Growing Up Free of Violence and Abuse

Autorin: Karin Schönpflug

Domestic violence is an especially challenging problem for children. A recent IHS project aimed at building up knowledge for practical work with affected children. Also, the social costs of children witnessing violence in their homes as well as the monetary benefits of supporting those children were estimated.

Growing Up Free Of Violence and Abuse (GUFOVA) is a project funded by the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme of the European Union (REC-AG-2017 Project Number 810338). The Project was managed by Karin Schönpflug at the IHS and was based in five countries: Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, Germany, and the United Kingdom with 17 participating institutions, including women’s shelters, municipalities, and national ministries. The largest part of GUFOVA aimed at sharing knowledge and preparing training materials for the practical work with children who have witnessed direct or indirect violence in their homes. Core of the project was to network with international experts supporting the victims of domestic violence in order to create manuals for child-workers in a range of agencies coming into contact with children and their families, such as those working in shelters, municipalities, children’s organisations and the like. Patricia Bell developed, coordinated and authored these training materials together with Ravi Thiara and Christine Harrison, the project partners at the University of Warwick, U.K. In a second part of the project, Karin Schönpflug looked at economic costs connected to the violence experienced by children in their homes.

The impetus for the GUFOVA Project arose since domestic violence is a problem for a significant number of women, and many will have children living with them at the time. German statistics estimate that almost 25% of women experience domestic violence and half have children living with them at the time, whilst British studies indicate that 29.5% of all children are exposed to domestic violence before the age of 18.  Austria and Denmark report about one third of all women are experiencing domestic violence and the figure for Bosnia and Herzegovina was even higher at 38%. That a significant proportion of children will suffer the impact of living with domestic violence is clear from research, which has established that many women report domestic violence starting or escalating around the birth of their first child.  Pre-school children are, therefore, overrepresented in households where domestic violence is a problem and, consequently, women with dependent children are found to be three times more likely to be victims of domestic violence than women without dependent children. The first shelter was started in 1971 in England, where women and their children were offered life-saving support.  A current network of 1,914 shelters throughout Europe bears witness to the consistency of demand and the minimum recommendation of one family place for every 10,000 population, now enshrined in the Istanbul Convention, continues to be well justified. 

To help in the work with the children affected by violence in the homes, the GUFOVA project has held three international two-day meetings; in Vienna, Austria February 2019 focussing on what children living with domestic violence need; in Warwick, England in July 2019 focussing on the child-mother relationship and in Leipzig, Germany focussing on the child-father relationship. Training modules on these three topics were developed from these meetings and, despite COVID restrictions, field tested in multiagency trainings in Austria, England and Germany in 2020. Following feedback on this, the training manual was finalised and launched online in the fall of 2021.

The manual has been divided into three major sections looking at: 1. What children living with domestic violence experience and what they need; 2. The impact of living with violence on the child’s relationship to the mother; 3. The impact of living with violence on the child’s relationship to the father. Within each of the three categories, child, mother, father there are four modules, each of which addresses a specific situation (e.g. crisis intervention, parental separation, sexualised violence…). It is intended that each module represents a one-day training. All modules are described in detail, with room for flexible adaptations and they are supplemented with pre-made handouts. The manual and all training materials are translated into Danish, German and Serbian and all versions are available for free online from the project’s webpage Translations into other languages (specifically Ukrainian) have been planned.

The second part of GUFOVA is concerned with economic factors. Funding for vulnerable children is often precarious in public budgets even though children are suffering long term consequences as a result of living with domestic violence. The impact will depend on their specific situations/contexts, the frequency and severity of violence and a range of resiliency factors which can ameliorate the long-term consequences. Furthermore, the implications of not investing in children’s services, are a tremendous cost to society summing up in low educational attainment, reduced employment prospects and lifelong psychological and physical health difficulties. Finally, supporting children is also an invaluable support to their mothers. Therefore, GUFOVA aimed to provide practitioners and their institutions with a costing tool that might help them to convince potential public but also private funders that money spent on affected children is not only an ethically correct, but also an economically highly efficient choice. The tool consists of two parts: the first highlighting existing costs by making an estimation of the social costs of domestic violence involving children (which range from 4 to 6% of GDP in GUFOVA’s partner countries). The second part of the costing tool determines potential savings as the multiplied benefits of funding different types of intervention programs working with affected children. Figures and technical literature on costs of domestic violence concerning children are surprisingly scarce; and regarding monetary benefits of intervention programs, even less literature seemed available. Still, different beneficial factors could be identified, which were weighted for estimations in discussion with international experts. The efficiency of programs especially for kids in shelters was highlighted in those estimations. Both, a technical annex and the costing tool in national currencies (for the project countries) with an adjustment to purchasing power parities are freely available on the GUFOVA project’s website