Law to protect children who witness violence

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The Independent Online

Fathers who assault their wives or partners could lose contact with their children under radical new changes to the law designed to clamp down on domestic violence.

Fathers who assault their wives or partners could lose contact with their children under radical new changes to the law designed to clamp down on domestic violence.

Ministers tabled an amendment to the Adoption and Children Bill yesterday, which will force courts to take into account whether children could be harmed by witnessing violence between their parents.

Rosie Winterton, parliamentary secretary to the Lord Chancellor's Department, said the courts would have to take into account "on a case-by-case basis" whether abuse in the home – even if it is not directed at the child – could pose a threat to his or her wellbeing.

"We know that children can be harmed not only by abuse or neglect aimed directly at them but also by witnessing the ill- treatment of others, especially people they love," she said.

The Government move follows evidence that witnessing violence between their parents or step-parents can cause serious harm to children's long-term mental welfare.

Yesterday's amendment to the Bill will extend the legal definition of harm to a child to make clear that they "may suffer or [be] at risk of suffering as a result of witnessing the ill-treatment of another person".

The change to the law, expected to come into force later this year, is part of a package of reforms. The Government is also to provide funding to set up contact centres so that parents who are thought to pose a potential risk to their children can meet them under third-party supervision.