Why Is Domestic Abuse So Prevalent During Pregnancy?

Why Is Domestic Abuse So Prevalent During Pregnancy? We ask our Therapeutic Lead, Brenda Evans.

Domestic abuse during pregnancy is devastating for the parent and causes harm to the unborn baby. The For Baby's Sake Trust is dedicated to understanding and preventing the harm caused by domestic abuse. What Is Domestic Abuse? Domestic abuse is any abusive behaviour between people aged 16 and over, who are connected to each other. It often happens behind closed doors in the home and can include emotional, verbal, physical, financial, and sexual abuse. Babies and children who grow up exposed to domestic abuse, are also victims.

What Makes Pregnancy a High-Risk Time for Domestic Abuse?

It is not inevitable that you will experience domestic abuse during your pregnancy, but we know it is a time of increased risk. 30% of all domestic abuse starts in pregnancy, rising to 40% in the period from pregnancy until baby’s second birthday.

It is important to know you are not alone, it’s never okay for you or your baby to experience domestic abuse, and to seek help as soon as possible. Every person who experiences domestic abuse will have their own story and situation, with different factors impacting on family life at the time.  This means many factors may increase the risk of domestic abuse during pregnancy. Here are some factors to consider:

  • History of abusive behaviours: If there is a history of abuse in your relationship, or your partner has used abusive behaviours before, there is an increased risk of domestic abuse during pregnancy.
  • Heightened stress: Pregnancy is an exciting time for many, but can also lead to significant physical, emotional, and financial stress. Stress can impact on mental and emotional health, and while it is never an excuse, may exacerbate abusive behaviours.
  • Control Dynamics: The person using abusive behaviours may feel threatened by the impending changes that a new baby brings, leading to increased attempts to assert control.
  • Jealousy and Attention Shifts: The person using abusive behaviours may feel jealous of the attention the unborn child is receiving, leading to increased abusive behaviour.

It is also a time of great excitement and can harness motivation for change with support, most people do set out to be poor parents but, are often ill-equipped to cope with the overwhelming feelings they experience that are rooted in their own unresolved trauma for childhood.

This does not make it okay. You must seek help as soon as possible if you experience domestic abuse.

How Does Domestic Abuse Affect you in pregnancy?

Domestic abuse during pregnancy can affect you in lots of ways:

  • Physical Harm: Abuse can result in direct physical harm, including bruises, fractures, and potentially life-threatening injuries. These injuries can complicate the pregnancy and pose serious risks to your health, and the health of your baby.
  • Mental Health Impact: The stress and trauma of abuse can lead to severe mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This mental strain can impact your ability to care for yourself and your baby.
  • Avoidance of regular health checks: Women might be reluctant to attend regular medical appointments for fear of abuse being exposed or to appease their possessive partners.
  • Risk of further isolation: Abusive partners might become more controlling leading to further restrictions on where their partner can go or who can come to the home.

What Are the Risks to the Unborn Baby?

The effects of domestic abuse extend to the unborn baby in several ways:

  • Preterm Birth: The stress and physical trauma associated with abuse can lead to preterm labour, which carries its own set of health risks for the baby.
  • Low Birth Weight: Babies born to parents experiencing abuse are more likely to have lower birth weights, which can lead to developmental delays and health issues.
  • Long-Term Health Consequences: Exposure to domestic abuse in the womb can have long-term physical and psychological effects on the child, including developmental and behavioural problems.
  • Increases in Cortisol Levels: Babies in utero are subjected to toxic stress which can influence the development and structure of their brains. This can lead to difficulties in regulating emotion, concentration levels, ability to retain information and manage social situations.
  • Hard to Settle with Increased Risk of Colic: Once born, babies may be hard to settle and present as fractious, making it difficult to establish routines.

What can I do if I’m worried about domestic abuse?

If you are pregnant and experiencing, or worried about experiencing, domestic abuse, you must seek help.

If you are at immediate risk of harm, contact the police. You can also contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000247 or talk to your midwife, health visitor or social worker (if you already have one).

What happens after you share your experience will depend on your circumstances. In every case, there should be an assessment of the risk to you and your baby, and a social worker is likely to conduct this.

Remember they are there to keep you and your baby safe and will work with you to take action to minimise risk.

Why is it important to identify domestic abuse in pregnancy and give help as soon as possible?

It is vital to identify signs of domestic abuse in pregnancy and provide help. The following can support with this:

  • Health Monitoring: Regular check-ups and monitoring can help identify signs of abuse early, allowing for timely intervention and support.
  • Support Systems: Access to supportive resources, such as counselling and safe housing, can significantly improve outcomes for both the parent and the unborn child.
  • Education and Awareness: Raising awareness about the prevalence and impact of domestic abuse during pregnancy is essential in encouraging people to seek help.

The For Baby’s Sake Trust emphasises the importance of recognising and addressing domestic abuse during pregnancy. 

By providing education, support, and resources, we aim to protect both parents and their babies from the impacts of abuse.

Learn more about our work with parents here

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What Is the Impact of Domestic Abuse on Babies and Children?

Domestic abuse impacts the whole family, and even the youngest children are deeply affected. The For Baby's Sake Trust is dedicated to raising awareness of the impact of domestic abuse on babies and children, understanding that these impacts are crucial for breaking the cycle of abuse and fostering healthier futures for affected families.
Understanding the Impact of Domestic Abuse on Babies and Infants

Babies and infants who experience domestic abuse – from conception to around age two – are at risk of a range of negative impacts: 

Developmental Delays: Exposure to abuse and stress in utero and during early infancy can impact a baby’s physical and cognitive development. Stress hormones released in response to trauma can affect brain development and functioning. There is a higher risk miscarriage, the baby being born prematurely and of having a low birth weight. 

Attachment Issues: Babies need consistent loving care to form secure attachments. An abusive environment disrupts this process, often leading to insecure attachment styles. These babies may struggle with trust and forming healthy relationships as they grow. 

The Effects of Domestic Abuse on Young Children

Children who experience domestic abuse often suffer a range of emotional, behavioural, and physical issues: 

Emotional Distress: Fear, anxiety, and depression are common among children in abusive households. They may live in constant fear, impacting their overall emotional health. 

Behavioural Problems: These children might display aggression, withdrawal, or other behavioural issues at school and in social settings. They may struggle with authority figures and have difficulty forming peer relationships. 

Health Issues: Chronic exposure to stress can lead to physical health problems such as headaches, stomach aches, and a weakened immune system. These children may also experience sleep disturbances and bedwetting. 

The Impact of Domestic Abuse on Adolescents

As children grow into adolescence, the impact of domestic abuse can become more complex: 

Risky Behaviours: Young people may turn to substance abuse, self-harm, or engage in violent behaviour as coping mechanisms. These behaviours are often cries for help and signals of underlying trauma. 

Relationship Issues: Witnessing or experiencing abuse can normalise unhealthy relationship dynamics. These adolescents are at a higher risk of becoming involved in abusive relationships themselves, perpetuating the cycle of abuse. 

Mental Health Struggles: Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts are prevalent among adolescents from abusive homes. They may also struggle with identity and self-worth, impacting their ability to succeed in school and other areas of life. 

Understanding Developmental Trauma

An understanding of developmental trauma is vital when working with children who have experienced trauma. Developmental trauma can be described as fear-inducing incidents that are repeated in a child’s life, rather than it being a one-off significant event. When the traumatic stressors are interpersonal – premeditated and perpetrated in relationships of care – it’s more damaging and constitutes complex trauma (Kezelman, 2012). Experiencing domestic abuse is a form of complex trauma. These traumatic experiences have detrimental neurological and health implications for children. 

Professor Bessel Van der Kolk states that early trauma creates an ‘assault’ on the child’s development over time. This is supported by Shore, who explains that trauma, abuse, and neglect inhibit the natural expansion of neural pathways forming within the infant’s rapidly developing brain, causing damage. Van der Kolk suggests that trauma threatens our survival and triggers our non-verbal response, immediately activating the body’s regulatory systems and increasing their sensitivity to perceived danger. Traumatised children are often ‘developmentally stuck’ in their brain stem, responsible for the fight/flight/freeze response. Whilst stuck in the brain stem, they find it more challenging to form secure attachments, manage emotions, think, learn, or reflect because they are simply trying to stay alive in a perceived dangerous world. 

How Can We Help Babies and Children Impacted by Domestic Abuse? 

Early help and ongoing support can make a significant difference in the lives of children affected by domestic abuse: 

Professional Counselling: Therapy can help children process their experiences and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Trauma-informed care is particularly effective in addressing these children’s complex needs. 

Safe Environments: Providing a stable, safe, and nurturing environment is crucial. This includes ensuring the child’s physical and emotional safety and creating a supportive atmosphere where they can express their feelings and fears. 

Educational Support: Schools have an opportunity to provide the stable, safe, and nurturing environment that these children urgently need. School staff play a key role in identifying and supporting children who are experiencing domestic abuse, role-modelling healthy relationships, and educating children of all ages about what it means to have a healthy relationship. 

Breaking the Cycle of Domestic Abuse 

Breaking the cycle of domestic abuse requires a comprehensive approach: 

Education and Awareness: Raising awareness about the impact of domestic abuse on children is essential. This includes educating parents, caregivers, and the broader community about the signs of abuse and the importance of intervention. 

Support for Parents: Helping parents who have experienced abuse to heal and develop healthier parenting skills is crucial. Programmes like For Baby’s Sake that offer therapeutic support and education can prevent the further perpetuation of abusive behaviours. 

Policy and Advocacy: Advocating for policies protecting children and supporting families is vital. This includes ensuring that laws are in place to protect children from domestic abuse and that there are sufficient resources for enforcement and support. 

The Role of Attachment and Safety in Development

Safety is the springboard of family life and human development and the foundation of Attachment theory. Establishing and maintaining a sense of being safe (along with actual safety itself) is the primary function of attachment figures. 

Once safety has been established, an infant is ready to begin to learn about the world and is much more likely to accept and be influenced by parental guidance and rules. 

Addressing Unresolved Childhood Trauma

Children who have suffered trauma need a different kind of parenting to help them “rewire” their “smoke detectors” and build new pathways in their brains. These children need parenting underpinned by empathy, nurture, clear boundaries, and natural consequences. This will enable them to link cause and effect and start to make attachments and trust adults again. 

Standard parenting techniques may replicate early abuse, and many rely heavily on the child’s ability to self-regulate, which is often unrealistic. Traumatised children may overreact, be aggressive, over-controlling, hypersensitive, and have overwhelming shame and fear of abandonment. 

The Importance of PACE

For every child and parent, home should be a place of safety and growth. When home functions as a secure base and safe haven, it is characterised by qualities of Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, and Empathy (PACE). 

 

PACE encapsulates an attitude that cherishes and invites development without harming the development of others. It conveys the awareness that each person is special and that both the rights of parents and children are respected. 

Conclusion

In summary, addressing the impacts of domestic abuse and trauma on babies and children requires a multi-faceted approach that includes understanding developmental trauma, providing professional support, creating safe environments, and educating and supporting both children and their parents

 

By doing so, we can help break the cycle of abuse and promote healthier, safer futures for affected families. 

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Why Do We Avoid Language Like “Domestic Violence”, “Perpetrator”, and “Victim”? Our Therapeutic Lead, Brenda Evans, Explains 

Language plays a powerful role in shaping our understanding and response to domestic abuse. Adopting considerate, appropriate, and non-judgmental language enhances empathy, clarity, and compassion; and a clearer understanding of each other as complex individuals with intersectional and varied identities and experiences. Definitive, negative labelling is reductive, dehumanising and, harmful and will do little to create the trust required to develop a framework for change. 

The For Baby’s Sake Trust advocates for mindful use of language to promote healing and empowerment. Terms like “domestic violence”, “perpetrator”, and “victim” carry significant weight and can influence how we perceive and address these issues. However, we are parent-led as an organisation, and will always opt to use the language chosen by our parents in whatever context is required. Nonetheless, you will see us avoid using “domestic violence”, “perpetrator”, and “victim” wherever possible in our work.  

Why Is Language Important in the Context of Domestic Abuse?

Why Is Language Important in the Context of Domestic Abuse? 

Language shapes our understanding and approach to domestic abuse: 

  • Stigmatisation: Terms like “victim” and “perpetrator” can reinforce stigma and perpetuate a sense of helplessness or blame. These labels can make it difficult for individuals to see beyond their current circumstances or to believe that change is possible. 
  • Empowerment: Using language that empowers individuals rather than defining them by their experiences is crucial for supporting healing and personal development. It helps them reclaim their identity and agency. 

Why Do We Avoid the Term "Domestic Violence"?

The term “domestic violence” can be limiting: 

  • Broader Context: Domestic abuse encompasses more than just physical violence. It includes emotional, psychological, sexual, and financial abuse. Using the term “domestic violence” can overlook these other forms of abuse. 
  • Focus on Violence: The term “violence” focuses on physical acts, which can minimise the severity of non-physical abuse. It is important to recognise and address all forms of abuse to provide comprehensive support and intervention. 

Why Do We Prefer the Term "Survivor" Over "Victim"?

Referring to individuals as “survivors” rather than “victims” has a profound impact: 

  • Emphasising Strength: The term “survivor” highlights the individual’s strength and resilience. It shifts the focus from what was done to them to their capacity to overcome and move forward. 
  • Promoting Agency: Using “survivor” reinforces the idea that individuals have the power to reclaim their lives and make positive changes. It helps in building self-esteem and empowerment. 

Why Avoid the Term "Perpetrator" or “Perp”?

The term “perpetrator” can be dehumanising and counterproductive: 

  • Focus on Behaviour: Instead of labelling someone as a “perpetrator”, we prefer to describe them as a “person who causes harm” or “uses abusive behaviour”. This focuses on the behaviour rather than the identity, reinforcing the belief that change is possible. 
  • Encouraging Responsibility: Shifting the focus from labels to behaviours encourages those who cause harm to take responsibility and seek change. It promotes accountability and the possibility of rehabilitation. 
  • Supporting Inclusion: Focussing on the individual using abusive behaviours rather than using labels like “perpetrator” or “perp” can help to remove pre-conceived ideas or bias surrounding these labels.  

How Does Language Impact Healing?

Mindful use of language promotes healing and empowerment: 

  • Promoting Agency: Empowering language helps survivors regain control and agency over their lives. It reinforces their ability to heal and move forward. 
  • Encouraging Responsibility: Using language that focuses on behaviour rather than identity encourages those who cause harm to take responsibility and make positive changes. 
  • Creating a Supportive Environment: Mindful language fosters a more supportive and empathetic environment. It helps to reduce stigma that can be a barrier to seeking help and promote understanding and compassion. 

How Does The For Baby's Sake Trust Implement These Principles?

At The For Baby’s Sake Trust, we are committed to using and promoting language that supports healing and transformation: 

  • Education and Training: We provide education and training on the importance of language in addressing domestic abuse. This includes workshops and resources for professionals, survivors, and the community. 
  • Resource Development: Our resources and materials reflect our commitment to empowering language. We ensure that all communications promote healing and support. 
  • Advocacy: We advocate for the use of empowering language in policies and programmes 

addressing domestic abuse. By promoting these principles, we aim to break down stigmas that prevent people seeking help for domestic abuse. 

In conclusion, The For Baby’s Sake Trust is dedicated to breaking cycles of domestic abuse by removing barriers that prevent families seeking help. Addressing our use of language is a vital step in addressing stigma surrounding domestic abuse. By understanding these complex issues and using empowering language, we can work towards healthier, safer relationships and communities. 

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Have I experienced trauma? Exploring trauma with our Therapeutic Lead, Brenda Evans 

Trauma is a complicated experience that affects many people worldwide.

At The For Baby's Sake Trust, we are dedicated to understanding how trauma impacts family life and breaking the cycle of domestic abuse.

Recognising the signs of trauma and finding ways to overcome it are important steps towards healing and recovery.

What Is a Traumatic Event?

A traumatic event is any experience that overwhelms your ability to cope. These events can be very different from each other, but they are usually unexpected, harmful, and not like the usual day-to-day experiences.  

Examples of Traumatic Events: 

  • Natural Disasters: Earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes. 
  • Violence and Abuse: Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, domestic abuse, and witnessing abuse; bullying and harassment  
  • Discriminatory Abuse: Racism, homophobia, transphobia, gendered abuse, misogyny, disablism.  
  • Accidents: Serious car accidents, workplace injuries, or other sudden, severe incidents. 
  • Loss: The sudden death of a loved one or significant loss like job loss or financial loss. 
  • Medical Issues: Personal Diagnoses of life-threatening illnesses or severe medical interventions; close family friends diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses or requiring intensive care 

Trauma can come from a single big event or from many small experiences. Ongoing bullying, chronic work stress, or being in a negative environment can add up over time and have the same emotional and psychological impact as a major traumatic event. It’s important to recognise and address this to understand the full impact of trauma on mental health and well-being.

How Do I Recognise Signs and Symptoms of Trauma?

  • Recognising trauma can be difficult because its signs and symptoms can vary and show up differently in different people. No two people will respond to an event in the same way either – and so it is important to consider signs and symptoms on an individual basis. 

Here are some potential signs to watch out for. 

Emotional Signs: 

  • Anxiety and Fear: Persistent feelings of anxiety, fear, and panic attacks. 
  • Depression: Ongoing sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy. 
  • Irritability and Anger: Unexplained anger, irritability, and mood swings. 

 Physical Signs: 

  • Exhaustion: Constant tiredness, even with adequate rest. 
  • Aches and Pains: Unexplained physical pain, such as headaches or stomach aches. 
  • Sleep Disturbances: Insomnia, nightmares, and restless sleep. 

 Cognitive Signs: 

  • Concentration Issues: Difficulty focusing, memory problems, and confusion. 
  • Intrusive Thoughts: Persistent, unwanted thoughts or flashbacks of the traumatic event. 

Behavioural Signs: 

  • Avoidance: Avoiding places, people, or activities that are reminders of the traumatic event. 
  • Isolation: Withdrawing from friends, family, and social activities. 
  • Substance Abuse: Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or other substances to cope with the emotional pain. 

Recognising these signs can help in identifying trauma and seeking appropriate help. 

What Are the Signs of Trauma?

Understanding the signs of trauma can help with getting the right support. Trauma can affect an individual’s emotional, physical, cognitive, and behavioural states. 

Emotional Impact: 

  • Hyperarousal: Being easily startled, feeling tense or “on edge”, and having difficulty relaxing. 
  • Emotional Numbness: Feeling detached from oneself and one’s surroundings, or a lack of emotional responsiveness. 

 Physical Symptoms: 

  • Somatic Complaints: Experiencing physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, and chronic pain without a clear medical cause. 
  • Changes in Appetite: Significant changes in eating habits, leading to weight loss or gain. 

 Cognitive Effects: 

  • Memory Problems: Difficulty recalling details of the traumatic event or other important information. 
  • Negative Thinking: Persistent negative thoughts about oneself, others, or the world. 

 Behavioural Changes: 

  • Risky Behaviours: Engaging in potentially harmful activities, such as reckless driving or unsafe sexual practices. 
  • Regression: Reverting to earlier stages of development, especially in children (e.g., bedwetting, thumb-sucking). 

By recognising these signs, individuals and their support networks can take steps towards seeking help and addressing the trauma. 

What is the Impact of Childhood Trauma?

Unresolved trauma creates symptoms instead of memories. To have a chance of understanding the person we are now, we need to understand who we were then, as a child.  

Children who have suffered trauma need a different kind of parenting to help them “rewire” their “smoke detectors” and build new pathways in their brains. These children need parenting that is underpinned by empathy, nurture, clear boundaries, and natural consequences. This will enable them over a prolonged period to begin to link cause and effect and start to make attachments and trust adults again.  

Standard parenting techniques may replicate early abuse, and many rely heavily on the child’s ability to self-regulate which is often unrealistic and crucially standardised “good parenting” doesn’t go far enough in healing the child. It assumes a basic level of security, empathy, resilience, and self-regulation that is simply not present in a traumatised child.  

Traumatised children may overreact, be aggressive, over controlling, hypersensitive, have difficulty in sensing hunger, pain and have overwhelming shame and fear of abandonment that is often all consuming. 

Safety is the springboard of family life and human development and the foundation of attachment theory. Without safety we would not have the opportunity to develop to maturity and reaching our potential would be greatly compromised as our brains do not function as well because when we feel unsafe, our priority is to feel safe again and that becomes our primary focus.  

Establishing and maintaining a sense of being safe (along with actual safety itself) is the primary function of attachment figures.  Once safety has been established, an infant is ready to begin to learn about the world and they are much more likely to accept and be influenced by parental guidance and rules, values, judgements, experiences, and intentions. 

When a child experiences acute, intense fear, pain or abuse their sense of safety is greatly impaired and are at risk of developing a traumatic response which might create an associated psychological problem. Attachment security, whereby a child can achieve a sense of security or manage the pain or fear serves as the best protection against the development of a traumatic response as well as encouraging the quickest resolution of any traumatic response that might develop.  

If any projected fears  from the parents are absorbed by the child – “he will never be the same again” he will actually be at greater risk to “never be the same again” Following trauma children experience intense affective and physical dysregulation – screaming, shouting, repetitive movements and expressions and staying with them in a congruent way that matches this state will allow them to release the terror through movements and expressions – this is the process of co regulation whereby the child’s dysregulated state is assisted.  

Once there has been some affective and physical mastery of a traumatic experience, cognitive mastery can develop with support from attachment figures. 

How Can I Heal From Trauma?

Healing from trauma is a deeply personal process, but it is possible to make progress with the right support and strategies. Here are some steps that can help: 

Seeking Professional Help: 

  • Therapy: Engaging with a therapist, especially one who specialises in trauma, can help. Types of therapy include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), and trauma-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy (TF-CBT). 
  • Support Groups: Joining support groups where individuals share similar experiences can provide comfort and understanding. 

 Building a Support System: 

  • Friends and Family: Leaning on trusted friends and family members for support can make a significant difference. Open communication about your experiences and needs is vital. 
  • Community Resources: Seeking help from local support groups, helplines, and non-profit organisations like The For Baby’s Sake Trust. 

 Self-Care and Coping Strategies: 

  • Mindfulness and Relaxation: Practising mindfulness, meditation, yoga and relaxation techniques to manage stress and anxiety. 
  • Healthy Lifestyle: Maintaining a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep to support overall well-being. 
  • Creative Outlets: Engaging in creative activities like writing, art, or music can provide an emotional release and a way to process experiences. 

 Education and Understanding: 

  • Learning About Trauma: finding out more about trauma and its effects can provide helpful insights. Understanding that trauma is a normal response to abnormal events can be empowering and help you to feel less alone. 
  • Patience and Compassion: Being kind to yourself and recognising that healing takes time. Self-compassion is crucial in navigating this journey. 

How Does The For Baby’s Sake Trust help people

The For Baby’s Sake Trust is dedicated to supporting families affected by domestic abuse through: 

Trauma-informed, Therapeutic Support:  

  • Therapeutic Practitioners work with parents from pregnancy until their baby is two to get to the root cause of domestic abuse. 

Educational Resources:  

  • Providing information and resources about domestic abuse and trauma, their effects, and coping strategies. 

Community Outreach and Campaigning:  

  • Working within our communities to raise awareness about domestic abuse and trauma, trauma and promoting supportive, healthy environments and relationships. 

In conclusion

Trauma can have a big impact on someone’s life. It’s important to recognise signs of trauma and learn what can help you to heal The For Baby’s Sake Trust is here to help every step of the way, with resources, education, and compassionate care. 

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Can Domestic Abuse Happen in LGBTQ+ Relationships?  

Data from Galop highlights that 20% of LGBTQ+ people in the UK have experienced domestic abuse from a partner, and yet, insights from Stonewall show that only 1 in 8 LGBTQ+ individuals who experienced violence or abuse reported the incident to the police.  

With Galop also citing that 1 in 3 LGBTQ+ people in the UK have experienced abuse from relatives, and acknowledging significant rates of underreporting, domestic abuse in LGBTQ+ relationships presents a significant challenge.  

Can domestic abuse happen in LGBTQ+ relationships?

Absolutely, domestic abuse can and does occur in LGBTQ+ relationships. While mainstream conversations often focus on heterosexual relationships, it’s crucial to recognise that abuse knows no boundaries and can affect anyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Studies indicate that domestic abuse is a significant issue within the LGBTQ+ community. For instance, a report by Stonewall in 2018 found that one in six gay or bisexual men and two in five lesbian or bisexual women had experienced domestic abuse in their relationships. These statistics underline the importance of addressing domestic abuse within all types of relationships. 

What forms does domestic abuse take in LGBTQ+ relationships?

Domestic abuse in LGBTQ+ relationships can manifest in various forms, including physical violence, emotional abuse, financial control, and sexual abuse. Additionally, there are unique aspects of abuse specific to LGBTQ+ individuals. Those who use abusive behaviours might threaten to “out” their partners to family, friends, or employers as a form of control. They may also undermine their partner’s identity, for instance, by refusing to use correct pronouns or names. Understanding these specific tactics is essential for recognising and addressing abuse within the LGBTQ+ community. 

Are there unique challenges faced by LGBTQ+ individuals experiencing domestic abuse? 

LGBTQ+ individuals often face unique challenges when it comes to domestic abuse. For one, there is a lack of representation and awareness, which can make it difficult for individuals to recognise their experiences as abusive. Societal stigma and discrimination can also lead to feelings of isolation and shame, preventing individuals from seeking help. Moreover, fear of not being taken seriously or facing homophobia and transphobia from service providers can further deter LGBTQ+ individuals from accessing support. 

How does domestic abuse impact routes to parenthood for LGBTQ+ individuals? 

Domestic abuse can significantly impact routes to parenthood for LGBTQ+ individuals. The process of becoming a parent can be complex and challenging for LGBTQ+ couples, often involving adoption, surrogacy, or assisted reproductive technologies. Abuse can complicate these already intricate processes. For instance, the stress and trauma of an abusive relationship can affect mental health and stability, which are crucial for navigating legal and bureaucratic requirements. Additionally, those who use abusive behaviours might sabotage these processes, either by withholding financial resources, interfering with medical appointments, or threatening to expose the relationship in ways that could affect custody or adoption proceedings. Further, those who are experiencing abuse may feel reluctant to disclose or report the abuse for fear of it disrupting their route to parenthood.  

What can be done to improve support for LGBTQ+ individuals facing domestic abuse?

Improving support for LGBTQ+ individuals experiencing domestic abuse requires a multi-faceted approach. First, there needs to be increased awareness and education about the prevalence and nature of domestic abuse in LGBTQ+ relationships. This can help reduce stigma and encourage individuals to seek help. Service providers, including police, healthcare professionals, and social workers, should receive training on LGBTQ+ issues to ensure they can offer sensitive and appropriate support. It’s also essential to expand and promote services specifically designed for LGBTQ+ individuals, such as those offered by charities like Galop. 

Which charities and organisations can help LGBTQ+ individuals facing domestic abuse?

Several organisations provide specialised support for LGBTQ+ individuals experiencing domestic abuse. Galop is a UK-based charity that offers confidential support and advice to LGBTQ+ individuals who experience abusive behaviours. They have a helpline and various resources tailored to the unique needs of the LGBTQ+ community. Stonewall, another prominent LGBTQ+ charity, provides information and resources on domestic abuse and can help direct individuals to appropriate support services. Additionally, organisations like the LGBT Foundation offer valuable support and advocacy for LGBTQ+ individuals facing domestic abuse. And, organisations like Switchboard, the national LGBTQ+ support line, are available to discuss any issues you might be facing.  

In summary

Domestic abuse is a serious issue that affects individuals in LGBTQ+ relationships just as it does those in heterosexual relationships. It can take many forms and is often compounded by unique challenges related to societal stigma and discrimination. Understanding these dynamics and ensuring that appropriate support is available is crucial. By raising awareness, improving training for service providers, and promoting specialised support services, services and programmes like For Baby’s Sake can better support LGBTQ+ individuals facing domestic abuse.  

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, don’t hesitate to reach out to organisations like Galop, Stonewall or the National Domestic Abuse Helpline for support and guidance.

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Can People Change? We Ask Our Therapeutic Lead, Brenda Evans

The question of whether individuals, particularly those who have used abusive behaviour, can change is complex and multifaceted.

We explored this with Brenda Evans, the Therapeutic Lead at The For Baby's Sake Trust. Brenda provides valuable insights into the potential for behavioural change and the factors that influence it.

What Does Research Say About Behavioural Change?

Research suggests that behavioural change is possible but challenging, especially for those with a history of abusive behaviour:

  • Nature vs. Nurture: Both genetic predispositions and environmental factors contribute to behaviour. While genetics can influence tendencies, environmental factors and experiences play a significant role in shaping behaviour.
  • Therapeutic Interventions: Evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and trauma-informed care, can help individuals recognise and alter harmful behaviours. These therapies focus on understanding the root causes of behaviour and developing healthier coping mechanisms.

What Are the Key Factors in Facilitating Change?

Several factors are crucial in facilitating behavioural change:

  • Motivation and Commitment: The individual’s genuine desire to change and commitment to the process are fundamental. Without this, any change is likely to be superficial and unsustainable.
  • Accountability: Accepting responsibility for one’s actions is a significant hurdle. Those who use abusive behaviours must acknowledge their behaviour and its impact to begin the journey of change.
  • Support Systems: Professional help, such as therapy and counselling, is vital. Additionally, a supportive network of family and friends can reinforce positive changes and provide a buffer against relapse.
  • Meaningful, Trusting, Collaborative, Therapeutic Relationship: Relationships heal relationships. Establishing a strong therapeutic relationship between the individual and their professional is essential. This relationship provides a safe space for individuals to explore their behaviours and emotions, fostering trust and collaboration. A professional’s empathy, understanding, and non-judgmental approach are critical in helping the individual feel supported and motivated to change.

What Are the Challenges in Changing Abusive Behaviour?

Changing abusive behaviour is fraught with challenges:

  • Deep-Rooted Patterns: Abusive behaviours are often deeply ingrained, making change a slow and challenging process. It requires persistent effort and ongoing support.
  • Resistance to Change: Many individuals resist change due to fear, denial, or a lack of understanding about the impact of their actions. Overcoming this resistance is a critical step in the process.
  • Social Conditioning, Learnt Behaviours, Flawed Belief Systems & Scripts: Abusive behaviours are often reinforced by societal norms and personal experiences. Individuals may have internalised flawed belief systems and scripts that justify their actions, making it difficult to unlearn these patterns and adopt healthier behaviours.
  • Lack of Emotional Regulation: Those who use abusive behaviours often struggle with regulating their emotions, leading to outbursts of anger and aggression. Developing emotional regulation skills through therapeutic support and practice is essential for sustainable change.
  • Unresolved Childhood Trauma: Many individuals who exhibit abusive behaviours have experienced trauma in their own childhoods. Addressing these unresolved issues through therapy is crucial for breaking the cycle of abuse and fostering healthy behaviours.

Are There Success Stories Demonstrating that People Can Change?

Brenda shares that while change is challenging requiring longer-term support, it is not impossible. The For Baby’s Sake Trust has achieved successful outcomes for hundreds of individuals and their families who have transformed their lives and relationships through dedication and support:

  • Personal Growth: Many individuals who genuinely commit to the process and engage with therapeutic support can and do change. They learn healthier ways to cope with stress and manage relationships.
  • Family Healing: Families can heal and rebuild trust over time. This requires patience, understanding, and a willingness to forgive and move forward.
  • Increased Self-Awareness & Self-Worth: Individuals develop a deeper understanding of themselves and their behaviours, leading to increased self-awareness. This awareness fosters a sense of self-worth and empowers individuals to make positive changes in their lives.
  • Providing a Safe, Loving Home Environment Where Children Can Flourish: Creating a safe and nurturing home environment is essential for children’s well-being. Through behavioural change, individuals can provide a stable and loving home where children feel secure and can thrive.

Increased Sense of Self: As individuals work through their issues and develop healthier behaviours, they often experience an increased sense of self. This newfound confidence and self-assurance contribute to their overall well-being and ability to maintain positive changes.

What Role Does The For Baby's Sake Trust Play in Enabling People to Change?

The For Baby’s Sake Trust is committed to supporting individuals and families on their journey towards healthier relationships:

  • Therapeutic Support: We offer trauma-informed, therapeutic support, designed to identify the root causes of abusive behaviour, understand the impact of their own parenting experiences, improve emotional regulation and be the best parents they can be.
  • Support for Families: We provide resources and support for families affected by abuse and those using harmful behaviours, helping them to heal and build stronger, more supportive relationships.
  • Education and Advocacy: We work to raise awareness about the potential for change and the importance of support and intervention. By advocating for policies and programs that support behavioural change, we aim to create a safer, healthier environment for all.

In conclusion, while changing abusive behaviour is challenging, it is possible with the right support and commitment. The For Baby’s Sake Trust is dedicated to providing the resources and support needed to facilitate this change and promote healthier, safer relationships.

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An interview with our Guest Contributor, Jess Yeaman-Smith 

“There are often assumptions made about the priorities and parenting capacity of people in custody. After holding back tears on countless prison family days, I can confidently state that some of the most committed and caring parents I have met were in these environments.”

We were thrilled to learn more from our Guest Contributor, Jess Yeaman-Smith, about her work supporting families across Blackpool as a Custodial Family Worker and Student Social Worker.

Jess Yeaman-Smith has been a Family Worker with Blackpool Children’s Services for 3 years. She has worked across both Edge of Care and Our Children teams, and is trained to deliver Solution Focused Brief Therapy. Jess has also been a Custodial Family Worker within the secure estate for 6 years, supporting prisoners and their families in line with the recommendations of the Farmer Review (2017). In 2021, Jess graduated from Lancaster University with a first-class degree in Criminology; her research was focused on the Human Rights of juvenile defendants in Crown Court proceedings. She is currently undertaking a Social Work Degree Apprenticeship – which she will graduate from in 2025 – and is on placement with the For Baby’s Sake team within Blackpool’s Early Help service.

Please note, all views reflected are the individual’s own, and not representative of their employer. 

Jess, can you tell us about your journey into social work and your placement with the For Baby’s Sake team in Blackpool?

I grew up in an area with high rates of socio-economic deprivation, crime, and statutory service involvement but was lucky to be part of a loving family with a reasonable amount of structural and financial stability. From a young age, I was aware of the differing levels of privilege within my community. I was also aware that my own privilege was simply a product of luck; children do not get to choose the environments they grow up in, and no individual child is more fundamentally deserving of safety, security, or happiness than another.

This lay the foundations for my professional journey. I found myself working in Blackpool’s Edge of Care team at the tail-end of the COVID-19 pandemic, supporting children at risk of being accommodated by the local authority to safely remain at home with their families. I loved this work and the fact that it was fundamentally underpinned by the “Blackpool Families Rock” model of practice. Since starting my placement on For Baby’s Sake, my belief in these principles has been reaffirmed and I have benefitted hugely from being immersed in the team’s truly trauma-informed, person-centred, and empowerment-led way of working.

As a social work apprentice with the Supporting Our Children and Carers team, could you describe a typical day or week in your role?

Supporting Our Children and Carers is a specialist team which uses evidence-based interventions to promote stability for children in local authority care. We support children at all stages of care proceedings, navigating the legislative landscape of Interim and Full Care Orders, Section 20 Agreements, and Remand to Local Authority Accommodation. I particularly enjoy supporting children and young people who are returning home to their families, and those who are transitioning to independence as they approach Care Leaving age. We visit children and their carers on a regular basis to understand what they want their lives and relationships to look like. The team is trained in Solution Focused Brief Therapy; the people we support are encouraged to reflect on their existing strengths and strategies in relation to small signs of progress towards their “best hopes”. This approach is adapted and diversified to ensure it remains accessible and engaging for everyone we work with.

We work in partnership with allocated social workers and other professionals to ensure consistency and continuity of care, attending multi-agency meetings and advocating for children’s wishes and feelings. The team employs creative methods to explore specific issues with children and young people – helping them to make sense of their circumstances, facilitating their reintegration into education, and supporting them to maintain important relationships. Our knowledge of the children and young people we support is particularly valuable when they move to new homes, and we work closely with foster carers/residential staff to manage these transitions as safely as possible. We are lucky on the Supporting Our Children and Carers team, to spend quality time with families and build particularly strong and meaningful relationships with them.

What has been your proudest moment so far during your placement with the For Baby’s Sake team?

Although it’s not a moment of my own, I am particularly proud of a For Baby’s Sake dad I am working with who – in the face of challenging circumstances – has made huge progress recently. Despite not always finding it easy to maintain stability in his life, he is the most naturally capable dad I have ever worked with and he comes into his own when he is with his children. He once told me “I don’t know how to explain it, but being a dad is just in my bones” and I don’t think I could sum him up any better than that.

Soon after I became professionally involved, this dad was remanded into custody following an extended period of active addiction. I have continued to see him weekly, which has taken resilience and commitment on his part as we have had some difficult conversations about really emotive topics. He is now in employment within the prison, has not used substances since being arrested, actively participates in our sessions, and presents as healthy and hopeful for the future. We are now in the process of planning for his release, to ensure that he has the stability, structure, and support he needs to continue in this direction. He is working hard to become the best version of himself for his children, and I consider myself lucky to have played even a very small part in that journey.

What advice would you give to other social work students or aspiring social workers based on your experiences?

You will meet people who inspire you and who infuriate you; children who tell you things that break your heart and show bravery that puts it back together again, and families who you continue to think about years after your work ends. Every interaction is meaningful. The people we work with are all human beings before they are “service users”, “clients”, “cases”, or “participants”. Taking the time to get to know and connect with them as people first is instrumental in practicing in a truly trauma-informed and child-centred way.

The moments which seem the scariest are the ones you learn the most from. Social work is rarely represented accurately, and I don’t think that learning about it in a classroom ever prepares you for the reality. Take opportunities when they present themselves and get as much real-world experience as possible; it helps to contextualise your work and develop self-confidence in your professional abilities. That said, I’m not sure I will ever stop feeling imposter syndrome so it’s important to look after yourself. Know your own limits, take time to rest, and surround yourself with people who support you and understand your values.

Considering your experience as a custodial family worker, how do you see yourself making a difference in the lives of vulnerable families?

I have spent 6 years supporting male prisoners and their families, and seen first-hand that social work is one of the rare sectors where men are sidelined in policy, planning, and practice. This is particularly the case when they do not live with their children – custody creates a uniquely powerful barrier. Social work professionals have been observed to take an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to paternal imprisonment, which leaves fathers struggling to make sense of the services involved in their children’s lives. I have worked with men who have not been consulted at any stage of Care Proceedings for their children, men who have been excluded from contributing to Family Court hearings, and even men who have been told that their children are being adopted during their final family time.

There are often assumptions made about the priorities and parenting capacity of people in custody. After holding back tears on countless prison family days, I can confidently state that some of the most committed and caring parents I have met were in these environments. Despite this, findings suggest a “strong tendency among workers to overlook fathers’ involvement”, with dads often reporting minimal and delayed inclusion in social work plans. Supporting dads through these challenging and emotional circumstances has been one of the most significant influences upon my practice, affirming my commitment to ethical and rights-based social work, which takes a whole family approach and treats parents equitably regardless of gender.

How has your placement with The For Baby’s Sake Trust team influenced your career aspirations or goals?

Until now, the majority of my work in Blackpool has been with teenagers. I came into this placement with very little experience of supporting families with babies or young children and was initially somewhat resistant to this change. Reflecting on my time with For Baby’s Sake however, working alongside this team has broadened my knowledge and deepened my understanding of social work in ways I didn’t anticipate.

For Baby’s Sake support families throughout pregnancy and their involvement can continue until the child’s 2nd birthday, giving me opportunities to work with children across their “first 1001 critical days”. Although the team work with families across every level of Children’s Social Care, they are based in the Early Help Family Hubs and are directly accessible when people need immediate support. This has significantly impacted my understanding of where our work should start, as the success of the For Baby’s Sake programme demonstrates the importance of preventative and empowering, community-based social work.

Looking ahead, what do you hope to achieve personally and professionally in the field of social work?

I would love to explore custodial social work opportunities, but these roles are few and far-between. Given the disproportionate rate of care-experienced people within the secure estate, as well as the vicarious impact of parental imprisonment on children, I believe that every UK prison should have at least one one-site social worker. In the absence of this, I am drawn to statutory safeguarding – working with families to develop and deliver intensive plans of support which enable children and young people to remain at home safely. There is high staff turnover in this sector, as well as extremely demanding workload pressures and resource limitations which can make effective and ethical social work difficult. I hope that emerging changes to the structure of Children’s Social Care will contribute to an environment where professionals can work in true collaboration with families to achieve positive outcomes for children and young people.

Thank you for sharing, Jess! 
 

If you’d like to be involved in our Guest Contributor series, please email daisyobrien@forbabyssake.org.uk.

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Euro 2024: A Celebration Marred by Domestic Abuse and Its Impact on Children by Vinny Wagjiani

"By understanding the neuroscience of trauma and implementing robust support systems, we can work towards mitigating these effects and creating a safer, healthier environment for all families. Through the combined efforts of policing, support services, community programs, and societal change, we can begin to tackle this issue and ensure that the beautiful game does not come at the cost of the well-being of our most vulnerable."

We're thrilled to share a very special edition of our Guest Contributor series, where Detective Inspector Vinny Wagjiani shares remarkable insights on the relationship between football and domestic abuse, as part of our Children Keep the Score Campaign.

Vinny is a seasoned professional with a diverse background, serving as a Detective Inspector and contributing significantly to community development as the Chair of School Governors. He is a council member for the Health Practice Associates Council and the Interim Chair of the Kent FA Equality Advisory Group making football accessible to all. Vinny is also an ambassador for both My Emotions Activity Book and the Good Food Academy, ensuring young people are able to self-regulate and live a healthy lifestyle. As a qualified Level 5 Coach and Mentor, he is dedicated to empowering young people to achieve their full potential.

Please note, all views reflected are the individual’s own, and not representative of their employer. Learn more about Children Keep the Score here. 

The Euro 2024 football tournament, a highly anticipated event for millions of fans across Europe and beyond, brings together the excitement of the sport, national pride, and the camaraderie of supporters. However, amid the jubilation, a darker side often emerge, one that has profound and detrimental effects on families, particularly children and young people. This year, as in previous years, the shadow of domestic abuse has once again cast a pall over the festivities, revealing a disturbing connection between football fever and family violence.

The Dark Side of Football Fever: Domestic Abuse

Research has shown a disturbing link between major football tournaments and a rise in domestic abuse incidents. During Euro 2024, this pattern is sadly going to continue. The heightened emotions, the stress of watching matches, and the consumption of alcohol contribute to an increase in violent behaviour within households. For some families, the excitement and tension of the tournament can escalate into aggressive and abusive behaviour, with partners and children bearing the brunt.

A study conducted by National Centre of Domestic Violence during previous tournaments revealed that domestic violence incidents increase by up to 38% when the home team loses and by 26% when they win or draw. When alcohol is involved cases are nearly doubled and rise to 47%. This unsettling trend highlights how the pressure and emotional highs and lows of football can exacerbate underlying issues in relationships, leading to harmful outcomes for all involved.

The Brain and Domestic Abuse: How It Affects Children

Understanding how domestic abuse affects children and young people involves looking at how their brains work and grow. When children are in homes where there is violence, it creates a very harmful environment for their developing brains. Seeing or hearing violence makes their brains feel like they are in constant danger, releasing stress chemicals like cortisol and adrenaline.

If children are exposed to these stress chemicals too often, it can hurt their brain development. This might make it harder for them to learn in school, behave well, and manage their emotions.

Research shows that children who witness domestic violence often show signs of PTSD (like soldiers after a battle), anxiety, and depression. The way their brains are wired can change, especially in areas that help with controlling emotions, making decisions, and managing impulses. This can cause long-term problems, like trouble in school, difficulties making friends, and a higher chance of using drugs or alcohol.

The body’s stress system, which includes the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands, becomes overactive in children who are always stressed. This means their brains are always on high alert, ready for danger. Being in this state all the time can make it hard for them to pay attention, learn new things, and get along with others, slowing down their development.

Another important part of the brain affected by stress is the hippocampus, which helps with learning and memory. Too much stress can shrink the hippocampus, making it harder for kids to remember things and learn new stuff. This shows just how serious and lasting the effects of domestic abuse can be on children’s brains.

The Role of Police and Support Services

In response to the surge in domestic abuse during major sporting events like Euro 2024, police and support services play a crucial role in prevention and intervention. Police Forces often implement special measures during tournaments, such as:

  1. Increased Patrols and Rapid Response Units: To address the anticipated rise in incidents, police forces increase their presence in areas known for higher rates of domestic abuse. Local Policing Team are on standby to handle emergency calls swiftly.
  2. Public Awareness Campaigns: These campaigns aim to educate the public about the signs of domestic abuse and how to seek help. By raising awareness, authorities hope to empower victims to come forward and report abuse.
  3. Collaborations with Support Organisations: Police work closely with domestic abuse charities and organisations to provide immediate support to victims. These partnerships ensure that survivors receive the necessary emotional, legal, and financial assistance.
  4. Training for Officers: Special training programs equip officers with the skills to handle domestic abuse cases sensitively and effectively, ensuring that victims feel safe and supported. How we communicate with them during the initial response is critical in gaining trust.
  5. Hotlines and Reporting Mechanisms: Enhanced reporting mechanisms, including dedicated hotlines and online platforms, are often established during major events to provide victims with accessible and discreet ways to seek help.
  6. Community Engagement: Police engage with community leaders and local organisations to foster a supportive environment where victims feel comfortable coming forward. These efforts include workshops, seminars, and community events aimed at educating the public about domestic abuse and available resources.

Supporting Children and Young People

To mitigate the impact of domestic abuse on children, several strategies are essential:

  1. Counselling and Therapy: Providing access to mental health services can help children process their experiences and develop healthy coping mechanisms. Therapeutic interventions, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) and trauma-focused therapy, can be particularly effective in helping children recover from the psychological effects of domestic abuse.
  2. Safe Spaces and Shelters: Ensuring that families have access to safe environments away from abusers is crucial for their physical and emotional well-being. Domestic violence shelters and safe houses provide a secure refuge for victims, allowing them to escape dangerous situations and start the healing process.
  3. Educational Support: Schools and educators play a vital role in identifying and supporting children affected by domestic abuse. Tailored educational programs and resources can help these children catch up academically and socially. Educators are often trained to recognise the signs of abuse and provide appropriate support, including referrals to counselling and other services.
  4. Community Programs: Engaging children in community activities and support groups can provide a sense of normalcy and stability, helping them build resilience and self-esteem. Programs that focus on art, sports, and peer support can offer therapeutic benefits and foster a sense of belonging. Having organised a few football tournaments for children and young people, it is clear of the impact it has on them.
  5. Parental Support Programs: Providing resources and support for non-abusive parents can help them better care for their children and themselves. Parenting programs that focus on trauma-informed care can equip parents with the skills to support their children’s emotional and psychological needs.
  6. Legal Advocacy and Support: Legal services can assist victims in obtaining protective orders, custody arrangements, and other legal remedies that ensure their safety and well-being. Advocacy organisations often provide legal aid and representation to help victims navigate the legal systems such as National Centre for Domestic Violence https://www.ncdv.org.uk.

The Broader Societal Response

Addressing the issue of domestic abuse during events like Euro 2024 requires a multifaceted approach that involves the entire community. Society must recognise that the responsibility to prevent and respond to domestic abuse extends beyond Police Forces and support services. It requires a cultural shift that prioritises respect, empathy, and zero tolerance for violence.

  1. Media Responsibility: The media plays a crucial role in shaping public perceptions. Responsible reporting on domestic abuse incidents and the promotion of supportive messages can help change societal attitudes and reduce stigma for victims seeking help.
  2. Corporate and Workplace Policies: Employers can contribute by implementing policies that support victims of domestic abuse, such as flexible working arrangements, paid leave for survivors, and access to counselling services. Workplace awareness programs can also educate employees about the signs of domestic abuse and available resources.
  3. Educational Initiatives: Schools and universities can incorporate programs that teach young people about healthy relationships, consent, and conflict resolution. These initiatives can help prevent the cycle of abuse from continuing into future generations.
  4. Community Involvement: Local communities can play a vital role by creating safe and supportive environments for victims. Community centres, religious organisations, and social clubs can offer resources, support groups, and educational programs that raise awareness and provide assistance.
  5. Policy and Legislation: Governments must continue to strengthen policies and legislation that protect victims of domestic abuse and hold perpetrators accountable. This includes ensuring that Police Forces have the necessary resources and training to effectively address domestic violence.

Conclusion

While Euro 2024 brings excitement and joy to millions, it is essential to acknowledge and address the darker side of such events. The increase in domestic abuse during football tournaments has far-reaching and devastating impacts, particularly on children and young people. By understanding the neuroscience of trauma and implementing robust support systems, we can work towards mitigating these effects and creating a safer, healthier environment for all families. Through the combined efforts of policing, support services, community programs, and societal change, we can begin to tackle this issue and ensure that the beautiful game does not come at the cost of the well-being of our most vulnerable.

Thank you so much, Vinny!

If you’d like to be involved in our Guest Contributor series, please email daisyobrien@forbabyssake.org.uk.

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An interview with our Guest Contributor, Lesley Bland RM

"All women have a right to live abuse-free and Midwives are very often the first person to gain the confidence of a woman who has experienced domestic abuse. Having contacts and relationships within agencies external to the NHS is important when Midwives are signposting women; having access to agencies both locally and nationally can offer the maximum support options for women and their babies.”

We were thrilled to sit down with our latest Guest Contributor, Lesley Bland RM, to find out more about how Midwives support those experiencing domestic abuse, and to learn about her experience at My Expert Midwife.

Throughout her Midwifery career, Lesley has worked in both large Teaching Hospitals and local District Hospitals, rotating throughout Delivery Suite, Antenatal and Postnatal wards, Antenatal Clinic and Community, latterly specialising as a Maternity Clinical Educator.

In 2022 Lesley joined My Expert Midwife as a Consultant Midwife working within a small specialist team of expert Registered Midwives. As well as working for My Expert Midwife, she is also a qualified ASA Swimming Instructor, an RLS Lifeguard, and a Trainer in both PROMPT Obstetric Emergencies and Maternal AIMS.

Please note, all views reflected are the individual’s own, and not representative of their employer. 

Lesley, could you tell us about your journey into midwifery and what inspired you to pursue a career in this field?

I came into Midwifery later in life having had a previous background in sports and events management, recruitment and account management. I had three very young children and had a lightbulb moment that Midwifery was the career I had always been looking for. I was very interested in healthcare from a young age but knew I didn’t want to be a doctor, a nurse, physiotherapist or paramedic so to come to a point where all the stars aligned and I found a role I was passionate about just felt so right and so my training began a 1 year full time Access Course followed by a 3 year degree and a career-long CPD programme. My passion for Midwifery was definitely ignited when I had my own 3 babies all with very different experiences; I also suffered 2 early pregnancy losses and recognised that the care I received differed hugely from healthcare professional to healthcare professional and I wanted to make a positive difference to reflect the outstanding care I had received from the majority whilst improving the poor care I had been given by just a few.

Reflecting on your extensive career, what has been your proudest moment as a midwife, and why does it stand out to you?

One of the most significant moments that any Midwife can experience is the day your NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) PIN lands on your doormat which means you are no longer a Student Midwife but a Registered Midwife. The job title Registered Midwife is protected by law and you can only call yourself this if you have received you PIN and remain on the NMC register. I worked so hard to achieve my registration balancing work, study and home life that to finally be able to refer to myself as RM Lesley Bland brought me to tears; I knew at that moment it had been worth all the blood, sweat and tears.

What is one piece of advice you would share with aspiring midwives who are just starting their careers?

Don’t try to run before you can walk. If you are a student carry a notebook and pen everywhere and ask questions – no question is a daft question and all mentors will be more than happy to share their knowledge with you.

If you are a Newly Qualified Midwife observe, observe and observe – remember you are not alone you will be supported by a team of highly experienced Midwives who are there for you. You cannot be expected to know all the policies and guidelines so ask and search and never be afraid to say you don’t know how to do something or feel unsure about a decision; knowing your limits is a skill.

For everyone at all stages of your careers I would ask you to remember the phrase I was taught by one of my lovely mentors “Two Ears and One Mouth” and use them accordingly – in other words really listen to what a woman, or their partner is telling you and speak only if and when necessary and appropriate.

Lesley, you currently work with My Expert Midwife. Could you tell us about your role there and how your work with this organisation complements your broader mission in midwifery and healthcare?

I joined My Expert Midwife in 2022 on a very part-time basis whilst still working as a Band 7 Midwifery Clinical Educator within a local NHS Trust. I had extensive experience as a clinical midwife having rotated through Antenatal Clinics and Day Units, Labour Wards, Birth Centre, Induction of Labour Wards, Postnatal Wards and Community/Continuity of Care Teams at both a major Teaching Hospital and a smaller local District Hospital. I was also qualified as a Student Mentor and a Trainer of both Maternal AIMS and PROMPT (Emergency scenario training).

The more time I spent with the team at My Expert Midwife the more I saw the immense value they brought to women throughout the maternity journey; trying to conceive, pregnancy, labour, birth and the postpartum period, but also to the NHS through their unswerving commitment to education; a service which had been hit by funding and by Covid and had seen a steep decline in offerings. I took a leap of faith and left the NHS starting full-time at My Expert Midwife as a Consultant Midwife in January 2023.

My role within the business is varied and actually pulls from all of my previous careers both within Midwifery and actually prior to that time as well and so feels full-circle and very fulfilling for me. No two days are the same. For example we met at The Baby Show – an Industry event where we spend 3 days 4 times a year meeting, greeting and advising members of the public, raising brand awareness, selling our extensive range of products and networking. Not only do I attend these events but my background in Events Management has lent itself well to the organisation of them from transport, accommodation, printing, marketing and PR, stock, logistics and staff I have overall responsibility for ensuring the events run smoothly and are as productive for the business as they can be.

I also write a lot – mainly for our in-house marketeers who might want Midwifery advice and support for Social Media posts and our own website, but also for retailers, journalists and PR agencies, anything from a single sentence quote through to a 1200 word blog. Whatever I write has to be accurate, evidence-based and up-to-date so it is vital that I maintain my own research and knowledge-base – a key responsibility of any Registered Midwife.

I appear a couple of times a week on our TikTok Lives, something I never had any awareness of at all but absolutely love because Midwives can really chat(!) and so I get to talk with our viewers for a couple of hours responding to their questions with the most up-to-date evidence and referring them to their own healthcare professionals if out of my remit. You may also see me pop up on our other channels such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram – taking over Social Media one channel at a time!

And last but not least I am also heavily involved in both in-house and retailer product training which I love because it’s back to my passion of education and knowing that I am doing so about products that genuinely benefit women and babies is just incredibly satisfying. As a part of the Midwifery Team at My Expert Midwife I am privileged to be able to use my clinical experience to support the improvement and development of both existing and new products liaising closely with our wonderful marketing, commercial and operations teams as well as with women and their families.

The For Baby’s Sake Trust aims to break the cycle of domestic abuse and provide a better start for babies. How important is it for midwives to take a multi-agency approach to their work to ensure the safety of mothers and babies in their care? 

The NHS has worked hard to instil multi-disciplinary and multi-agency working throughout Maternity Services, and this alongside Continuity of Carer has reaped the benefits of improved communication and more efficient and effective ways of working that not only improve working conditions for staff but have also proven to reduce risks for women, babies and their families. This means that staff are more readily equipped to identify and respond to concerns about issues such as mental health and domestic abuse which previously have been under-resourced leading to missed opportunities for referrals to be made and support put in place.

All women have a right to live abuse-free and Midwives are very often the first person to gain the confidence of a woman who has experienced domestic abuse. It is imperative that the Midwife gains the woman’s trust quickly and is sufficiently knowledgeable and equipped to gain consent which then enables them to help the woman to change her social situation. Having contacts and relationships within agencies external to the NHS is important when Midwives are signposting women; having access to agencies both locally and nationally can offer the maximum support options for women and their babies.

In your opinion, what are the most critical skills a midwife needs to effectively support women and families, especially in challenging situations like those addressed by The For Baby’s Sake Trust?

I will go back to one of my earlier answers for this and that is to remember the phrase “2 Ears and 1 Mouth” – listen attentively and that means truly listen to what the woman is telling you, and then when you respond do so carefully and knowledgeably without judgement or presumption. Maintain a professional approach but offer her the reassurance you are a safe and reliable person to speak with. Demonstrate an open mannerism that encourages trust and confidence.

If you say you will do something ensure you act on it; if a woman feels that you have not followed through on an action plan she will not trust you and the relationship of trust can be easily broken. Explain what the process is and what the timescales may be so that she understands who, why, when and what.

What advice would you give to any parent who is experiencing domestic abuse, and what can they expect if they disclose their experience to their midwife? 

Conversations between a Midwife and a parent disclosing domestic abuse need to be carried out in a space that provides privacy and should be scheduled for a longer appointment that allows sufficient time for disclosure, consent, and necessary planning and referrals to be made. If English is not your first language it is important that the Midwife has access to an official interpreter via an anonymous service such as Language Line to protect your identity.

Midwives play an essential part in ensuring that children and families receive the care, support and services they need and so will be able to offer you timely and appropriate referrals as required.
Midwives will be guided by The Care Act 2014 which lists 6 key safeguarding principles intended to form a core set of standards to ensure your care:

  •  Accountability – in the event of a disclosure about domestic abuse, your Midwife must be clear with you that they are duty-bound to report the concern.
  •  Empowerment – your Midwife should support and empower you to feel safe and listened to.
  •  Partnership – your Midwife will work with local agencies to report any abuse you have declared – you will be fully informed of any referrals made.
  •  Prevention – your Midwife’s priority is to ensure your safety and wellbeing and they will want to act early in order to prevent any situation from potentially causing you harm.
  •  Proportionality – if your Midwife feels that you are in immediate danger they may call 999 in order to escalate their concerns.
  •  Protection –Your Midwife will support and represent you to protect you from potential harm.

Your experience includes a strong focus on training and development. How do you ensure that your training programmes remain relevant and effective in the ever-changing healthcare environment?

My own personal background in Midwifery is very T&D based both on an individual basis as an autonomous practitioner it has always been  part of my role that I remain complaint with mandatory training but also take my CPD (Continuous Practice Development) seriously as well to ensure that I adhere to NMC’s The Code but also to protect my own practice, that of my colleagues and the women and babies under my care. When I became a Specialist Midwife (Clinical Educator) this stepped the T&D game up another level for me as I was taking on responsibility for ensuring that the Healthcare Workers, Maternity Support Worker, Midwives, ODPs, Anaesthetists and Obstetricians were receiving training that met their personal and Trust-wide needs, kept them engaged and motivated but that also met the requirements of the National guidance – not a small task and made even more demanding by the staff shortages and immediate demands of the post-covid era.

At My Expert Midwife I stay true to the principles of Midwifery but also to the Products which luckily take no selling – they do what they say on the tin and are formulated by myself and the rest of the Midwifery team and so I believe 100% in them because I know they are the best on the market and are actually making he positive impacts on pregnant, birthing and postpartum women and their babies.

Our OnDemand Antenatal Classes are probably the best available either NHS or Private because women and their partners get to watch them as often as needed whenever they want, wherever they want and have access to the team of MEM Midwives as well if they need to discuss anything from the classes in greater detail. 7.5 hours of everything you could possibly need to know including Emergency scenarios, pain relief including epidurals, postpartum recovery, breathing and relaxation techniques, baby cares and much much more resented by the team along with a Consultant Obstetrician and an Anaesthetist. The classes are based on best quality evidence and in line with national guidance. I cannot over-emphasise how important being prepared is in the lead-up to birthing your baby – knowledge is power and we are providing that along with a very experienced support network of highly experienced Midwives.

What policy changes would you advocate for to better support midwives and healthcare professionals in their mission to improve maternal and infant health?

As a private company but with extensive experience of working within the NHS our Midwives are perfectly placed to be able to offer support to both women, their families and back to the NHS. Unfortunately the red tape associated with the NHS means getting our support packages through to the staff is almost impossible which is a real pity because we can offer them plans that relieve the internal burden, and we can do that at no financial profit. Our NHS brothers and sisters are in a time of crisis and we can offer solutions to help them with some of their training; we are keeping on keeping on trying to talk to the right people about this.
During my time in the NHS I have to say I did see a significant shift towards investing in both Maternal and Infant Mental Health which was much needed and was making a positive difference to so many but I was also aware that training on the shop floor especially for junior midwives was sadly lacking and it is my wish that Universities spend more time supporting Student Midwives to develop skills in identifying and supporting women and their families through Mental Health. It is refreshing that trusts are now putting Specialist Midwives in post for Vulnerabilities but there is still much room for improvement. All Maternity should be given better vulnerabilities training and should be encouraged to spend time working with the external agencies who provide mental health support – true Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) working and upskilling providing Maternity staff with the confidence to have difficult conversations and understand what support is available locally and nationally.

How do you see the landscape of women’s health and midwifery evolving in the next decade? 

As much as it pains me as a former NHS Midwife to say it private companies need to be brought in as partners to support the staff and therefore women, their families and their babies. By outsourcing antenatal education and even Mandatory training to companies such as My Expert Midwife the pressures on NHS staff to be freed up to deliver the training should be relieved but it is important that Managers within the NHS understand that staff MUST be given the opportunities to attend training as scheduled and that continuously pulling staff away from training days makes for an out-of-date workforce who are outing the health and wellbeing of both mothers and babies at risk. Midwives will continue to provide a greater public health role. Iin order to reduce inequalities and improve maternal and family health.

Pregnancies continue to be more complex and Midwives, as autonomous practitioners have increased burdens of responsibility placed upon them. Midwifery education focuses on normality but must shift to ensure midwives are equipped to care for all women including those with complex medical, obstetric and social needs. MDT and multi-agency working has to be a priority to offer Midwives the opportunity to seek support and to be able to signpost women for the expert care they need.

Thank you for sharing, Lesley! 
 

If you’d like to be involved in our Guest Contributor series, please email daisyobrien@forbabyssake.org.uk.

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