An Exploration of the Impacts That Experiencing Domestic Violence can Have on a Child’s Primary School Education: View of Educational Staff

Published 15/06/2015
Type Article
Author(s) Sarah Louise Holt
Corresponding Authors Sarah Louise Holt, Criminology and Psychology BSc, Sheffield Hallam University

The issue of domestic violence is becoming increasingly prevalent in contemporary society and is no longer a hidden phenomenon kept behind closed doors and out of the public eye (Harne & Radford, 2008). Children living in violent homes are beginning to be seen as recognised ‘victims’ and there has been an increase in research literature regarding how the lives of these children are affected as a consequence of experiencing domestic violence (Cunningham & Baker, 2004). This article aims to investigate the types of behaviours primary school educational staff observed in children (4-11 years) known or suspected to experience domestic violence at home. The current research adopted a survey-based method in the form of a self-completion, postal questionnaire and utilised a non-probability convenience sample of 25 educational staff from three different schools. Children experiencing domestic violence were often found to be irritable, frustrated and angry, displaying both internal and external aggression – although inward acts of aggression were observed to be significantly more prevalent. The children were often recognised ‘underachievers’ and rarely reached their full academic potential. Four key themes emerged from the qualitative section of the questionnaires; children living in violent homes often have a poor self-image, the importance of early identification and improved staff training, the need for opportunities for children to disclose sensitive information to staff and the importance of information sharing. The findings from this study provide a basis for further, more extensive research into which behaviours may be evident in children experiencing domestic violence and therefore help educational staff identify these children earlier and provide their families with support and guidance.

The issue of domestic violence (DV) was neither recognised nor accepted as a societal problem prior to the 1970s (McHugh & Frieze, 2006). More recently, perceptions of DV have been transformed from a private, unrecognised phenomenon, to a key public issue high on government and practice agendas (Harne & Radford, 2008). The issue of children living with and experiencing DV is increasingly a more widely acknowledged issue within our society (Cunningham & Baker, 2004). Contemporary research literature is beginning to recognise children living in violent households as ‘victims’, and adopting a more holistic view of what is encompassed in ‘experiencing’ DV such as witnessing the aftermath of a violent event (Jaffe & Wolfe, 2011).

The research presented here focuses on primary school children, as they are considered to be of a critical age in terms of awareness and understanding of the DV happening around them (Holt et al., 2008). The study also gathered information on educational staff opinions on the efficacy of Child Protection and Safeguarding (2010) training. A surveybased method in the form of a self-completion, postal questionnaire was employed, and questionnaires were sent to three UK primary schools. The first section of the questionnaire was quantitative and consisted of a rating scale asking participants how frequently they observed certain behaviours in children known or suspected to be experiencing DV. The second section was qualitative and consisted of open-ended questions asking for the participants’ experiences of current training and how they believe this could be improved.

This article begins with a brief overview of the literature followed by the methods adopted, findings, discussion and conclusion.

Literature review
Early definitions of DV derived from criminological and sociological perspectives and therefore maintained a one-directional focus on violent and sexual acts or behaviours, exclusively between intimate partners (O’Leary, 2001).  Recently however, DV has become less simplistic and encompasses a wide variety of disciplines adopting varying definitions. For example, definitions used by healthcare or social services are unlikely to resemble legal definitions and these may also vary depending how both society and individual victims construct their understanding and experiences of DV (Burton, 2008). A recent Home Office definition (2013) defines DV as:

‘…any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to; psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional.’

This varies from earlier definitions by attempting to create a more holistic understanding of the notion of DV by incorporating a variety of behaviours, types of victims and abuse rather than solely focusing on violent and sexual acts between intimate partners

Before the 1990s, the term ‘child witness’ of DV was used frequently in the literature, yet this was confusing for practitioners as the term tended to be associated with merely seeing or hearing the abuse. More recently, practitioners have adopted the terms ‘exposure to’ or the ‘experiencing of’ DV which reflects the more holistic view of what children undergo whilst living in a violent household (Jaffe & Wolfe, 2011). Exposure to DV also includes the passive role of the child in ‘…interpreting, predicting, worrying, and problem solving to protect themselves and others in the family from further abuse’ (Cunningham & Baker, 2004:7). For the purposes of this research, the terms ‘experiencing’ and ‘exposure to’ DV are holistic terms which do not assume the violence has been observed by the child (Holden, 2003).

The terms encompass the following facts of being a child living in a family experiencing DV being caught up physically in adult DV, seeing, hearing or being told of a violent event, and also witnessing the ‘aftermath’ of a DV event (Osofsky, 1999). The term ‘Affected Children’ is used to describe children known to, or expected to, experience DV at home.

There have been many legislative and policy developments in the field of DV in recent years. The Government is piloting DVPOs (Domestic Violence Protection Orders) which allow police to prevent offenders contacting victims or returning to their home for up to 28 days. Domestic Violence Disclosure Schemes have been piloted which include the ‘right to know’ and the ‘right to ask’ (also known as ‘Clare’s Law’) which provide individuals with access to information about whether their partner has a violent past (Home Office, 2013a).

Schools and children’s services must look to their own policies for guidance when a child is suspected to be experiencing violence at home. In 2010 the ‘Safeguarding Children in Education’ policy was introduced, stating that every school must have a member of staff who holds lead responsibility for child protection and that children must be made aware of behaviours (such as violence and bullying) which are considered ‘unacceptable’. Teachers and professionals are encouraged to identify any concerns they may have regarding a child’s welfare and take appropriate action (DfE, 2010). The Department of Education’s (2006) policy is that practitioners should first voice their concerns to their manager and if deemed necessary, refer the family to Children’s Social Services.

Many studies have concluded that children exposed to DV are significantly more likely to exhibit behavioural and emotional difficulties than non-exposed children (Kitzmann et al., 2003). Primary school children (4-11 years) exposed to DV are at an age where they are developing awareness of family events and beginning to construct an understanding of the conflict and violence within their family (Holt et al., 2008). Children of this age are beginning to mentally process the abuse and evaluate the effect it has on their immediate family members. Consequently, children may feel caught in a self-conflicting bind where they turn to their parents for comfort and security but are unsure when aggression and violence may take over. This causes ongoing uncertainty and fear which can impact their behaviour (Cunningham & Baker, 2004). Primary school children are considered to be at a critical age in terms of awareness and understanding of the DV happening around them (Holt et al., 2008), hence the exclusive focus of this article on the impacts experiencing DV has on primary school children.

Previous studies have found general behavioural, cognitive and emotional implications of exposure to DV on children including; excessive irritability, sleep problems, fear of being alone, immature behaviour, stunted language  development, poor concentration, aggressive and antisocial behaviour, anxiety, depression, violent behaviour, low frustration tolerance, poor co-ordination, problems eating and being passive or withdrawn (McGee, 2000; Elderson, 1999; Osofsky, 1999; Mullender & Morley, 1994; James, 1994). A study supported by the NSPCC and conducted by Stanley et al. (2010) collected observations from parents of children who had been exposed to DV. The parents
identified behaviours in their children such as hyperactivity, nervousness, depression, anxiety and a lack of confidence (ibid). Little research has been conducted exploring the specific implications that exposure to DV has on children’s education and experience at primary school. McGee (2000) found that children known to experience violence at home displayed aggressive behaviour and lacked concentration in school. They were also more likely to have poor attendance, fall asleep in class, come to school early or leave late and not demonstrate their full potential. In addition to this, Mullender and Morley (1994) found pupils dealing with these issues tended to display approval-seeking behaviour, bully other students, fight with classmates, and act as a ‘teacher’s pet’. Children from violent families have also been found to have a more hesitant and indecisive relationship with their teachers than children from non-violent homes (Graham-Bermann & Levendosky, 1998). On the other hand, Radford et al. (2011a) found that educational success was sometimes used as a coping strategy for the child, offering them something to escape into
and use as a form of resilience.

Existing literature suggests that such impairments are more prevalent in young children than in adolescents (Hughes, 1998) and that younger children are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of living in a violent household  Levendosky et al., 2003). This vulnerability is one rationale for examining the effects of experiencing DV on primary school children in the current research.

A survey-based method in the form of a self-completion, postal questionnaire was used to gather data for this study. This method was used to allow participants to complete the survey at a time that was convenient for them and without time restrictions.

The survey in the current research utilises a form of mixed-methods referred to as ‘intramethod mixing’ meaning that the questionnaire contained both quantitative and qualitative questions (Tashakkori & Teddlie, 2003). The closed questions, which are easily quantifiable, were used to identify which behaviours or actions were most frequently observed by school staff, whilst the open-ended questions were used to explore participants’ opinions and attitudes regarding how Affected Children are treated in schools. The use of open-ended questions has important implications for the results of the study as they are used as an opportunity to reveal any observed behaviours, attitudes
or personality traits that may have been missed by the quantitative questions.

The research adheres to a constructivist ontological position, assuming meanings are socially constructed and constructs are continually reviewed and altered by the social actors through ‘social interaction and reflection’ (Matthews & Ross, 2010:25). The inclusion of both qualitative and quantitative data in the current study means that the epistemological position of the research fluctuates between a positivist and interpretivist stance.

To ensure results are generalisable, the sample used must be statistically representative of the population in question (Johnson & Christensen, 2004). It was not possible for the researcher to take a random sample of every primary school teacher or teaching assistant in the UK that has worked with or observed Affected Children. Therefore, the results of this research are not generalisable, but have the potential to provide a starting point for future research.

Thirty questionnaires were sent to three primary schools (School ‘M’, School ‘N’ and School ‘G’), each the workplace of a participant accessible and known to the researcher. The researcher contacted five known participants at five different schools to explain the nature of the study and enquire as to whether they would distribute questionnaires around their workplace and return them to the researcher. Two of the teachers (both teaching at small village primary schools) explained that no staff at their schools suspected or were aware of any children from violent homes. The three remaining schools received an envelope in the post containing the questionnaires, a pre-stamped and  addressed envelope to return the completed questionnaires and a note asking for teachers and other staff (e.g. learning support and teaching assistants) who believe they have observed or worked with children known to or suspected to experience DV at home (Affected Children) to take part in the study. Eight questionnaires were returned from School ‘M’, seven questionnaires were returned from School ‘G’ and 10 from School ‘N’, a total of 25 study participants (83.3% response rate).

As this study utilised an opportunity sample, statistical generalisations should not be made (Williams, 2003). However, it may be possible to make moderatum generalisations if the sample collected share norms, values and rationality and if replications will occur in similar physical environments (ibid, 2003:56). This means that if the current sample share cultural similarities with the wider population, it may be possible to argue the sample has moderatum generalisability. Research (Lortie, 1975; Sarason, 1982; Sachs & Smith, 1988) suggests that due to shared values and experiences both in life and in the work place, teachers become part of a shared standardised culture. Therefore, it is possible to suggest that the current sample had moderatum generalisability.

The use of an ordinal rating scale in the first section of the questionnaire enabled the responses to be easily quantified and statistically analysed. Frequency tables were created using the quantitative results, and bar charts were produced to establish the most and least frequently observed behaviours. The meaning and reason behind the results were then evaluated and analysed against findings from previous literature.

The second section of the questionnaire was analysed using thematic analysis consisting of coding the qualitative responses, finding any reoccurring themes and using these to establish any meaningful patterns (Bryman, 2008). Results and themes from question one of the second section were explored alongside the findings from the quantitative section in order to gain a more holistic picture of which behavioural patterns are observed in Affected Children. The themes established from questions two to four of the qualitative findings were explored in relation to current policy to identify gaps in how Affected Children are identified and supported in schools.

The quantitative section of the questionnaire consisted of a tick-box system where participants were asked to rate how often they observed certain behaviours in Affected Children. Results from the seven point rating scale were dichotomised into ‘rarely’ and ‘frequently’. Any questions answered either ‘frequently’ or ‘very frequently’ were grouped together under the category ‘frequently’, any questions answered either ‘never’, ‘very rarely’ or ‘rarely’ were grouped as ‘rarely’ and any questions left blank, answered ‘don’t know’ or ‘N/A’ were recorded as missing results.

Many of the behaviours uncovered in the literature review were behaviours that would suggest the child demonstrating them is frustrated, angry or irritated and expressing these feelings in a variety of ways. For example, McGee (2000) found children who were exposed to DV tended to be more aggressive, display excessive irritability (Elderson, 1999), have a low frustration tolerance and exhibit antisocial and violent behaviour (Mullender & Morley, 1994; Osofsky, 1999). The following results discuss how frequently respondents observed these types of behaviours in the Affected Child/Children.

(A) Aggressive Behaviour towards Staff
Displaying aggression towards members of staff is considered ‘problematic’ or ‘challenging’ behaviour as it puts the physical and emotional health of staff members at risk (NHS, 2012).The results show that 28% (7/25) reported frequently observing children displaying aggressive behaviour towards staff. Although this behaviour was not as frequently observed as other behaviours, the problematic nature of this aggression means this is still a significant finding as nearly a third of all participants reported commonly observing this behaviour. The presence of this type of behaviour significantly impacts the classroom dynamics, and educators must know how to deal with displays of aggression from pupils, should they arise (NEA, 2014). A study by the teachers’ union ‘NASUWT’ suggested that almost half of newly qualified teachers are dissatisfied with the training they receive on dealing with destructive and aggressive behaviour (NASUWT, 2013).

(B) Aggressive Behaviour towards Other Students

Aggression directed at other students was reported to occur more frequently than aggression directed towards staff or figures of authority. 60.9% (14/23) reported frequently observing aggressive behaviour towards other students.

(C) Bullying Other Students (Physically and/or Verbally)
Bullying other pupils is directly related to displays of aggression towards other students. This is because the majority of ‘bullying’ in primary schools has been found to be openly aggressive rather than passive or manipulating behaviours (Olweus, 2003).

The results show that 29.2% (7/24) reported frequently observing children bullying other students. This suggests that bullying is not observed as often as aggressive behaviour (31.7% less frequently), perhaps because ‘bullying’ is defined as a student ‘exposed repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other students’ (Olweus, 1994:1173). Therefore, random acts of aggression that are not recurring or repeatedly directed at the same pupil may not be considered ‘bullying’ by educationalists.

(D) Fighting with Other Students

Another example supporting the idea that Affected Children can be angry or frustrated is that 58.3% (14/24) reported frequently observing children fighting with other students. Again, this was not as frequent as aggressive behaviour. However, this could be explained by the observation of ‘affective’ or emotional aggression or hostile behaviour not resulting in violence (Buss, 1961).

The previous aggressive behaviours are those which are displayed externally and directed towards others, however aggression can also be internal in the form of ‘self-destructive behaviour’ (Delga et al., 1989).The following findings demonstrate how frequently children displayed different self-destructive behaviours or ‘internal aggression’.

(E) Displaying a ‘Low Frustration Tolerance’

A low frustration tolerance can also be described as having a ‘short fuse’ or becoming easily frustrated with set tasks (James, 1994). The results show that 75% (18/24) reported frequently observing children becoming easily exasperated with tasks.

(F) Being Irritable

Related to a ‘low frustration tolerance’ is being irritable or short-tempered. It was found that 77.3% (17/22) reported frequently noticing Affected Children being irritable.

The literature review uncovered minimal findings about how coming into contact with DV directly influences a child’s school experience. However, McGee (2000) and Mullender and Morley (1994) found that Affected Children were unlikely to reach their full academic potential.

(G) Not Reaching Full Potential in Class Work and/or Underachieving

‘Underachieving’ includes; not achieving predicted grades, lower than expected test scores and lower achievement in relation to the average standard of work in the class (Gorard & Smith, 2003).

The results show that 82.6% (19/23) reported frequently noticing Affected Children to be academically underachieving. 65.2% (15/23) of respondents also reported that these children had a lower than average reading ability and 35% (7/20) reported the children had speech and language abilities lower than expected for a child of their age (frequency graphs below).

The results from the quantitative data generally supported findings uncovered in previous research (see above). For example, aggressive behaviour, being easily angered and underachieving educationally were all found to be frequently observed in Affected Children. The results also identified more specific behaviours and actions encompassed within these more general patterns. In addition to generally ‘underachieving’ (McGee, 2000; Mullender & Morley, 1994), 65.2% of participants reported the Affected Children having a below average reading ability and 35% noted underdeveloped speaking and language skills. Internal aggression, such as being short-tempered, was noticed more frequently than external acts of aggression such as bullying and fighting with other students.

The behaviours most frequently observed tended to be behaviours which were less ‘problematic’ or ‘challenging’ i.e. lower risk to the physical or mental well-being of the child or others and less likely to result in a ‘poorer quality of life’ (NHS, 2012) for the child, their classmates or staff. The most frequently observed behaviour (92%) was ‘lack of concentration in lessons’, a behaviour which is not considered a high risk or ‘problematic’ behaviour. Although non-aggressive and not threatening to the physical or psychological well-being of the child, it can be argued that ‘underachieving’ academically can present a risk to the child’s future prospects and potentially their quality of life (NHS, 2012) if this hinders their chances of obtaining future employment.

Although the more ‘challenging’ behaviours (such as bullying) were found to be the most rarely observed, many of the behaviours were still reported to frequently occur by a substantial number of educational staff, significantly impacting on the nature of the results and their implications for future research and potential changes in policy.

The qualitative section consisted of four open ended-questions. The first question asked participants to recall any behaviours, actions or personality traits in Affected Children that had not been covered in the quantitative section of the questionnaire. The next three questions asked for the participants’ opinion about how the child protection and safeguarding training could be improved, what measures they believe should be put in place to improve the identification of Affected Children and finally, an opportunity to make any additional comments they deemed relevant.

Children Living in Violent Homes Have a Poor Self-Image
The first theme which emerged was in relation to question one of the qualitative section of the questionnaire:

Are there any behaviours, actions or mannerisms that you have observed that have not been covered in Part One of this survey?

One participant noted the child/children showed no sense of pride in their work, even when it was of a high standard and found it hard to accept praise, ‘…on occasion resulting in the child destroying the work which had been praised.’ (QG1:1)

Other participants reported children showed signs of self-harming behaviours (QM2; QM3; QN3) including ‘head banging’ (QN3:1) and appeared to have ‘poor self-worth’ (QM3).

Stanley et al. (2010) collected observations about behavioural patterns from parents of children exposed to DV. The behaviours they identified included nervousness, depression, anxiety and a lack of confidence. These factors reflect behaviours observed by educational staff in the current study, including self-harming, low self-worth, an inability to take pride in their work and a dislike of confrontation (QG1; QM2; QM3; QN3; QN9). Thus creating a picture of a child with low self-esteem, lacking confidence with a negative self-perception. This notion is further supported by 62.5% (15/24) of participants who reported frequently observing children seeking approval from members of staff. This suggests Affected Children may be lacking in confidence and require persistent approval from staff in order to feel more confident about the task they are completing. Also, 43.5% (10/23) of participants noted frequently observing the child/children acting ‘withdrawn, passive or compliant’. This again may relate to low self-worth, nervousness and in more extreme cases, depression (Stanley et al., 2010).

Being aware of the types of behaviours that Affected Children may display whilst at school would significantly improve the identification of these children by members of staff, thus allowing the child earlier access to support from teachers and external agencies. The importance of early identification of these children and the requirement for more training in this area is a pervasive theme of the qualitative findings.

Importance of Early Identification and More Specific Training
Many participants outlined the need for more regular staff training on how to identify Affected Children

‘Regular staff training re-identifying and support to provide.’ (QN1:3)

‘Regular staff training to recognise signs.’ (QG6:3)

Other participants expressed that ‘…access to more case studies with ranges of different circumstances/behaviours’ (QN2:3) would help to identify these children.

Participants felt that being aware of the types of behaviours that may help to identify Affected Children could significantly improve the level and quality of support provided to the children at school. Participants suggested that staff training should have more of an emphasis on children witnessing and experiencing DV at home, rather than just being educated on how to notice the physical signs of abuse, e.g. bruising.

‘…training centres upon children’s physical issues as opposed to the emotional ones…never fully realised the impact that a child witnessing domestic violence could have…until I saw it for myself…affect the child emotionally and thus educationally.’ (QN10:3)

Other participants supported this by suggesting that the child protection and safeguarding training should cover more in-depth areas of DV such as

‘…more emphasis on the effects on children of witnessing domestic violence.’ (QN3:2)

The findings suggest that staff training is sufficient regarding the recognition of physical signs of child abuse. However, staff are not necessarily aware of what emotional and behavioural responses may be apparent in Affected Children and what affect these may have on the quality of their education and their general experience of school.

The Need for Opportunities for Children to Disclose Information to Staff
It is evident in the literature that having someone to turn to for emotional support (Mullender et al., 2002) and social and community support structures (Watt et al., 1995) are significant factors in the coping strategy of a child experiencing DV.

The importance of providing children with emotional support and opportunities to disclose information to members of staff was a reoccurring theme in the qualitative findings.

One participant noted:

‘ideally the curriculum needs to allow for more ‘relaxed’ time with the children…to chat about non-educational related issues…time for children to build up trust and allow them more opportunities to discuss matters.’ (QN7:3)

Whilst another emphasised the importance of ‘…ensuring the child feels able to talk/communicate with class teacher/teaching assistant/or anonymously (worry box or similar).’ (QG4:3)

The importance of children being able to openly discuss the topic of DV was prominent in the qualitative findings in the current study,

‘more open discussion generally about the issue to raise awareness…children need to know it is not something to be ashamed of.’ (QG1:3)

It was also noted that staff needed to be adequately trained in order to effectively ‘understand/empathise’ (QM1:3) with Affected Children.

A number of the participants suggested that other members of staff, not just class teachers, should be available to help deal with these issues. For example, ‘ensure good pastoral support is in place in all schools to give children the opportunity to talk through any issues’ (QM4:3), and another respondent believed there should be a ‘designated person’ in schools to support and help the children cope with their troubled home life (QN9:2).

The terms ‘staff’ and ‘staff training’ were predominantly used throughout the second section of the questionnaire rather than the term ‘teacher’, suggesting the participants believe that the training and opportunities to speak to children about non-educational matters are not just important for teachers. One participant noted, ‘support staff are more likely to be confided in or notice signs’ (QG1:2).

Information Sharing
The final theme uncovered was that information regarding Affected Children should be shared more freely between members of staff who interact daily with the children, external agencies and educational authorities.

‘Class teachers are not always told exactly which children experience domestic violence – so knowing would be a good start.’ (QM7:3)

‘Teachers only aware of situations on a need-to-know basis and therefore may not have the complete picture which may not allow deep understanding.’ (QM6:3)

Participants concur that knowledge about which children are experiencing DV at home is important for staff to be able to provide help and emotional support: ‘teachers need all the ‘pieces of the jigsaw” (QM3:2). One offered a practical solution for this problem, suggesting ‘…at least one staff meeting per year to identify and keep up with current research/findings/strategies’ (QM7:3) and to share important information regarding Affected Children.

Sharing information expediently and more freely means Affected Children can be better supported and sooner (QM8:2). Information sharing also incorporates communication between the school and outside agencies. Many respondents valued clear communication between the school and outside agencies, the high level of support needed from these services and the means to work closely with them regarding children requiring additional support (QG7; QG2; QM3; QN9). Specific outside agencies mentioned include social services, therapists, educational psychologists and behavioural experts (QN9; QG2).

The quantitative research findings supported the notion in the literature that children living in violent homes can be frustrated, angry, irritable and aggressive (e.g. McGee, 2000) and revealed that teachers observed more ‘inward’ displays of aggression, such as a low frustration tolerance and irritability, than outward acts of aggression such as being hostile towards staff. However, outward displays of aggression were still frequently observed by participants.

Mullender and Morley (1994) and McGee (2000) found that children exposed to DV were more likely to underachieve in their classwork. This was strongly supported by these findings as 82.6% of respondents reported frequently observing Affected Children not reaching their full potential in their school work, and that 62.5% had a lower than average reading ability. It can be suggested that this underachievement is due to a lack of support at home. One participant noted the child/children ‘does not get any support at home with reading/homework and very rarely completes these.’ (QM4:1)

Analysis of the qualitative findings uncovered four key themes. The first theme is the perception that Affected Children can often have a poor self-image, highlighted in the data from question one of the qualitative section and the quantitative results and supports findings in existing literature (e.g. Stanley et al., 2010; Graham-Bermann & Levendosky, 1998). The other themes, uncovered from questions two to four of the qualitative findings are; the importance of early identification and more specific training, the need for opportunities for children to disclose information to staff, and the importance of information sharing. These themes are associated with how school life could be improved for Affected Children and therefore have implications on educational policy.

The Safeguarding Children in Education policy (2010) states that a senior member of staff should hold lead responsibility for child protection and information sharing about Affected Children. Currently, there are many restrictions placed on with whom and how much information can be shared. Practitioners must consider whether there is a legitimate reason for sharing the information, whether consent is required, and if there is a public interest in sharing the information (DfE, 2006). Participants have suggested that the ablity to share information more freely would improve support for Affected Children ‘information shared quicker – helping support families sooner’ (QM8:2). The findings from this survey support future change in educational policy concerning the sharing of information, reducing restrictions and moving towards a change to the Key Principles for Information Sharing (HM Government, 2006). However, it is important to note that restrictions are put in place to reduce risk to the child and protect them from harm (DfE, 2006). If restrictions on information sharing are loosened, negative consequences may result, such as breaches in confidentiality, putting the Affected Child at significant risk of harm, and in severe cases, police investigations may be jeopardised (DfE, 2006).

The Department for Education (DfE, 2010) states that practitioners should discuss any concerns they have about a child’s welfare with their manager or senior member of staff. The data highlight observable behaviours that may contribute to the identification of Affected Children. An improvement in teacher and support staffs’ knowledge on what behaviours to look for may lead to earlier identification of children who are suffering. Therefore, senior members of staff can be made aware of a child’s potential problems so that help and support can be accessed for both the child and their family earlier. Thus, one of the recommendations to come out of this research is that once an Affected Child is identified, more individual support should be provided to prevent future academic under achievement and stunted speech and language development.

The findings from this study may lead to future research to reinforce and validate these results and further highlight key behaviours, actions and personality traits that could be incorporated into training courses educating staff on how to identify Affected Children.
In doing so, in-depth interviews should be conducted with educational staff, gathering more detail about specific children (whilst maintaining their anonymity). This would allow researchers to obtain data such as the sex, exact age and other demographic details about the child and whether these factors influence the types of behaviours displayed. It may be of value to research differing behavioural patterns between groups of Affected Children based on demographic factors such as gender as educational staff appear to be observing differences in their behaviour. One participant noted:

‘…if the child is a boy they can speak to women staff in intimidating ways…Girls cry more easily and don’t like confrontation situations.’ (QN9:1)

The sample in the current study was relatively small (25 participants from three primary schools), and was an opportunity sample. This means the results cannot be generalised to all Affected Children in primary school. If future research is to further investigate this issue, a large random sample from all primary schools in the UK should be used to gather results that are generalisable to the entire population. Once generalisable findings have been collected, the results may be considered sufficiently significant to influence educational policy and improve teachers and support staffs’ ability to identify and support Affected Children.

Further, more extensive research, possibly utilising face-to-face, semi-structured interviews should be conducted using a larger, random sample to produce generalisable results (Biau et al., 2008). The effect of children’s demographic variables (e.g. gender) on the results should also be investigated as the qualitative results allude to differences in behaviours between genders. If future research produces similar results to the current study, clear suggestions for changes in educational policy could be proposed – for example, reducing restrictions surrounding the sharing of information regarding Affected Children. The Department for Education and Skills (2006) place limitations on the transmission of this information. Participants stated that being able to freely share information would improve the school experience for Affected Children by allowing earlier access to support. However, it is important to take into account the possibility of negative repercussions should restrictions on information sharing be loosened – for example, risk of significant harm for Affected Children and families, issues with protecting individuals’
anonymity, and in severe cases, compromising police investigations (DfE, 2006).

The findings could be said to support improvement in Child Protection and Safeguarding (2010) training. Participants reported that the training they received was adequate, but could be improved with more focus on how to identify Affected Children. One participant pointed out that staff were well trained to notice physical signs of abuse, but not the emotional impact that experiencing DV could have on children. The results from the current study, if supported by findings from future research, could influence the content of educational staff training courses, offering guidance on what behaviours could aid the identification of Affected Children.

The findings may influence schools’ individual, internal policies regarding how the issue of DV is addressed to allow children more opportunities to disclose information to staff. A participant in the current study suggested that a ‘worry box’ should be used as a tool to encourage children to come forward without feeling intimidated or apprehensive about finding a member of staff to speak to directly.

Education professionals are the adults children have most contact with outside their immediate families and are often the only other adults children interact with (DfE, 2003). Therefore, it is important that educationalists have the knowledge and ability to identify Affected Children, and are able to take the appropriate action to provide the child and/or their family access to support and guidance as quickly as possible. This research found that Affected Children were frequently observed exhibiting behaviours such as low selfworth and a lack of confidence. The National Association for Special Education Needs (NASEN, 2003) recognises that low self-worth and negative life experiences are significant barriers to learning. It is suggested that, for many children, schools could offer the best opportunities for developing resilience and increasing emotional well-being. In order to provide these opportunities, staff must be able to identify Affected Children. The findings of this research are significant because they provide a solid basis for further, extensive research into which behaviours, actions and personality traits may be evident in Affected Children and how to help educational staff to identify them. Changes could then begin to be made to the training staff receives, children may be identified sooner and support could be provided to the children and their families earlier.

Every child has the right to an effective education (HRA, 1998). Emotional and behavioural issues arising from ‘negative life experiences’ are barriers to educational success (NASEN, 2003). Therefore, to provide every child with equal opportunities and access to an effective education, identification and support for Affected Children is imperative.


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