Raising awareness will help the children

17th September 2004 at 01:00
Local authorities are trying to introduce the issue of domestic abuse in schools but curriculum demands and lack of training for staff can be a problem. What's more, not every local authority has a dedicated worker dealing with training and raising awareness among teachers.

Teachers often do not have time to deal appropriately with children displaying challenging behaviour that may stem from domestic abuse. And if a child does disclose the problem, a teacher must first decide if it is a child protection issue, before deciding whether to refer the matter to child protection services or psychological services.

Nevertheless, Sandra Paton, of South Ayrshire Women's Aid, who conducted the local study highlighting that a third of children experience domestic abuse, believes teachers' understanding of the issue is vital for the national prevention strategy to succeed.

"We know that domestic abuse impacts on a child's life in certain ways, such as leading to truanting, vandalism and challenging behaviour," she says. "I want to help teachers to help children, to consider the issues and take training."

Sharon Sale, the domestic abuse co-ordinator in Inverclyde, accepts that teachers are in a difficult position. "To be fair to teachers, they have limited time and a lot of demands on them. I think they are focused on the education of the children. I think some children may display behavioural problems that teachers don't respond to because they may just be seen to be awkward."

She believes that more teachers would grasp the implications of domestic abuse and become part of the integrated approach if it were part of the curriculum.

"At the moment it sits in social education but loosely, between citizenship and bullying, and sometimes it's difficult to decide where you fit it in," she says.

Anni Donaldson, the development worker in West Dunbartonshire, says her local authority has recently advertised for a full-time education resource worker to train teachers in schools.

"It has taken us the four years since the national strategy came out to get to the stage where everyone agrees we need a dedicated post, especially since the gradual dawning of the impact of domestic abuse on children," she says.

Alison McGillivray, the guidance teacher at Govan High in Glasgow, says:

"There is a challenge in that it is a widespread problem. You know that in any class some kids will be affected by it and, as with any difficult home circumstance, pastoral care staff will be in a position to inform teachers in a tactful way.

"In class, if someone has challenging circumstances, then support is put in place, but you have to bear in mind the other pupils in the class. Given that one in four women has experienced abuse from a partner, some of the staff, who may be delivering personal and social education on the topic, may also be very sensitive."

But Ms McGillivray thinks it unlikely that any member of staff would compound the problem. "In any issue affecting a young person's life - whether domestic abuse, drug abuse or abuse by a carer - teachers are aware about how that can affect a child's behaviour and the first course is to find a way of supporting that young person rather than adding to their problem."

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