Warning that more children in England and Wales could face domestic abuse than start primary school this year as Foundations announces 5-year plan to transform domestic abuse services

7 May 2024

  • Shocking figures from Foundations, the country’s leading research centre for family support services, reveal that more children could suffer domestic abuse than start primary school in England and Wales this year 
  • Most support for child victims has not been evaluated, so we are currently operating in the dark for the 1 in 5 children who are victims of domestic abuse  
  • Foundations has launched REACH, a 5-year plan to find out what works and transform domestic abuse services. This could make England the first country in the world to identify a set of proven approaches to support child victims 
  • Latest estimates put the social and economic cost of domestic abuse at £74bn. Foundations is calling for just 0.1% of that to be invested in finding out what works to support child victims 

Shocking figures from Foundations show that this year, more children could suffer domestic abuse than start primary school in England and Wales. Today Foundations has launched REACH (Researching Effective Approaches for Children), a 5-year plan to transform domestic abuse services, calling on the government to pledge £50m in the next Spending Review towards finding out what works to prevent and support child victims.   

Domestic abuse has devastating, long-lasting impacts, from mental and physical health to the ability to form positive, healthy relationships in the future. Previous research from Foundations showed that out of more than 100 domestic abuse support services for child victims, two thirds had not had the opportunity to be evaluated. The one third that had been evaluated were not evaluated in a way that indicated whether they improved outcomes for children.  

Whilst professionals in these services are working hard to support children, and local services are desperately trying to plug the gaps, major change is needed. The plan launched today will help identify support that works. Foundations is calling on all parties to pledge to commit £50m as part of the next Spending Review, as the first step in a wider £75m package.  

This is a huge opportunity for the next government to make real, long-lasting change to children’s lives and to make England the first country in the world to have identified a set of proven approaches to support children affected by domestic abuse. Latest estimates put the social and economic cost of domestic abuse at £74bn, so this plan is calling for just 0.1% of that to be invested in finding out what works.  

Foundations is also today announcing £2.6m to fund and evaluate six programmes to support children affected by domestic abuse. These include prevention services, family-based work and therapeutic support. Earlier work from Foundations has shown that working with the whole family, which may include working with the perpetrator, shows promise in protecting children. 

Dr Jo Casebourne, Chief Executive at Foundations, said: 

“The fact that more children could experience domestic abuse than start primary school this year is tragic. Also highly concerning is the lack of rigorously evaluated support for child victims. We wouldn’t give children untested medicines, so why are child victims of domestic abuse receiving untested support?  

“Right now there is a concerning lack of rigorously evaluated support for child victims. This needs to change; children who suffer domestic abuse need access to the best possible support to help them recover and go on to live happy and healthy lives.   

“We’re calling for a seismic shift in our approach to preventing and supporting child victims, starting with a commitment to REACH, our 5-year plan for change and investment to support and strengthen the sector. We are starting this work by funding and evaluating six programmes to get us closer to understanding what works to support child victims.”   

Sir Peter Wanless, CEO at the NSPCC, said:  

“It is shocking to see that more children will experience domestic abuse this year than will start primary school. At the NSPCC, we continue to hear directly from children and young people through services such as Childline and Domestic Abuse Recovering Together (DART) about the traumatising impact domestic abuse can have on their emotional and physical wellbeing. 

“We welcome REACH, Foundations’ five-year plan to transform domestic abuse services for children and young people. Since 2021, children have been recognised as victims of domestic abuse in their own right. However, this recognition has not been matched with support services that help children recover from their experiences. We developed DART to fill a gap in provision for children and we have demonstrated that with the right support, children can recover from domestic abuse and thrive. 

“As the Victims & Prisoners Bill goes through Parliament, it must give all young victims of domestic abuse guaranteed access to services such as DART in the community, whether they are going through court proceedings or not. We look forward to working with Foundations to build the evidence of what works best for children at risk of, experiencing, or recovering from domestic abuse.” 

Lynn Perry MBE, CEO at Barnardo’s, said:  

“Children are supposed to feel safe at home. But one in five children do not. We know from our work supporting children and young people who have experienced domestic abuse that this is hugely traumatic – and, without the right support at an early stage, they are at risk of becoming trapped in a lifelong cycle of violence.   

“That cannot be right. We echo the calls being made in the REACH plan for increased spending and a strategic vision for how young victims can access proper help and support.”  

Foundations is funding the delivery and evaluation of six programmes which show signs of promise in preventing and supporting child victims of domestic abuse: 

  • For Baby’s Sake is a trauma-informed domestic abuse programme that starts in pregnancy. Both parents join, whether or not they are a couple. The programme takes a therapeutic, whole-family approach to break the cycles of domestic abuse and give babies the best start in life. The parents each work with their own Therapeutic Practitioner, from pregnancy up until the baby’s second birthday, to make changes that last, for themselves and for their baby. 
  • Bounce Back 4 Kids (BB4K) is a therapeutically informed support programme developed by Parents And Children Together (PACT) that uses therapeutic style techniques to support children who have experienced and are needing to heal from the trauma of domestic abuse. The programme predominantly uses group sessions for children aged 3-11 and their non-perpetrating parents or carers who have experienced domestic abuse. 
  • WeMatter is a video-based programme designed to support children aged 8-17 who have been affected by domestic abuse within their parent or carer’s relationship, or within the family home. WeMatter uses weekly one-hour sessions for 8 weeks, delivered on Zoom, to provide peer-support and equip children with coping strategies. 
  • Restart is an innovative pilot project providing earlier intervention for families at risk of, or experiencing domestic abuse. It brings together children’s social care, housing and domestic abuse sector services to identify, change and disrupt patterns of harmful behaviour at an earlier stage for increased safety and better quality of life for both adult and child victim-survivors (V/Ss). Restart also provides increased options to enable adult and child victim-survivors to remain safely in their home, working with housing teams in the development of new approaches to domestic abuse and family safety. Restart delivers systems change training to upskill professionals, alongside directly responding to the needs of the family. 
  • Breaking the Cycle is a counselling service for children and young people aged 4-16 in Newcastle upon Tyne and South Lakes, who have been affected by domestic abuse. Delivered by Action for Children, the service supports the emotional health and wellbeing of children who have experienced domestic abuse and who are displaying related signs of trauma. Foundations will be evaluating the service in Newcastle. 
  • Fathers for Change is a 1:1 programme designed to be offered to fathers who have young children (under 12) with a history of intimate partner violence. The programme centres fatherhood as the primary motivator for change. This intervention has been delivered and evaluated in the US, and will be adapted for delivery in the UK. 

Funding for the For Baby’s Sake, Bounce Back 4 Kids and WeMatter evaluations includes funding via the Evaluation Accelerator Fund run by the Evaluation Task Force, a joint Cabinet Office-HM Treasury unit providing specialist support to ensure evidence and evaluation sits at the heart of spending decisions. 

Contact: Charlotte Kelsted, Senior Press Officer: 07773 647 480 / charlotte.kelsted@foundations.org.uk

Notes to editors 

About Foundations 

Foundations is the What Works Centre for Children & Families. We believe all children should have the foundational relationships they need to thrive in life. We’re researching, generating, and translating evidence into practical solutions that shape better policy and practice and lead to more effective family support services. Foundations was formed through the merger of What Works for Children’s Social Care (WWCSC) and the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF) in December 2022.   

Definition of domestic abuse  

Domestic abuse is defined here as an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer.   


611,242 children started primary school in England in the academic year 2022-2023: https://explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk/data-tables/school-pupils-and-their-characteristics 

There are 32,320 children in reception in Wales: https://statswales.gov.wales/Catalogue/Education-and-Skills/Schools-and-Teachers/Schools-Census/Pupil-Level-Annual-School-Census/Pupils/pupils-by-localauthorityregion-yeargroup  

There are approximately 467,532 adult victims of partner abuse living in households where there was at least one child under the age of 16 present in the house at the time of the abuse.i To estimate the number of individual children this represents, we multiplied the number by the average dependent children per household (1.77).ii We estimate 827,532 children in England and Wales were present in the household where there was partner abuse between adults in the last year.   

[i] The ONS uses self-reported incidence of partner abuse in the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) and 2021 Census data to estimate that the number of people aged 16 and over that experienced partner abuse in the last year was 1,443,000. The CSEW found that, of those adults that reported being victim of partner abuse, 32.4% reported that there were children present in the household. We are unable to extrapolate how many children were living in households where there was partner abuse using the CSEW. 

[ii] The ONS Labour Force Survey found that there are on average 1.77 dependent children per household where there is at least one dependent child in England and Wales. The figure of average children per household from the Labour Force Survey does not tell us the average number of children individual adult victims of partner abuse have. This could be higher or lower than the average number of children per household.