Rise in child attacks by family members

MORE children are reporting assaults by members of their own family, new figures show. And charities warn that the increase in violence could be down to growing financial pressure within families.

A total of 695 children aged 14 and under reported assaults to South Wales Police between February 2007 and the end of 2010.

However, the number of reports has risen from 198 in 2008, the first full year figures are available for, to 232 in 2010.

Last week the Echo reported that a study by Cardiff academics had found violence against children under 10 had rocketed in the past year, with a 20% rise in the number of young children being treated in A&E units in England and Wales for violence-related injuries.

Paula Hardy, chief executive of Welsh Women’s Aid, which runs the Wales Domestic Abuse Helpline, said: “One of the common triggers for women choosing to leave an abusive partner, to come to us or report them to the police, is because of violence to the children.

“It is almost like the final straw. They might have taken the abuse in order to protect their children, but when their children start to be physically harmed that is usually when they say, ‘that’s enough, I’m leaving’.

“We also tend to find that children will be used as a tool with which to threaten a victim of domestic violence.

“It is not unusual for a perpetrator to say, ‘I will kill the children if you don’t stay’ or, ‘I will phone social services and have you reported and the children taken off you’.

“Children will themselves often be used as a pawn and, if you look at research, a very high proportion of children will be witnessing domestic violence and, if they are witnessing it, you can argue they are therefore also victims.”

NSPCC national head of service for Wales, Des Mannion, said: “There may be a combination of factors to explain this increase, such as growing financial pressure on families leading to stress and family tensions, which could exacerbate other existing problems.

“We also know that children living with parental drug and alcohol problems are at a greater risk of suffering harm.

“Another factor may be that the public feels more comfortable spotting and reporting concerns.”

Lucy Akhtar, development officer for parenting at Children in Wales, said problems could start as children become older and start to want independence.

She said if this comes at a difficult time in parents’ lives, they can struggle to find appropriate ways to discipline their children.

She said: “We’d be surprised if it’s not related to stress for the parent. We’ve heard that people who would have divorced in the past have been unable to because of their economic situation.

“In family breakdowns, often it’s teenagers who get caught in the crossfire. If people start new relationships, they don’t settle into it as they might have when they were younger. They’re at an age where teenagers start to exert their own authority.”

She said there was a need for more support for parents of older children – there are services for those with pre-school children but little for teenagers unless they become involved with the criminal justice system.

Det Sgt Steve Bartle, a child protection officer in South Wales Police, said: “South Wales Police continues to work with partner agencies in local safeguarding children boards and other forums to protect children and their wellbeing.

“Anyone with concerns for the safety of a child should report the matter to police on 101 or 999 if the child is in immediate danger.”