'A child who sees domestic abuse is affected like a soldier in Afghanistan'
DOMESTIC violence costs Plymouth about £49million a year and leaves a trail of family misery, say city experts.
And, according to new statistics, women aged between 18 and 24 are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than any other group in the city.
In more than a third of cases, children witness the violence and may go on to repeat the patterns in their own lives, Plymouth City Council Cabinet member Sue McDonald said yesterday.
Mrs McDonald was helping to launch city-wide strategies aimed at breaking the cycles of child poverty and domestic abuse.
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The council is working in partnership with other agencies such as the police, the NHS and schools to tackle the root causes of violence and poverty and not just their symptoms.
Dr Peter Rudge, shadow chair of the Western Locality Clinical Commissioning Group, said: "What I have seen over 14 years as a GP is generation after generation of the same families experiencing the same problems. I felt I was picking up the pieces rather than solving the root causes.
"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make that swing from treatment to prevention.
"This partnership strategy means that by working together we can break the cycle and prevent families from passing behaviour from parents to children, so we will see real change for a whole generation."
Acting police Chief Inspector Sally Hutchings said: "We know that if children witness domestic violence at home, their brain patterns are the same as a soldier who has gone through combat in Afghanistan.
"And we have found recently that young people aged 18 to 24 are more likely to be victims of domestic violence than any other group.
"The triggers for violence could be factors like lack of money and drugs and alcohol."
A total of 1,629 people in the 18-24 age group were victims of domestic abuse in Plymouth in the past 12 months, according to police figures. The total for all age groups was 5,686, three-quarters of them women.
Inspector Dee Peak, who is in charge of the Plymouth police domestic violence unit, said: "As resources are restricted we cannot afford the blue light continually going to the same address.
"We have to find out where it is happening and work with children and families rather than the offender being the target. Just arresting the man every time is not stopping the problem. It's too simplistic."
About a quarter of known victims of domestic abuse are known to be men. "The good thing is that more men are now recognising that it's all right to report abuse," she said.
According to Home Office figures, the cost of domestic abuse to the city is £49million a year. The council's share of that burden is more than £1million, and other costs include the criminal justice system, social services, lost economic output, and housing and refuge provision.
But Mrs McDonald said: "The human and emotional costs of domestic abuse are incalculable.
"A woman told me that her partner would go out drinking, and she said, 'I knew from the sound of his key in the door when he came home that I was in for it'."
Alcohol is at the core of the domestic violence problem, with 30per cent of cases linked to drugs and alcohol. But Mrs McDonald said: "It's about the individual controlling what they drink, it isn't about shutting the city down at night."
Richard Marsh, headteacher at Stoke Damerel Primary School, said: "I see first-hand the positive impact we can have on our children and their families when we get the right co-operation between agencies.
"The strategy will secure this way of working and allow us to scale up this offer."
FAMILIES: by numbers
5,686 reports of domestic violence in Plymouth in the past year.
1,629 cases of domestic abuse involved victims aged 18-24.
1 victim in 4 is a man.
36% of domestic violence is witnessed by a child.
1,725 incidents of domestic abuse had drugs or alcohol as a factor.
44% of victims were unemployed.
10% the child poverty target set by the Government in 1999.
22.1% child poverty in Plymouth a decade later (national average is 21.2%).
4,300 people are now helped by the Plymouth foodbank, 40% up in a year.
7,525 people received debt advice from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau in 2010/11.
50% or more child poverty in Devonport, Stonehouse, the city centre, North Prospect and Weston Mill.
£300,000 – the cost of permanently excluding a child from education. This includes educating them elsewhere and the bill from deploying services such as social care, benefits and the probation service.
22,300 families with 39,100 children were receiving child or working tax credits in December 2011.
10,301 children aged up to 15 lived in workless households.