Welcome to my first ever blog post! When thinking where to begin, I thought that I would share where the idea for #TheRoadHome study came from. Like most big projects it evolved from tiny little ideas that found their way together.
I have always taken an interest in the experiences and treatment of children who have been around domestic abuse at home. They are so often the invisible ones in the background and it has taken a long time before children have started to be seen as victims/survivors in their own right.
Many years ago in my time working in a domestic violence refuge for women and children I was struck by how remarkable and upbeat the children were, sometimes understanding little of the reasons that they were now uprooted and living in this transitionary space. It was a women-only space in regards to adults, for good reason of course. However I started to think about how that must feel to our young male residents. Boys who witnessed a male, often their dad or step-dad, carrying out violence and domestic terrorism, and who in response were moved to an all-female space. I often wondered how this must feel to them and their sense of gendered self. I think if child survivors of domestic abuse have taken a long time to be recognized, then it’s been compounded for boy-child-survivors who have been an awkward fit within the domestic violence sector.
Fast forward to a few years later I was then working in a strategic role, coordinating the response to domestic violence, children and health in west London. This was a multi-faceted role which involved lots of linking up and training work with statutory, third sector and NHS health organisations. In this role I came across a worker who carried out a project with young people involved with ‘gangs’/on road. He mentioned to me that he estimated over 90% of his caseload of young men had witnessed domestic abuse at home. NINETY PER CENT! We talked further about it and what became clear was that despite this figure hardly any were known to social services or domestic violence agencies because; 1) domestic abuse is a hidden issue and happens behind closed doors; 2) It was often historic, so the young people were not deemed to be at risk by the time it came to light. So it occurred to me that there were these young people who had had this experience, never received any support around it and whose first presentation to services was coming to the attention of the youth justice sector. So these young people were invisible until they were involved with gang/road life, by which time the historical domestic violence is a past issue not considered relevant anymore.
As domestic violence often does, it becomes an issue so common that it is not considered remarkable. It is in 90% of a caseload, but not anyone’s primary issue being discussed. It is everywhere and nowhere all at once.
Both my work in the refuge and the conversations with the support worker stayed on my mind for a few years, as well as a niggling feeling that there was a gap, that these boys were falling through the net. It took a few more years before the timing was right and the funding was there to pursue this through research, which is where I am now.
So I have set up this blog to share my work and thoughts as I journey through this topic over the next few years. It is called The Road Home study as it references the conflation of the road-life and the domestic-life for the boys and men who I am researching with. On a personal level, as a child-survivor of domestic abuse myself, it also references my journey inward with a topic that is close to my heart; an inner road home, if you like.
I invite you to come on this journey alongside me, through this blog.