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Women: Violence

Volume 718: debated on Monday 8 March 2010


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to assess the role of schools in tackling violence against women and girls.

My Lords, today DCSF published its response to the recommendations of the Violence against Women and Girls Advisory Group. This sets out a range of actions to support schools in understanding and tackling such issues. We are producing guidance on how to reflect this in the curriculum. We plan to include it in the programme of study for PSHE and to strengthen initial and in-service training, as well as to work to publicise messages to parents.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. It is good to know that she is responding so positively to the independent working group on violence against women and girls, especially as we celebrate International Women’s Day. How will my noble friend assess whether the strategy in schools is working and making a difference? What funding is attached to the strategy?

My Lords, the way in which we will really see the impact of the Government’s cross-government strategy on tackling violence against women and girls is by looking at the incidence of domestic violence—at the hard numbers. Two thousand women are raped a week in this country. We know that domestic violence accounts for about 14 per cent of all violent incidents. This is a major challenge for our country, so we will be monitoring the incidence of domestic violence. We have set up a cross-government delivery board, which will report directly to the Home Office, and we are investing £13 million in ensuring that the strategy is implemented across government.

My Lords, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, can the noble Baroness tell us what measures are being taken to work more closely with all strands of the media to highlight this very serious issue? Does she have figures identifying the scale of the problem among teenagers?

My Lords, the cross-government strategy to tackle violence against women and girls has three strands: prevention, provision of services and protection. I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree that one of the key strands of prevention work must be to work with the media. As she knows, the Government have been running a campaign focusing on violence against teenage girls in teenage relationships. We will be evaluating that very carefully. She is absolutely right: the media have a key role to play. I fear that I have forgotten her second question.

Does the Minister agree that it is important that children have somebody in school in whom they have the confidence to be able to disclose that they have either directly been subjected to domestic violence or seen their mother subjected to domestic violence? Will she endorse the work of the charity Place2Be and other voluntary organisations that work in schools? What are the Government doing to support schools financially so that they can take on those therapists?

I am happy to support the noble Baroness in recognising the work of the charity Place2Be. It is right that we should equip all school staff, through dedicated training as part of the initial teacher training and then through professional development, with the confidence that, where there is a disclosure, they know how to support the child. That is what this review has been all about; it is about looking at what work DCSF should be doing. We accept all the recommendations and we are absolutely committed to getting the funding in the right place and to making sure that schools are confident.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that schools cannot tackle this very sensitive issue alone and that it is important that schools are part of a whole consortium of children’s services, which serve families as well as children?

I absolutely agree with my noble friend. We do not expect schools to deal with this issue on their own. We see schools as having a key role to play as one of the many front doors to services and support that children can access; they are part of the community, the children’s trust and the key services that play into the local safeguarding children boards. We are acting on recommendations from the noble Lord, Lord Laming, who has advised that we need to strengthen our guidance on how domestic violence services should be tailored and initiated.

Does the noble Baroness agree that domestic violence is an extraordinarily complex issue in relation to families and that an understanding of mediation and intervention is needed? Would she endorse the work that social workers do in understanding this and in taking the work forward in the preventive area?

My Lords, I would always be proud to endorse the work that social workers do in this extremely sensitive and difficult area, as the noble Baroness suggests.

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, can come in afterwards. The Minister will be aware that a couple of weeks ago quite a lot was made of educating young men not to beat up young women. Are young women being taught preventive and avoidance measures so that they can defuse situations that might lead to young men beating them up?

My Lords, the most important thing to say in response to that question is that we are expecting schools to promote, through personal, social and health education and through work specifically with younger children, an atmosphere of mutual respect and to combat bullying of any kind. That is the starting point. Then we have to recognise that, where children and young people are affected by sexual or domestic violence, it is important that they know that there are people whom they can trust, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, pointed out. That is what this strategy is about. It is about making schools confident places where young people can seek support when they encounter such dreadful experiences as domestic violence.