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New study investigates support for children affected by domestic abuse

Dr Emma Howarth from the School of Psychology is leading the new study

Research into how we can help children who live with domestic violence and abuse (DVA) is “needed now more than ever,” according to a University of East London academic leading a new study in England and Wales.

Dr Emma Howarth from the School of Psychology at the University of East London will lead a team to examine whether CODA, a community support programme for mums and children, makes a difference to children’s health and well-being, after experience of domestic violence and abuse (DVA).

CODA (Children Overcoming Domestic Abuse), developed by the charity Against Violence and Abuse (AVA), has been delivered across the UK since 2009, with promising results and positive feedback from those who use it. However, it has not yet been subject to rigorous evaluation.

On the significance of this new study, Dr Howarth said there has been little research trialling different types of intervention for children who have experienced domestic violence and abuse to date, which leaves big gaps in our knowledge about which children need support, and what types of support work best. “It is really forward-thinking of AVA to subject their programme to independent evaluation of this kind,” she added.

Jo Sharpen, director of policy and projects at AVA, said, “We are excited to be involved in this study; this research will allow us the opportunity to work with a world-leading group of researchers who will learn more about our trauma-informed, psycho-educational programme and the differences it makes to children and their families.”

“DVA and children’s experience of it is a major public health concern. With even higher rates reported during the Covid-19 lockdown, this research is needed now more than ever. Children who live with DVA are victims in their own right, who may experience the consequences of abuse throughout their whole lives,” said Dr Emma Howarth, senior lecturer, School of Psychology, University of East London.

They may need specialist help to recover from their experiences, and it is critical that effective help is made available, she said. “A greater understanding of how we can help these children can only be achieved through robust outcomes-focused research.”

In the first phase of the study, the intervention will be trialled by Cardiff Women’s Aid and Family Action in Southend. Sue Harper, deputy director of services and innovation and national strategic lead, domestic violence/abuse and relationship support for Family Action, said, “Most support currently available is based on practitioners’ on-the-ground experiences working with women and children, and there remains a need to combine this experience  and knowledge with strong evidence regarding the benefits and possible harms of such programmes.”  

Professor Verity Brown, pro-vice chancellor, impact & innovation, at the University of East London said, “This is a landmark study, which will establish the most effective evidence-based support for children who experience a parent or caregiver being subjected to violence, with the potential for its findings to have a positive impact globally.”

The study is a collaboration between the University of East London, the Centre for Development, Evaluation, Complexity and Implementation in Public Health Improvement (DECIPHeR) at Cardiff University, University of Bristol, University of Cambridge, University of Central Lancashire, University of Exeter, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University College London, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Foundation Trust, and Queen Mary University, London. It is funded by the National Institute of Health Research Public Health Research Funding Committee. The intervention is funded by Public Health Wales, Health and Care Research Wales, and Southend on Sea Borough Council.