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The Government needs to do more for children fleeing Domestic Abuse

Emma B, I Choose Freedom's Children's Advocate talks about the daily challenges she faces in her job role

61.7% of women who were in refuge in 2017 had children (aged under 18) with them. (Women’s Aid, 2018 – data from Women’s Aid Annual Survey 2017) Mothers have to flee for their lives. Taking their children across the country to escape.

Shockingly, children are given no special dispensation, when it comes to their school applications while living in Refuge. They are not even categorised automatically under the social exceptional circumstances.

"Looked After and Previously Looked After Children", is the first group on the admissions criteria. We, at the refuge, have to highlight the request for our children to be placed under the social exceptional circumstances criteria each time a school application is made. This is not always accepted. School admissions do not accept that children fleeing Domestic Abuse attend a local school or be kept with their siblings. They do not classify it as a good enough reason to prioritise them under the social exceptional criteria.

These children are being penalised for fleeing from Domestic Abuse. They are unable to continue their education in their danger area and therefore seek education close to their place of Refuge. Children who stay with us in the refuge are unlikely to receive a place at a local school. Our children have to sit on waiting lists. If they are not given any special handling, they sit further down the admission criteria and are penalised further for circumstances out of their control. Again the family is being punished for the trauma they have had inflicted on them.

Families are split between schools and children as young as 4 years old, have to be put into taxi’s and taken to a school out of their local catchment area. A chatty child,  is now seen crying and playing nervously with her hands, as she cries for her mother to be able to take her to school. She feels frightened about the journey she must face, twice a day on her own in a taxi with a man she has never met. At a time when a child’s mental health is so fragile, this awful circumstance only impacts further on their mental state and their ability to function and engage fully.  The mother is equally upset and worried about leaving her in the mornings and having her daughter cry for her, not understanding why she cannot go to the same school as her siblings. We need to keep these families together at the very least.

Children living in refuge are high need and extremely vulnerable and need to be seen and categorized as such when applying for school places. They have been subjected to abuse living in a Domestic Abuse environment; this is a form of child abuse, emotionally if not physically. They need to be included in a formal category of need, that reflects their family circumstances and child development. The Children’s Commissioner's report in July 2017 states, “Defining child vulnerability: Definitions, frameworks and groups, includes seven starting categories: Number 5. Informal types of vulnerability – includes a child identified as part of a family experiencing domestic violence and abuse”. If this group of children have already been identified by the Government as vulnerable, and are growing up in high risk situations, then why hasn’t anything further been done to take care of these children and their education?  These are disadvantaged children who have already been highlighted as in need of benefiting from extra help from public agencies,  in order to make the best of their life chances. A collaboratively agreed framework and approach needs to be agreed and actioned.

It is paramount that our children are assessed and given the same priority as children who are being looked after and have been previously looked after. Children living here in the refuge have an exceptional social need and need to be treated with the utmost care and attention and should be identified as exceptional cases with exceptional needs.  They need to feel confident and safe.  This is a crucial time in their lives where they have fled all that they know and wish to rebuild a happier home life and be able to thrive and be given the same opportunities as other children.

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