Schools can have a major role to play to protect children from domestic violence such as 'honour'-based violence and forced marriage. Jenni Whitehead looks at a report by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee
A new report published by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee looks at domestic violence, including forced marriage and so called ‘honour’-based violence, and its effect on children. The report pulls together findings from the recent investigation into how local authorities are tackling these issues, particularly that of forced marriage.
The report calls for early intervention and prevention strategies and views schools as having a major role to play in early recognition and reporting and ongoing support of pupils at risk.
The UK government has adopted the following non-statutory definition of domestic violence:
‘Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality’.
No specific definition is given but the report describes this form of violence in the following way:
‘So-called “honour”-based violence occurs in communities where the concepts of honour and shame are fundamentally bound up with the expected behaviour of families or individuals, especially women. “Honour” killings represent the extreme end, but there is a spectrum of other forms of violence associated with “honour”.’
The report describes so-called ‘honour’-based violence as different to domestic violence in that it is often perpetrated by more than one individual, from the victim’s own family or wider community. It is most usually directed towards young women, although this is not always the case: men have also been victims.
The report stresses that so-called ‘honour’-based violence is not associated with particular religions or religious practice: it has been recorded across Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu and Muslim communities.
Forced marriage is not arranged marriage, nor is it in any way a religious practice. The government defines it as:
‘A marriage conducted without the valid consent of both parties where duress (emotional pressure in addition to physical abuse)is a factor.’
Effect on children and young people
Children experience domestic violence as witnesses and as direct victims:
- At least 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence, and in London 30% of domestic violence murders are witnessed by children.
- Children who live with domestic violence are at increased risk of behavioural problems, emotional trauma, and mental health difficulties in adult life.
- Nearly three-quarters of children deemed to be ‘at risk’ live in households where domestic violence occurs and 52% of child protection cases involve domestic violence.
- 30% of the Forced Marriage Unit’s cases involve minors (under 18).
- 30% of domestic violence starts in pregnancy, and between four and nine women in every 100 are abused during their pregnancy and/or after the birth.
- The risk of domestic violence for women is nearly doubled if there are children present in the household.
Domestic abuse witnessed by children is recognised as a form of emotional abuse of the children.
The school’s role and dilemmas
The report recognises that schools are not under a statutory obligation to educate pupils about forced marriage, domestic violence or ‘honour’-based violence. However, schools are encouraged to cover these issues under PSHE or within citizenship learning. The government’s recent review of provision across LAs found that awareness raising and preventative work through the curriculum is at best variable and at worst non-existent.
A particularly worrying survey involving 2,039 14- to 21-year-olds in Scotland and north-west England found that almost half the young men and a third of young women envisaged circumstances where they thought it would be acceptable for a man to hit a female partner. One in eight young men considered ‘nagging’ as justification for violence and one in five were tolerant of forced sex between partners. Clearly this demonstrates the need for schools to play a role in helping young people to develop healthy attitudes towards each other and to tackle gender issues.
The government’s own ‘Best Value Performance Indicator (BVPI) 225’, which required schools to have a resource pack on domestic violence but set out no obligation to use it, has recently been withdrawn. Nicola Harwin of Women’s Aid is quoted in the report as explaining that, as a consequence;
‘There are [now] no government indicators for which local authorities have to report that have any requirement to do anything in relation to public awareness, education, the provision of information or anything else of that nature in relation to domestic abuse or honour-based crime.’
Schools appear reluctant to take on these issues for fear of offending parents and communities. Some schools reported that putting up the forced marriage posters would offend some of their parents and run the risk of breaking down relationships with communities. The report recommends that the Department for Children, Schools and Families introduces an explicit statutory requirement for schools to educate children about domestic and ‘honour’-based violence and forced marriage. Research commissioned by the Home Office found that if domestic violence was to be addressed effectively in schools it would need to be a core feature in PSHE and included across the curriculum. A number of charities such as Women’s Aid and the NSPCC suggest that it should be linked to bullying, conflict resolution and healthy relationships.
A survey for the inquiry asked 302 Women’s Aid member organisations whether or not, to their knowledge, local schools specifically addressed domestic violence. The results are reproduced in the table above.
Part of the government’s evidence gathering for this report included an online consultation. Survivors reported that they had not received any education at school about the issue, and emphasised the importance of information as a prerequisite for gaining access to support.
Equipping frontline staff
The report states that training for frontline staff is sparse and recommends a thorough programme of accredited training for professionals, including teachers, health professionals, visa entry clearance officers, police, judges and magistrates.
It is recognised that many schools have difficulty in using and displaying materials on domestic abuse and forced marriage and the report calls on the DCSF to design,’school-friendly’ materials in conjunction with the Forced Marriage Unit. It also states that the DCSF should take the initiative to send such materials to all secondary schools rather than waiting for them to be request.
One of the 111 recommendations made in the report is that every school should nominate a named person to take responsibility for coordinating action on domestic abuse, forced marriage and so-called ‘honour violence’. As all schools are already expected to nominate a named person for child protection and these forms of abuse are recognised as abusive to children and young people, it is fairly obvious who this is likely to be. The specific role will be to ensure that all staff receive an adequate level of training and to coordinate this training with other initiatives such as curriculum learning and publicity through the forced marriage posters and leaflets.
The report recommends that all postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) and professional development training specifically include modules on violence against women, children and young people and that Ofsted include this as part of their framework for inspection.
Children going missing
For most of us within the 14 LAs that were scrutinised on these issues, the first we heard about the government’s concerns were in respect of the numbers of children who were missing education and not on roll of a school.
The report addresses this issue and accepts that in most cases of children or young people going missing there is no indication of a link to forced marriage. However, the report clearly identifies children and young people who go missing as being at risk of a number of types of abuse and calls on schools and LAs to do more on establishing why young people are missing from school. One of the warning signals of possible forced marriage is the withdrawal from education. The report calls for further research to look at how schools can gather a more accurate picture of the reasons for these youngsters going out of view. The government is reviewing present guidance and expects to send this to schools and colleges by the end of the year.
The report offers examples of good practice, describing how individual schools have designed and implemented curriculum-based learning. Hopefully, this will inspire others to explore how they can ensure these issues are tackled in the classroom.
One of the examples of good practice cited by the report is the development of a teaching resource called ‘Spiralling’, it includes a DVD film that tells the story of abuse and control in a relationship between two teenagers.
The story of the film was developed through a series of workshops with young actors from the National Youth Theatre. The resource contains activities and programmes of work for children and young people designed to help to prevent domestic violence and to promote gender equality. The interactive contents include drama, quizzes, discussion of the film (for young people over 11) and other information and resources for teachers and youth workers to use with children and young people from aged five and upwards.
‘Spiralling’ is available online or from Safer Bristol, who commissioned it with funding from Government Office of South West England in 2005. This package is currently being updated.
The Forced Marriage Unit’s guidance for education professionals, first published in 2005, is also being update. This guidance will be placed on a statutory footing this autumn, it includes suggestions about how to cover forced marriage within existing curricula and guidance on spotting warning signs.
Do your local schools address domestic violence?
Results from a survey of Women’s Aid member organisations
They address it in any other way 57 (40%)
Jenni Whitehead is editor of Protecting Children Update
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