3,500 children feared to be witnessing domestic abuse

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THOUSANDS of children in Jersey could be growing up witnessing domestic abuse in their households, the children’s commissioner has said.

Speaking at a Scrutiny hearing yesterday, Deborah McMillan told panel members that there had been a 49% rise in children ‘exposed to high-risk domestic abuse’, according to the latest States police figures , which compare January to March 2019 with the same period in 2020.

‘That is huge,’ she told the Children, Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel, which is currently conducting a review into the impact of the government’s Covid response on children and young people. Although the latest figures are two years old, it is feared that domestic violence has only increased since the start of the pandemic.

‘We estimate that about 3,500 children are living in a Jersey household where domestic violence or abuse is present,’ said Mrs McMillan, adding that if the panel imagined a typical classroom of 25 children, this would mean six of these pupils on average ‘would be witnessing domestic abuse’.

This was one area ‘which wasn’t so much an issue before the pandemic but suddenly has been’, she said.

‘Domestic abuse happened pre-pandemic, and over the years the rate has been quite consistent,’ said Mrs McMillan, but she added that this had changed during the pandemic.

The figures stem from their analysis of States police data from 2019 and 2020 on the number of children ‘exposed to high-risk domestic abuse’, while an independent statistician extrapolated the 3,500 number based on this police data.

Children were also becoming homeless due to domestic abuse, but also because there families were ‘struggling financially’, she said.

In October last year, director of children’s safeguarding Mark Owers told the same Scrutiny panel that the pandemic had ‘exacerbated’ challenges of domestic and substance misuse, which had a knock-on effect due to a lack of residential children’s care homes.

‘The unprecedented pressures that families have experienced over the past 18 months, often as a result of Covid, has exacerbated some of the challenges householders have faced in terms of domestic abuse and substance misuse,’ he said.

The children’s commissioner also said that she had attended one Competent Authorities Ministers meeting, ‘and to be honest, I invited myself’, calling for a greater consideration of children in decision-making.

There had been an agreement last month by the Council of Ministers for her to attend meetings on a more regular basis, she added, with fortnightly meetings also held with the Children’s and Education Minister, which did not happen previously.

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