Children and Domestic Homicide


Researchers at the Connect Centre at the University of Central Lancashire decided to investigate children's involvement in domestic homicides.

  • Authors Nicky Stanley, Khatidja Chantler and
  • Published by The British Journal of Social Work, April 2018

SUMMARY

Domestic homicides are defined as the death of people aged 16 or older that have, or appear to have, resulted from violence, abuse or neglect by a relative, someone they are in an intimate relationship with or a member of the same household.

Since April 2011 Community Safety Partnerships in England and Wales have been required to carry out a multi-agency review following a domestic homicide. Researchers undertook what they say is the largest analysis so far of domestic homicide cases in England and Wales. They looked at all 142 domestic homicide reviews (DHRs) published between 2011 and 2016, and found that 55 (39 per cent)involved families that included children under 18 - 125 children in all.

Where demographic information was given the researchers found the ages of the children ranged from 11 months to 17 years and 56 per cent were male. While 52 children were the children of both the homicide victim and the perpetrator, 36 were the victim's children from previous relationships and 37 were the perpetrator's children from previous relationships. The vast majority - 93 per cent - of the 55 DHRs involved a male perpetrator with 82 per cent involving the victim's current or former partner.

In 17 cases children were directly exposed to the homicide. In two cases a child died. In three cases a child was injured and in six cases a child witnessed the homicide. Five children saw their mother's body immediately after she had been killed. Five children called for help and five were exposed in some way but the extent was uncertain. One child was on their own with their mother's body for more than 24 hours.

The researchers found the DHRs studied rarely addressed the impact of the homicide on children. Eleven DHRs mentioned children were now receiving support that was provided or accessed via schools, children's social care or victim support services. Three reports identified a need for trauma-focused support and one DHR flagged up the need for longer-term support.

The researchers looked at which agencies were involved with the families (see graphic). In 55 per cent of cases family centres were involved while 51 per cent of families had previous involvement from children's social care. The analysis found 49 per cent of families were involved with a health visitor or midwife and 36 per cent had school involvement. However, only four DHRs mentioned child protection plans.

Poor record-keeping was highlighted as an issue in a number of DHRs and shortcomings in relation to risk assessment were also an issue. Only seven victims in the 55 DHRs had been referred to a MARAC (multi-agency risk assessment conference). DHRs also identified missed opportunities to provide services following identification of need, including failure to refer families to children's social care and a lack of support for children experiencing domestic violence and abuse (DVA).

A failure to listen to children was emphasised in six DHRs.

IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE

DHRs should record what support is offered to children and this approach might ensure more children get the help they need, say the researchers. DHRs need to be easily available to inform future interventions with children and carers. For example, attaching the homicide report to the children's social care case files would be good practice.

Children need to be more involved in the review process, the researchers conclude. DHR chairs may require more guidance as to how to best inform and include children and young people. Agencies working with families need better training in DVA and more collaboration with the specialist DVA sector.

FURTHER READING

  • Children Bereaved by Fatal Intimate Partner Violence: A Population-Based Study into Demographics, Family Characteristics and Homicide Exposure, Eva Alisic and others, Plos One, October 2017
  • Children's Mental Health and Wellbeing After Parental Intimate Partner Homicide: A Systematic Review, Eva Alisic and others, Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, December 2015
  • How Children and Their Caregivers Adjust After Intimate Partner Femicide, Jennifer Hardesty and others, Journal of Family Issues, October 2007

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