School's out for summer. But whilst the summer holidays are meant to be a joyful break from school, for some children it means prolonged periods of time in an unsafe home environment where they are "invisible" to professionals and at greater risk of seeing violence or being hurt themselves.
Domestic abuse can include physical violence, emotional abuse, humiliation, threats, coercive and controlling behaviour, intimidation and sexual abuse. Exposure to this type of behaviour (whether experienced directly or witnessed) can have devastating ramifications for children.
From 2022 to 2023 the NSPCC helpline handled the highest number of domestic abuse contacts in the summer period from July to September. Of those contacting them, 1,422 mentioned emotional abuse. Neglect was the top concern in Helpline sessions in 2022/23, with an increased number of contacts made during July and August about children being left alone.
Children’s charity, Barnardo’s, also warns that a record number of children are “at great risk” of sexual and criminal exploitation this summer. The cost of living crisis has left families unable to afford activities over the school break, and many children are left with no adult supervision online or in the community. As the crisis pushes families towards poverty, children are becoming increasingly vulnerable to criminal gangs and exploitation. Economic pressures and tensions at home can also lead to increased risks of physical violence.
Over 1,400 calls to the NSPCC Helpline in 2022 were about coercive and controlling behaviour towards children. This behaviour is designed to make a person dependent by isolating them from support, exploiting them, depriving them of independence and regulating their everyday behaviour.
Some examples of coercive behaviour are:
- Isolating you from friends and family
- Depriving you of basic needs, such as food
- Monitoring your time
- Monitoring you via online communication tools or spyware
- Taking control over aspects of your everyday life
- Depriving you access to support services, such as medical services
- Repeatedly belittling you
- Humiliating, degrading or dehumanising you
- Controlling your finances
- Making threats or intimidating you.
The NSPCC has called for the government to provide therapeutic support services, independent domestic violence and abuse advisors, helplines and counselling services for children. This is particularly crucial during the summer months when children are away from teachers and other professionals for several weeks at a time.
The BBC has reached out to the departments for Education and Health and Social Care but neither wished to comment.
"It is worrying to know children are having to deal with coercive control, especially over the summer when they are away from teachers and other adults who often spot concerns and who they can turn to for support. It is vital that everyone is aware of what coercive control can look like. This will mean that more of us can spot the signs that children and young people may be experiencing it and reach out with any concerns. “We will continue to press the government to improve the support available for child victims of abuse including by increasing the supply of high quality, specialist therapeutic and mental health support within local communities across the country.”" - Paddi Vint, NSPCC