmes that have a clear focus on children, across the spectrum of early intervention to statutory children’s social care.  
 
We are specifically focusing on four areas: preventative and early intervention programmes for at-risk populations, workforce programmes, therapeutic interventions, and perpetrators programmes. These areas span across the spectrum of support – from preventative and early intervention approaches to recovery services for those already affected by domestic abuse – as a holistic, multi-strand approach is required to tackle this issue. Find out more

Foundations’ vision is that all vulnerable children have the relationships and support they need to thrive in life. To achieve this vision, we need to end the devastating impact of domestic abuse through prevention programmes and support for survivors that we know work. We hope to make this vision a reality through funding the delivery and evaluation of programmes, to identify some promising models that in time could be promoted in national policy and local services working with the Departments for Education, Health & Social Care, the Home Office, NHS England, our partners across the sector, and children and their families. We know that there is no quick, easy fix, but we are committed to finding the evidence of what works and making sure all children and families have the right support to enable them to thrive. 

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