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Domestic abuse services are struggling to support mums this Mother's Day

Women's Aid is highlighting a funding crisis leaving some women and children without support to flee abuse

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Nearly 60 per cent of domestic abuse survivors accessing services have children, while 1 in 15 is pregnant.

But a funding crisis means shelters cannot meet demand – and have had to cut back on the support they can give vulnerable mothers and their children.

A report released by Women’s Aid this Mother’s Day shows that 58 per cent of the 18,895 women supported by these services in 2017-18 had children, however one in five community-based services said they received no local authority funding at all.

The charity pointed out that domestic abuse often starts or escalates during pregnancy, while the majority trying to flee an abusive partner will be going with children.

A third of responding domestic abuse organisations in England said the support they can offer mothers and children has reduced drastically since 2014, while over a half said they are currently forced to run the children’s area of their service with no dedicated funding.

Women’s Aid is drawing attention to the funding crisis because while there was an increase of 7 in the number of dedicated children and young people services between 2017-18 (from 190 to 197), there has still been a fall of nearly 20 per cent since 2010.

Up to 30 per cent of pregnant women report incidents of domestic abuse, while 20 per cent are victims of sexual violence.

Control over pregnancy itself can be used as a tool of abuse, known as reproductive control. An abuser might remove or tamper with contraceptives or deny access to family planning services. This allows an abuser to increase a woman’s dependency on them, and is supported by the figures – women who experience domestic abuse report a higher than average rate of unintended pregnancy.

This can exacerbate finance and housing concerns, stopping some from leaving an abusive partner. Last year it was reported that some women are forced to sleep rough after councils tell them they intentionally made themselves homeless by fleeing abuse.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for mothers fleeing domestic abuse to find shelter that can accommodate their family. Just under half of refuge vacancies could accommodate a woman with two children, while less than one in five could support a woman with three children.

Amna Abdullatif, children and young people’s officer at Women’s Aid, said: “Far too often we hear of mothers being threatened that her children will be removed from her care because of the abuse the family is experiencing at home. This is not the answer. It only puts the survivor and her children at further risk.

“The best way to support children who are experiencing domestic abuse is by supporting both the mother and her children. We want to shift the focus back onto supporting mothers to help families escape domestic abuse this Mother’s Day.

“No woman and her children should be turned away from the support they desperately need because the service does not have the space or capacity to support them. No woman and her children should be forced to face domestic abuse alone.

“That’s why this Mother’s Day we want to continue working with the government to find a long-term and sustainable funding solution with national oversight for all domestic abuse services. Only then can we ensure that every survivor and her children can get the specialist support they need to safely escape domestic abuse and rebuild their lives free from fear and abuse.”

More than 21,000 referrals to refuge services in England were declined in 2017-18, which is over 400 a week. One in six of those referrals was refused because of a lack of space to support a survivor.

Nik Peasgood, chief executive of Leeds Women’s Aid, said: “We often have pregnant women or women with very young babies using our services. Recently we had a heavily pregnant woman come into refuge with her other children, and she chose to have a home birth, so her baby was born here in a supportive and safe environment.”

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