When Lockdown 1.0 was imposed almost a year ago, reported instances of domestic violence rose significantly. Domestic violence ran in parallel with the pandemic, and thankfully garnered the kind of high profile that meant additional support mechanisms and funding were put in place.
And here we are in Lockdown 3.0. The problem certainly has not gone away, but neither is it front-and-centre in the public’s consciousness.
Even if children are not the direct victims of abuse, it’s impossible to think that they are shielded from the abuse that is taking place in their home. They will witness, hear, or simply sense the dysfunctional and dangerous environment; children are both sensitive and intuitive, and seldom fail to notice what’s going on around them.
When schools were open again in the autumn months, these children were at least able to experience the daily displays of normal and respectful human interaction that will help shape their own behaviours as adults. But with extended compulsory closures in place again now, how will they fare?
Gone are the daily friendships that can serve as a distraction from the pressures of home life. Gone, too, are the opportunities for trained professionals to potentially spot the signs of a domestic abuse home environment and to support and possibly save them.
It’s true that many vulnerable children are still able to attend school, but that ‘vulnerable’ label can come from very many sources; domestic abuse is often difficult to identify, and it is not limited to deprived households. Abusers will be careful to ensure that the adults and children in their control do not expose that abuse, and can probably justify their behavior to themselves and their household. Many children will not understand that the behaviour they encounter is wrong and that they can ask for help, or they will simply be reluctant to speak out because they love their parent.
Domestic abuse does not have a simple definition. It manifests itself in many different behaviours. But the impact on children living in an abusive environment should not be underestimated; catastrophic long term effects can be evident throughout adult life.
Lockdown 3.0 is with us, and we have to get Covid-19 under control for all our sakes. Thankfully getting children back into school is a priority for a multitude of reasons, primarily but not exclusively academic: as a society we are already anticipating a huge problem with the mental wellbeing of young people as a result of long term isolation. Beyond that, we must never lose sight of the fact that for many children and young people, school genuinely represents a much-needed lifeline and place of safety.
The key message is that you do not need to suffer in silence and help, in many different forms, is available.
Samantha Jago is a Family Law Partner and Mediator with DMH Stallard LLP. If these issues affect you, she can be contacted on 01483 302345