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Most of us are aware of the devastating effects of domestic abuse on the adult victims who suffer it directly. But what about the children who witness it?

Ofsted has recently announced joint targeted area inspections (JTAIs) focusing on children living with domestic abuse. It's an important step forward in addressing the long-term concerns of social workers and charities about the effectiveness of multi-agency working in this area. 

In 2006 Unicef's hard-hitting Behind Closed Doors report claimed that as many as 275 million children worldwide are exposed to violence in the home, describing this as a 'conservative estimate based on the limitations of the available data'. A 2012 survey by Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse (CAADA) estimated that 130,000 children in the UK live in households with high-risk domestic abuse. 

What we do know for sure is that the physical, psychological and emotional effects on these children can be serious and long lasting. "Infants and small children who are exposed to violence in the home experience so much added emotional stress that it can harm the development of their brains and impair cognitive and sensory growth," said the same Unicef report. "Behaviour changes can include excessive irritability, sleep problems, emotional distress, fear of being alone, immature behaviour, and problems with toilet training and language development."

The new JTAIs have in part been inspired by analysis of serious case reviews, which suggests that practitioners don't always assess and follow through on all the identified risks of domestic abuse. To be carried out jointly by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, HMI Constabulary and HMI Probation, the series of six inspections will begin in September this year. Each will include a 'deep dive' focus, looking at a particular issue by theme.

Several pioneering schemes are leading the way in local authorities across the UK. The brainchild of a retired police officer and his head teacher wife, Operation Encompass in Plymouth has created a system which shares with relevant schools the police reports of domestic abuse incidents where children were known to be present. Similar schemes are now being used by 15 other police forces across the country.

In West Dunbartonshire, the Children Experiencing Domestic Abuse Recovery (CEDAR) programme was set up in 2012 to help 4-16 year-olds who are experiencing social, emotional and behavioural difficulties as a consequence of their experience of domestic abuse. The programme has provided support to almost 100 children and has recently been awarded over £388,000 in lottery funding to enable it to continue for another three years. 

"Domestic abuse is not a simple issue and responding effectively requires a truly holistic approach, " wrote College of Social Work Practice Advisor Lydia Bennet in a 2015 blog post for the charity Safe Lives. "That’s why co-ordinated support from a whole range of agencies is crucial. Social workers can build strong links with other agencies and encourage better access to services for vulnerable families."

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