Experiences of South Asian Children Subjected to Domestic Abuse – Systematic Literature Review

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Chapter One: Introduction


Domestic Abuse and its Prevalence in the UK

There are several definitions presented for domestic abuse. However, this paper will use the one provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Domestic abuse has been defined as a behaviour pattern in any given relationship that is utilized to maintain or gain control and power over a partner (Rakovec-Felser, 2014). On the other hand, abuse is considered to be any sexual, physical, psychological, emotional, or economic threats of action or actions that impact another individual (Norman et al., 2012). Therefore, it is evident that abuse entails all behaviours that manipulate, terrorize, and hurt other individuals. Domestic abuse affects individuals from all socio-economic settings and education levels. In relation to this point, there is a great possibility of children being affected by domestic violence (Lloyd, 2018). This claim was verified by Foundations (2023), who revealed that a minimum of 827000 children in England and Wales may have been victims of domestic abuse by the end of 2023. Successful learning requires healthy relationships and the well-being of the child. Domestic abuse can, thus, cause long-term developmental issues and have negative impacts on the child’s education. The emotional and physical harm of domestic abuse on children has been a critical concern in the United Kingdom, as evidenced by a penalty of a fine of five years for an offence of coercive or controlling behaviour in familial or intimate relationships (Stark and Hester, 2018). Therefore, when evaluating the impacts of domestic abuse on children, it is critical to consider both physical and non-physical abuse. The sections below will explore the impacts of domestic abuse on the well-being of children and how it affects their learning process. They will also identify viable solutions to manage domestic abuse in children.

Causes of Domestic Abuse

There are several factors that contribute to domestic abuse in children. These factors can be divided into three main categories: individual, relationship, and societal factors. In the case of individual factors, factors such as history of abuse, mental health issues, substance abuse, and lack of parenting skills can contribute to domestic abuse. In this regard, parents who were exposed to abuse in their childhood life, are more likely to become perpetrators later in life (Office for National Statistics, 2017). Moreover, some parents who might have undiagnosed or untreated mental health conditions such as anxiety are unable to cope with stress in healthy ways, hence leading to violent behaviour towards their children (Friedman and McEwan, 2018).  The research methods adopted by Friedman and McEwan (2018) added to the credibility of the study. These researchers utilised data from the MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study, whose participants were children who had experienced violence and their parents who had reported the violence incidents.

A ten-week follow-up interview was conducted to get data from these participants. The use of interviews was appropriate as this method allowed the researchers to seek clarification from the participants in case their responses were vague. It can also be seen that the current study targeted the right participants, which also adds to its accuracy. Furthermore, some parents who abuse drugs and alcohol might be subjected to increased aggression, which increases the possibility of abusing their children (M. Solis et al., 2012). The study by M. Solis et al. (2012) was a review of primary studies based on any geographical locations in the globe. However, specific emphasises were made to ensure that the included studies featured children performing well due to domestic violence. The study was published in English allowing it to be used by researchers all over the globe without having to translate it. Through analysing the findings from several studies, this review was able to boost the accuracy of its findings by eliminating the possibility of publishing bias that could have been initiated from relying on information from one study. Other individuals lack parenting skills, which might result in emotional or physical abuse due to a misguided sense of discipline or frustration arising from their inadequate knowledge of raising children (Sanvictores and Mendez, 2022). The study by Sanvictores and Mendez (2022) utilised a systematic review design, where primary studies based on any location in the world were analysed to determine the impact of parenting skills to physical and emotional abuse.

The adoption of the current research design helped boost the credibility of the review, as the researchers were able to obtain the perceptions of different researchers on the connection between parenting skills and child abuse. The study was also published in English, increasing its usability among different researchers in the globe. Therefore, it can be determined that the individual factors focus more on the issues related to the parent that increase their likelihood of abusing their children. On the other hand, relationship factors are mostly associated with the bond between the parent and the child. For instance, the lack of a strong link between the parent and child might develop a dynamic where anger and frustration thrive and are directed at the child (Education et al., 2016). Additionally, other stressful family situations, such as marital conflicts or financial challenges, might contribute to violence, and the child becomes the target (Wu and Xu, 2020). The study by Wu and Xu (2020) was a review based in the United States that analysed primary studies focusing on the relationship between parenting stress and physical and emotional child abuse. Again, through utilising the systematic review design, the researchers were able to get detailed insights on the relationship between the attributes above based on several researchers, which in turn, boosted the accuracy of the findings. The review was also published in English. Similarly, socially isolated families might lack support systems and resources to cope with day-to-day challenges, which leads to the probability of violence directed at the child (Lee et al., 2021). On the contrary, although factors such as inadequate financial resources cause frustration and stress, the occurrence of violent behaviours depends on the parent’s ability to cope with stress (Maya et al., 2018). Therefore, according to this statement, it can be determined that financial challenges are not entirely responsible for causing domestic abuse, as factors such as the ability to cope with stress come into play.

Based on the information above, it is evident that a weak relationship between the parent and child is very likely to lead to domestic violence. It has been established that some factors, such as financial challenges, lead to frustration, which causes the parent to be violent towards their child. Lastly, societal factors might also lead to domestic abuse. In this regard, some cultures support practices such as administering physical punishment to the child as a form of discipline, which creates a societal tolerance for abuse against children. Moreover, some children might be constantly exposed to violence due to growing up in communities that experience high levels of violence (Moffitt, 2013). Thus, individuals grow up perceiving violence as the best way of resolving conflicts. They practise the same behaviour on their children, which leads to domestic abuse. Therefore, it is clear that societal factors, cultural norms and environment contribute to shaping the behaviours of an individual, which influence how they relate with their children in future and whether they will exhibit violence in their relationships.

Impacts of Domestic Abuse on Children in Education

Domestic abuse has numerous impacts on children, specifically on their learning. Firstly, domestic abuse is associated with behavioural and emotional issues. Children who live in a violent environment are always filled with uncertainty and fear, which leads to depression and anxiety (Foell et al., 2021). Such children find it difficult to focus and actively engage in school activities. Moreover, witnessing violence on a regular basis exposes the child to feelings of being worthless, unloved, and unsafe, which, in turn, degrades their self-esteem and makes them less willing to actively participate in learning activities (Cameranesi and Piotrowski, 2017). Also, some children might exhibit bad behaviours at school due to emotional turmoil, which manifests as disruptive behaviour, aggression, or isolation from other children (Ogundele, 2018)). Further, constant stress and worry due to domestic abuse leads to a lack of concentration in class, which eventually causes poor performance (Wadji et al., 2023). Therefore, it is evident that domestic abuse impacts the emotions and behaviour of a child, hence distracting them from focusing on school activities and leading to poor academic performance. Moreover, the child subjected to domestic abuse will be more likely to engage in unethical behaviours that interfere with their learning. For example, acting out in class due to overwhelming stress might attract punishments, which disrupt the child’s learning schedule. Furthermore, domestic abuse leads to increased absenteeism, as the children might face difficult situations that hinder them from attending school due to fear, physical injuries, or anxiety (Lloyd, 2018). Also, trauma and stress due to domestic abuse might affect the child’s cognitive development, which makes it challenging for them to grasp new concepts, retain information, and develop vital academic skills (Petersen et al., 2014). Although these factors might contribute to poor academic performance in school, the level of poor performance is determined by the individual’s ability to cope with the situation. Some children might be going through domestic violence but still find a way to cope with the stress and retain their good performance. Additionally, some children might learn to cope with domestic abuse by bullying other children, which also leads to social isolation (Rivara et al., 2016). In relation to this point, the child might experience difficulties in building relationships as they fear receiving cruel treatment from other individuals. Thus, they are reluctant to collaborate with fellow pupils and teachers during class activities, which leads to poor performance (Wright et al., 2023). Therefore, it has been established that domestic abuse hinders the social development of the child by promoting social isolation and bullying. There are numerous interventions that can be carried out to address the issue of domestic abuse. The sections that follow below will discuss various interventions that can be applied to reduce the prevalence of domestic abuse in children.

Collaborations between relevant agencies

The UK government supports the collaborations between schools and other agencies in child protection. Based on the report Working Together to Safeguard Children 2023, the following organizations are listed as relevant agencies expected to safeguard and promote the welfare of local children (NSCPP, 2023). These organizations are expected to take full responsibility for local circumstances and collaborate with the relevant individuals to ensure the protection of children’s rights (NSCPP, 2023). Some of these agencies include local authorities, police, the National Health Service, voluntary organizations, and educational institutions. The role of the local authorities is to manage child protection investigations and interventions (NSCPP, 2023). Therefore, they are required to determine the risk of harm to the child due to domestic violence and offer support services such as counselling. Although it is expected that the local authorities will always show up when it comes to defending children’s rights, sometimes it becomes very difficult for them to achieve this goal due to several challenges. Firstly, the scarcity of resources makes it difficult to carry out investigations and provide effective interventions such as counselling to boost the child’s well-being (Radez et al., 2020). Moreover, high caseloads on domestic violence hinder local authorities’ efforts to provide justice to all victims of domestic abuse (Russell et al., 2022). Also, in some instances, it becomes difficult to obtain evidence of domestic abuse, especially when the child is reluctant to share relevant information concerning the abuse (Lazenbatt, 2012). Therefore, it can be determined that the local authorities are tasked with the duty of ensuring the protection of children’s rights and providing support services to victims of domestic abuse.

The police are also among the relevant agencies with the role of managing domestic abuse in children. This agency is required to investigate allegations of domestic abuse and arrest the perpetrators (NSCPP, 2023). Similar to the challenges that face the local authorities in meeting their objectives, the current agency also finds it challenging to achieve its goals due to the reluctance of children to report abuse and difficulty in gathering evidence on domestic abuse (Hovey et al., 2022). It can be established that lack of substantial evidence and failure to report domestic abuse cases are some of the key barriers to ending domestic abuse in children. The National Health Service (NHS) is also contained in the list of relevant agencies responsible for managing domestic abuse. The role of the NHS is to offer medical care to victims of domestic abuse and provide them with support services such as counselling to help them cope with the traumatic events of abuse (NSCPP, 2023). One of the key challenges faced by this agency is inadequate specialized services to boost the well-being of children who have experienced domestic abuse (Lloyd, 2018). Additionally, it becomes difficult for the agency to provide support and medical services to some children facing domestic abuse, as they avoid healthcare services due to fear of the abuser (Heron and Eisma, 2021). Based on these two sources, it can be determined that the UK government is required to provide relevant resources to the NHS to enable it to perform its roles more effectively. Also, there is a need to create awareness to encourage children facing domestic abuse to speak up and report the perpetrators to the police for legal action.

Educational institutions are also among the relevant agencies for managing domestic abuse in children. These institutions, including schools and colleges, have the role of safeguarding children and identifying potential cases of abuse through changes in behaviour or class attendance (NSCPP, 2023). These institutions can also provide support services to children who have experienced domestic abuse by offering them counselling services (Peckover and Golding, 2015). On the contrary, the operations of these institutions might not run smoothly due to several challenges that hinder them from meeting their roles. One of the main challenges is that most of their staff lack adequate training on how to identify children who have been going through domestic violence (Peckover and Trotter, 2014). Moreover, the inability of staff to maintain confidentiality when reporting cases of domestic abuse discourages some children from reporting abuse due to fear of being exposed to the entire school (Peckover and Golding, 2015). Furthermore, in most cases, teachers are unable to differentiate between domestic abuse and other behavioural issues, which might lead to failing to help children going through domestic abuse or identifying the issue when it is already too late to provide assistance to the child (Lloyd, 2018). Therefore, it can be determined that there is a need for training to improve the skills of relevant stakeholders in learning institutions, who are required to provide support to children experiencing domestic abuse. The training will also increase the understanding of domestic abuse and help teachers identify early signs of abuse before the condition advances and affects the child’s well-being and academic performance. Lastly, voluntary organizations also help in managing cases of domestic violence in children. Their role is to provide specialist support services to victims of domestic abuse, which might include counselling, advocacy, and accommodation (NSCPP, 2023). However, these organizations also face challenges in their attempts to provide services to victims of domestic abuse. Firstly, they face challenges related to inadequate resources and funding, which limit them from providing support services to children experiencing domestic abuse (Brodie et al., 2022). Additionally, they are unable to reach out to isolated families and ensure the provision of consistent quality services across all their branches in different geographical locations (McBride, 2018). Based on all the sources analyzed in this section, it can be determined that the collaboration between all the mentioned agencies can help address the issue of domestic abuse in children. The role of learning institutions has been revealed as assessing children’s behaviour at school and identifying whether they are facing abuse. Upon identification of abuse, the child should be provided with support services to help them cope with the situation. On the other hand, the police and local authorities’ roles have been identified as conducting investigations on domestic abuse cases and identifying viable interventions to help boost the victim’s well-being. In summary, learning institutions should identify children going through domestic abuse and help report the issue to the police or local authorities for investigations. The NHS and voluntary organizations can then step into the next stage to provide the child with support services such as counselling and other medical services.

Creating Awareness of Domestic Abuse

The other solution identified involves creating awareness concerning domestic abuse in children. There are several agencies mentioned in the section above that can contribute to achieving this goal. Schools are expected to educate children about domestic abuse (McBride, 2018). There are several interventions that can be used to achieve this goal. Firstly, schools can integrate age-appropriate lessons on recognizing abuse, identifying safe adults within the Personal, Social, and Health Education (PSHE) curriculum, and healthy relationships. A PSHE is a subject in England’s school curriculum which involves enhancing skills, knowledge, and connections to keep young people and children healthy and get them ready for work and life (Fox, Hale and Gadd, 2013). Integrating this subject into the curriculum helps children learn skills and knowledge that lead to healthy, independent, and confident lives. Therefore, through this subject, children will understand what to consider abuse and when to report such events of abuse. On the same note, schools can adopt creative projects in art and literature to assess the themes of healthy families, seeking help, and communication (Roth, Alfandari and Crous, 2023).

Through these creative projects, teachers will be able to pass information on the importance of good communication and seeking help in case of domestic abuse. Education programmes should also be centred towards teaching children how to be active bystanders who can report and intervene safely on issues concerning domestic abuse (Villardón-Gallego et al., 2023). It will develop a culture that does not support domestic violence. Moreover, schools can develop a counselling department where trustworthy staff members are available to provide support to children affected by domestic abuse (Vikander and Källström, 2023). Schools can also develop clear reporting procedures to report potential cases of domestic abuse and ensure that all children understand the steps to take in reporting these incidents (Greco et al., 2022). Although the school is expected to implement all these interventions to address the issue of domestic abuse, it is also required that parents participate in this endeavour to ensure positive outcomes.

Parents should be available whenever there are parent-teacher meetings to discuss issues related to domestic abuse (Saltmarsh, Ayre and Tualaulelei, 2021). The study conducted by Saltmarsh, Ayre and Tualaulelei (2021) was a review that utilised thematic data analysis technique to critically analyse qualitative data from the featured primary sources. The main focus was on studies that highlighted the role of teachers and parents in eliminating child violence. The study was published in English, thus allowing it to be used by different researchers from various geographical settings.Parents can also show their support to the school by willingly attending workshops for parents, organized by the school, to learn more about their relationship with their children and how to build a supportive home environment that enhances the well-being of the child (Allen et al., 2022). Teachers are also required to be dedicated towards the success of these interventions and have the relevant skills and knowledge to identify behaviours related to domestic violence and offer psychological support to children affected by these events (Papamichail, 2018). Therefore, it can be determined that for the success of intervention programs aimed at creating awareness of domestic abuse, all the parties involved (parents and teachers) should be dedicated to achieving their roles within the intervention programs.

Enactment of Effective Policies and Guidelines against Domestic Abuse in Children

The UK government also has a role to play in addressing domestic abuse through enacting policies that discourage domestic abuse in children. In light of this point, there are ongoing efforts by the UK government to address domestic violence, which will be explored in the current section. Firstly, through the Children Act (1989), the government has been able to safeguard children from harm, including domestic abuse (Department for Education, 2021). This Act requires the local authorities to carry out investigations on suspected cases of child domestic abuse and provide support services to the affected children and their families (Department for Education, 2021). Furthermore, through the Domestic Abuse Act (2021), the UK government is able to focus on safeguarding the rights of children against any seeking of harm (NSCPP, 2023). This Act creates a statutory definition of domestic abuse, which depicts it as revolving around economic, emotional, and coercive abuse (NSCPP, 2023). Therefore, it can be determined that this Act strengthens children’s rights and protects them against any sort of abuse.

Additionally, there is the Serious Crime Act (2015), which introduced a new offence of coercive or controlling behaviour (CPS, 2023). These behaviours include emotional abuse and psychological manipulation, which are experienced more frequently by children in abusive households. This Act also expands the scope of domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs) to protect the rights of children living with perpetrators (GOV.UK, 2022). Thus, in cases where there is inconclusive evidence towards domestic abuse, the police and magistrates’ courts are allowed to apply protective measures to the victim and charge the perpetrator via bail conditions (GOV.UK, 2022). Therefore, through this strategy, the government has been able to solve the challenge of inadequate evidence to hold perpetrators liable for engaging in domestic abuse. The government also introduced the Education Act (2002), which assigns all schools the responsibility of safeguarding children by promoting their welfare, reporting concerns to the relevant authorities, and identifying potential abuse by observing the children’s behaviour and class attendance patterns (Foster and Long, 2023).

Lastly, the government outlined the National Domestic Abuse Strategy (2021), which highlighted how different agencies can cooperate to eliminate domestic abuse in children (Domestic Abuse Strategy 2021 – 2024, 2024). Some of the agencies mentioned are the police, local authorities, the NHS, and learning institutions. The collaboration among these agencies will help reduce the prevalence of domestic abuse. Based on the information presented in the current section, it can be determined that the government of the UK has made a huge contribution to ending domestic abuse in children, providing support services to the victims, and punishing perpetrators. According to the sources analyzed above, a key focus has been on domestic abuse among children in general, without any focus on a specific ethnic group. This study filled this knowledge gap by focusing on the impacts of domestic abuse on South Asian children’s education.

Theoretical Framework

The current study was underpinned by the social learning theory. This theory was established by Albert Bandura in 1977 (Akers and Jennings, 2015). It reveals how individuals learn through observing, imitating, and interacting with other people within their environment (Akers and Jennings, 2015). Moreover, this theory describes five key steps necessary for learning to occur. The first step involves learning through observation, where Boone, Reilly and Sashkin (1977) explained that through observing other people, an individual is able to possess new skills and knowledge. Akers and Jennings (2015) also added that people are more likely to be influenced by people whom they consider their role models. The third way of learning is through vicarious reinforcement, where an individual learns from experiencing the reward offered to another person for a specific behaviour (Boone, Reilly and Sashkin, 1977). In this case, an individual is likely to adopt a behaviour if they see other people being rewarded for it and shun behaviours that attract punishment.

Additionally, the fourth step of learning, as described by (Social learning theory, 1977), is through cognitive processes, which involve the impacts of an individual’s beliefs and thoughts on determining how they learn from their observation. Based on this assertion, it can be determined that people are more likely to imitate behaviours that they deem right and reject the ones perceived as wrong. The last step of learning involves self-efficacy, where an individual’s belief in their ability to successfully perform a given task encourages them to learn the behaviour (Akers and Jennings, 2015). Therefore, high self-efficacy encourages individuals to engage in learning new skills as they believe that they are capable of performing the activity successfully. Conversely, low self-efficacy will discourage individuals from performing the specified task. This theory was applied in the current study to determine how low self-efficacy in South Asian children who have experienced domestic violence affects their engagement and motivation in learning activities. Moreover, it will be used to explain the reason why some children who are victims of domestic violence engage in bad behaviours at school, such as bullying other children. This theory explains these behaviours, where the child’s abuser’s behaviour might be reinforced, causing the child to emulate similar behaviours in school.

Research Aim

The present study sought to determine the impacts of domestic abuse on South Asian children’s education.

Research objectives

In order to achieve the research aim mentioned above, the study had to meet the following objectives:

  1. To determine what domestic abuse entails.
  2. To identify the causes of domestic abuse in children and how it leads to poor performance in class.
  3. To determine possible interventions for reducing the prevalence of domestic abuse in children.

Research Significance

There are numerous advantages associated with carrying out the present study. Firstly, the information to be obtained will help learning institutions and local authorities learn how to identify signs of domestic violence in children and the support services to provide the children with. Moreover, understanding the causes of domestic violence will help in determining effective ways of reducing its prevalence.

Research Question

  • What are the experiences of South Asian children subjected to domestic abuse in education?

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Dr. Robertson Prime, Research Fellow
Dr. Robertson Prime, Research Fellow