From small acorns….

For the first time ever, children have been recognised as victims of domestic abuse in their own right under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. This landmark definition recognises the huge impact that growing up witnessing or experiencing domestic abuse has on children and young people. Despite this, there are a very limited number of specialist domestic abuse services available to children and young people. In our recent mapping work we found that only 29% of survivors who told us they wanted support for their children were able to access it. 

One organisation that is offering specialist support to children and young people affected by domestic abuse is Acorns in Northumbria. We asked Acorns to write a blog for us about the work they do and the approach they take as a way to spotlight their comprehensive and focussed work …

“Acorns has made me confident to tell my worries to my family, and that has made me happy,” service user, girl aged 7

Acorns has been offering support to children, young people and families affected by domestic abuse for over 20 years, and has become a place where children and their families can take ownership, feel safe, valued, and become instrumental in facilitating their own recovery. “Together, we stand tall”.

Our work aims to improve physical and mental health and wellbeing, increase personal resources by building self-esteem, confidence and assertiveness, empower families to increase resilience and live safely and independently, and, importantly, connect them to like-minded peers and reduce isolation, improving personal support networks and reducing the need for intensive intervention in the future.  We do this by providing a range of practical and therapeutic support services, and by following three important trauma informed principles:

  • We place and retain the survivor and their family at the centre of our practice;
  • Providing safe environments – we support survivors to reconnect with a sense of self and control;
  • We continuously assess need through review and reflection in collaboration with families.

Our holistic delivery model encompasses our four priorities:

Prevent: Delivering education in schools; providing a teen relationship abuse helpline; general advice and guidance for families and professionals;
Participate: Facilitating a youth panel now commissioned by our local authorities in the area to represent the voices and lived experiences of young people across the region; providing peer support opportunities for adults as well as whole family activities to support attachment after trauma, and giving families opportunities to play together;  
Cope: Crisis and outreach support, which offers flexible, needs-led, youth work-based approaches for children and young people over the short and longer term, and practical and emotional support for non-abusing carers through our Family Support team;
Recover: A wide range of therapeutic interventions across a range of modalities including counselling, play therapy, CBT, EMDR, for children, young people and adults.

“People are fighting and getting angry, and this is a place to keep them happy and not fight anymore,” child, aged 8

Acorns’ approach is implemented across all aspects of the Charity; spaces, governance, policy, strategic direction and service delivery.  We use a model developed by our partner organisation here in the North East,  My Sister’s Place.   All of the staff at Acorns including back office staff have received training in the TIME model (Trauma Informed Model of Empowerment) which means service users receive the same level of care and understanding of the complex nature of trauma related to domestic abuse from the very first point of contact.  Both children and parents are consulted about what support is needed and choice plays a huge part in how we deliver our services. It is so important that children, especially, are given the opportunity to make choices about which services they want to access and what this looks like, when often many of their choices are taken away from them. Services are always accessed voluntarily and are always free.

“It has been the best service I have ever experienced. They have supported me and my children. Helped with other services and making me go from strength to strength,“ mum of children 5, 8 and 9

Charities such as ours face a number of challenges right now.  Since the pandemic, we have seen a higher level of clinical need across all of our services and workers are dealing with more complex issues.  Our family support workers have seen an increase in family court issues, post separation abuse and stalking, and we are working with a higher level of risk.  This has meant that we have had to look for ways to add capacity and expertise to ensure that not only service users, but our team are fully supported.

There are ongoing recruitment issues, and we are concerned that we might not attract the staff we need.  This is further exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis which is having an adverse impact on workers who travel for work, or work from home. We are worried that the voluntary sector will lose skilled workers at a time when we need them most.  It is an uncertain picture; however, we are determined that we will continue to provide excellent services for children and families in Northumbria that they so desperately need.

“Just like when people talk about being in a protective bubble, this is how I feel about Acorns – it’s a hard shell that finally gives children the safe haven they have wanted.  Instead of feeling like just one person lost in this big old world, Acorns helps put the world in your hands.  Helping to regain confidence and happiness giving each child the start in life they all deserved.  It’s okay not to be okay, and together we are strong,” service user, boy aged 12

You can find out more about what we do on our website: