Jan Melia: ‘We are failing children affected by domestic violence in Northern Ireland’

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By VIEW editor Brian Pelan

Jan Melia

Jan Melia, the Chief Executive of Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland, has called for more to be done to support children and young people affected by domestic violence.

She was speaking at the the first ever all-island conference dedicated exclusively to children affected by domestic violence. The See, Hear, Act event took place at Stranmillis College yesterday and today.

Organised by Women’s Aid Federation Northern Ireland, the conference brought together experts and practitioners in the field of child protection and domestic violence from across the UK and Ireland, in a bid to share expertise and find better ways to support children in abusive homes.

Jan Melia said: “This conference is the beginning of a movement for change for children in Northern Ireland. For too long, children have been regarded as merely witnesses in domestic abuse situations. We know that is not the case. All domestic violence is underpinned by coercive, controlling behaviour on the part of the abuser, and that behaviour doesn’t just affect their partner, it affects the whole family. We all need to do better as support professionals to recognise this impact, and to take a holistic approach where we are supporting both child and adult victims of abuse and keeping the blame squarely at the feet of the perpetrators. Because ultimately, right now, we are all failing children affected by domestic violence in Northern Ireland.”

Women’s Aid also launched their Children’s Voices book during the event – the book features art work, poetry and writing from children and young people who have been supported by Women’s Aid. This book is an opportunity to hear directly from children and young people, and hear what they need and what they want to change.

Speaking about the conference, keynote speaker Davina James-Hanman, former Director of UK charity AVA and special adviser to the UK Government Home Affairs Select Committee Inquiry into domestic violence and Mayor of London said: “Domestic abusers deliberately target the mother-child bond with severe and long-lasting impacts for them both. Neither are passive victims but currently we don’t listen to children enough. This conference is a wonderful opportunity to try and change this and to learn what we can – and must – do better.”

Fellow keynote speaker Sir John Gillen, former head of the Review of Civil & Family Justice, added: “This post-Weinstein moment shows how cultural change can happen if we all stand up and speak out. I am convinced that conferences such as this, where we stand up and speak out on behalf of children in domestic violence settings, can provide them also with a long overdue #MeToo moment and trigger fundamental change.”

Kelly Andrews, Chief Executive of Belfast-Lisburn Women’s Aid , who also attended the conference, said: “We need to listen to the voice of the child. We need to hear them.”

Other speakers at the event included Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children & Young People and Dr John Devaney, qualified social worker and expert researcher on domestic violence.

John Devaney speaking at the conference

• The next issue of VIEW magazine will look at Domestic Abuse. This issue is being supported by Belfast-Lisburn Women’s Aid. If you have a story you would like to have included, please send an email to the editor Brian Pelan at brianpelan@viewdigital.org

• Back issues of VIEW can be read at http://viewdigital.org/category/magazine/

• To receive free copies of VIEW and our ezines, sign up at http://viewdigital.org/sign-get-view/

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