Building mother-child relationships to support recovery from domestic abuse

'Domestic abuse, as gender-based violence, can be perpetrated by partners or ex-partners and can include physical abuse (assault and physical attack involving a range of behaviour), sexual abuse (acts which degrade and humiliate women and are perpetrated against their will, including rape) and mental and emotional abuse (such as threats, verbal abuse, racial abuse, withholding money and other types of controlling behaviour such as isolation from family and friends.'  Scottish Government

Domestic abuse, in most cases, is experienced by women and children, and perpetrated by men. It is very common, and often gets worse over time.

An estimated 100,000 children in Scotland 'live with' domestic abuse. The impact that this has upon mothers and children can be devastating. Research has shown that, in cases where children are involved, perpetrators commonly undermine the relationship between mother and children, thereby reducing support and resilience for both (Humphreys et al 2006). It is for this reason that maintaining strong mother-child relationships in the context of domestic abuse can prove very difficult. Importantly, however, a supportive relationship with a primary carer is a protective factor for both women and children surviving and recovering from domestic abuse (Mullender et al 2002).

Women and children who have experienced domestic abuse often come into contact with various agencies across the public and voluntary sectors. It is vital for agencies to understand the dynamics of domestic abuse, and the support needed by survivors, so they can provide consistent and integrated responses in times of crisis and recovery.

Cedar (Children Experiencing Domestic Abuse Recovery), an evidence-based, multi-agency initiative, directly addresses the impact of domestic abuse, supporting women, children and young people to build happier, safer futures.

The Cedar programme is a 12-week concurrent groupwork programme for children, young people and their mothers, who are in recovery from domestic abuse. The programme is based on the understanding that, given the right support, mothers are best placed to support children to recover from their experiences. Through the 12-week curriculum, Cedar supports children, young people and their mothers to understand their experiences, and to develop ways of expressing and managing their feelings. Key to this is promoting active communication between women and their children, breaking the silence around domestic abuse.

The multi-agency approach of Cedar gives practitioners the opportunity to develop their understanding of domestic abuse and its impact through hearing directly from women, children and young people, as well as learning from other practitioners. This builds confidence, leading to safer, timelier, and more appropriate and effective responses to families affected by domestic abuse.

More information:  www.cedarnetwork.org.uk


Humphreys, C., Mullender, A., Thiara, R., Skamballis, A. (2006) 'Talking to My Mum: Developing Communication between Mothers and Children in the Aftermath of Domestic Violence', Journal of Social Work, 6:53-63.

Mullender, A., Hague, G., Imam, U., Kelly, L., Malos, E., Regan, L. (2002) Children's Perspectives on Domestic Violence, London: Sage.