The Impact of Gender Based Violence on Mothers

8th December 2023

We know that women, but especially mothers who use drugs continue to face stigma when reporting their experiences of violence against them. This has been apparent in many stories we have heard from the mothers who access our service.

Whilst fighting to care for their children and facing their recovery, the question remains ‘why did you not report this at the time?.’ Fear, lack of hope, trust, and belief they will be judged and not believed are just a few thoughts going through a woman’s head when experiencing violence against them.

Due to the structures, decision making and assessment for children in our court systems surrounding a family, evidence is required to be able to confirm on the balance of probability if violence and/or abuse has been experienced when it has not been reported to the Police. 

A story that is prominent in my mind, and one of many who have experienced similar situations, is of India, a mother who became pregnant after experiencing violence and assault in the throes of her addiction. As part of the court proceedings, the judge wanted to determine whether the father should have access and be allowed parental responsibility for the child. 

This meant that this mother, had to give a detailed account of her experience, as she was unable to report it to the Police at the time. Her traumatic experiences were then discussed for hours by professionals in the court arena whilst she had to sit and listen. The language was cold, and she felt that the consideration of the trauma she experienced was secondary in their minds. 

India had recently given birth, navigating a postpartum body and early motherhood, she was also at the end of her detox from substances. Despite these challenges she was engaged and keen to work on her recovery.

The support that we were able to give her from the service allowed her to face these challenges, whilst caring for her newborn. She knew that if the father became involved, he posed a very real risk to both her own and her child’s life.

Our service enabled and supported India to use her voice, to feel strong and confident enough to speak of her experience in an intimidating environment to professionals who were assessing her life and whether she could safely care for her child in the future. She felt judged. 

India knew she was a good mother, and her child gave her focus, she had hope for the future she wanted for herself and her child. 

Thankfully the female judge, recognised the risk, she made the decision that including the father in the child’s life would be detrimental not only to India’s mental wellbeing and her recovery but also to the child’s wellbeing. India went on to graduate from our service and has stayed together with her child. 

Whilst many families come to us during care proceedings, in a study across our family service following 41 parents and 42 children, 70% of families were still together up to 4 years after completing treatment.

We have an average completion rate of 86% across all our family services. 

Providing a treatment approach that supports mothers and their children to stay together and keeps children safely outside of the care system, breaks down barriers for women to accessing treatment, knowing that they will not have to be separated from their children to get help for substance use and related issues.

This approach also supports children’s development and helps them to overcome some of the negative consequences of being part of a family experiencing addiction. And it provides long term sustainable recovery for the mother and her children.

We believe that whole family approach should be available to all families experiencing addiction and should be considered before the decision is made to remove children into the care system and separate families.


Michaela Dean, Registered Manager, National Specialist Family Service England