An initiative that provided targeted supports to children fleeing domestic violence with their mothers should be extended and rolled out across the country, according to new research published by Trinity College.
The scheme, entitled Where I’m At, was established to provide tailored supports to the children to help with the trauma of entering refuge accommodation.
The pilot, which placed an emphasis on the importance of play, included the provision of a children’s support worker to help children at Meath Women’s Refuge and Support Services (MWRSS). Funding was provided with the support of the RTÉ Toy Show Appeal at Community Foundation Ireland, and the project engaged with 80 affected children last year.
In its assessment of the scheme’s impact, the Trinity report suggested the project made the transition into refuge accommodation more manageable for the children and the women involved and that the children’s support worker had been regarded as a key support.
The researchers recommended the pilot’s funding be extended so the scheme could be continued, that children’s support workers be made available in other refuges around Ireland and that programmes of play be further developed to help children, including those with disabilities or neurodivergence, better cope with their transition to the refuge.
Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children, said the research marked “the first time that we have heard directly from the children who are living through the horror and trauma of domestic abuse”.
“This research clearly highlights that children are also victims of that abuse and need to be considered in the design and resourcing of domestic refuges. It also spotlights the important role that a children support worker has in helping children to cope with trauma of having to flee their home and seek refuge within the care of others.
“I believe this research marries well with the commitments made by the State to recognise and support children as victims, in their own right.”
The researchers also propose a best-practice model of work with children in refuges in Ireland that involves three stages: welcome and assessment, programme and support development, and then help with transitioning out of the refuge.
Each stage, they say, is intended to include supports to help the children deal with the trauma they have suffered.
“When there is violence and abuse at home, children experience deep trauma which can last a lifetime,” said Katie Carry, children’s team leader at MWRSS. “Through one-to-one support, a focus on safety, creativity and play, children can be supported in their recovery and wellbeing.”
MWRSS chief executive Sinead Smith said the finding of the Trinity research “clearly show the huge impact of professional support for children who have experienced domestic violence and that these roles should be continued as a key component of refuge services going forward.
“We ask Tusla and the new domestic, gender and sexual violence unit at the Department of Justice to give serious consideration to mainstreaming these roles into local domestic violence services across the country.”