Family conflict and violence affecting 4 million families

26 March 2012

The enemy withinNew research from the national charity, 4Children, reveals the extent of conflict and violence in Britain’s families. A survey of parents with children under the age of 18 carried out by YouGov on behalf of 4Children reveals that over half of parents with children experience serious or frequent conflict - which equates to about 4 million families with children in this country[1] (where families are defined as parents with children under 18 years of age). Only 7% of parents said there was no conflict in their home.

4Children’s groundbreaking report, The Enemy Within, presents the full picture of conflict and violence within families.  The report reveals the way in which children and parents can be both victims and perpetrators of family conflict - with the evidence suggesting that violence is more widespread within the family than was perhaps  previously thought.

The report highlights that children are overwhelmingly the victims: 950,000 children are affected by domestic violence, either directly as victims of violence, or indirectly in terms of witnessing violence.[2]

Squeezes on household budgets area a key factor, with one in 5 parents (21%) reporting conflict over serious financial worries and debt. Other causes of family conflict include:

  • Arguments with teenage children 20%;
  • Disagreements over child discipline 17%;
  • Sibling rivalry between children 17%;
  • Redundancy/ long term unemployment of one or both parents 7%.

When asked what happens during family conflicts, arguments (64%) and shouting (57%) were the top two answers followed by verbal insults (29%). But worryingly, 10% of parents said conflict in their families ever involved physical fighting - which represents  physical violence in 700,000 homes in Britain.  Almost one in 10 parents also said that possessions had been destroyed during a family row.

4Children is calling on councils to wake-up to the true extent of conflict in families.  Separate research by 4Children has revealed that almost half (46%) of local authorities do not have a domestic violence strategy which mentions violence committed by family members.  And one in 10 (11%) don’t have a domestic violence strategy at all.

Like many problems that can lead to family breakdown, family conflict and violence can often remain hidden within families for years because of a reluctance to openly admit to the problem and seek help.

The Enemy Within is the third report published as part of 4Children’s Give Me Strength campaign calling for a new approach to strengthening support for the most vulnerable families to prevent crisis developing.

Anne Longfield OBE, Chief Executive of 4Children, said:

"Domestic violence is familiar ground, but family violence is often hidden from view. Conflict need not turn to violence if families get the help they need. Violence within the family threatens lives, breaks up families and has severe ongoing psychological and physical effects on hundreds of thousands of parents and children every year.

“Family violence is one of the biggest causes of family crisis in the UK, one which puts lives at risk, isolates people, undermines good mental health and costs the taxpayer in excess of £3.1bn per year  in costs to the NHS, the courts and social services. 4Children's Give Me Strength campaign is focused on getting Government and the whole of society to work together to prevent family crisis.

"Even more worryingly, children who face or witness family violence in the home are significantly more likely to commit other crimes in later life. Up to 79% of those identified as the most troubled families in some authorities are living with domestic violence and in some areas three quarters of children on child protection orders are on the registers because of concerns over domestic violence in the family. Unless urgent action is taken, it is clear that this cycle of violence will continue to plague families for generations to come."

Notes to Editors

4Children sent Freedom of Information request to all Local Authorities in the United Kingdom between January and March. 146 out of 153 responded.
Responses indicated:
  • 65% of local authorities had a current domestic violence strategy in place;
  • 82% had a series of domestic violence partnerships, including key players such as health care workers, children’s centres and schools;
  • 11% of local authorities lacked a strategy entirely;
  • 16% had a strategy that had either expired or was still in draft form;
  • 18% did not have a functioning partnership of any kind in place.

4Children sent Freedom of Information request to all police forces in the United Kingdom between January and March. 45 out of 52 responded.
Responses indicated:

    16% still did not have a domestic violence strategy in place;

    4% had a strategy that was under review of in draft.

4Children’s Family Violence survey: the findings
YouGov carried out a poll of  1,018 parents of children 18 and under who were willing to take part on behalf of 4Children in February 2012.Fieldwork was undertaken between 14th - 17th February 2012.  The survey was carried out online.
The survey found that:
  • 52% of all parents with children under 18 experience serious or frequent conflict in their family
  • 21% of all parent with children under 18 have serious or frequent conflicts over financial worries or debt
  • 20% of all parents with children under 18 have frequent or serious arguments with teenage children
Conflict expectations
  • 40% of respondents felt that making another person feel stupid happened occasionally in typical families
  • 18% felt that physical fighting without injuries happened occasionally in typical families
  • 17% felt that threatening or intimidating behaviour happened occasionally in typical families
  • 8% felt that physical fighting with injuries happened occasionally in typical families
  • 3% felt that unwanted sexual acts happened occasionally in typical families
Conflict experiences (based on 943 respondents who ever had conflicts in their family)
  • 29% of respondents said verbally insults ever happened during family conflicts
  • 21% said someone had been made to feel stupid during family conflict
  • 9% said possessions had been destroyed during family conflict
  • 10% said physical fights ever happened during family conflict, almost one third of which said involved injury (3%)
  • 2% said unwanted sexual acts had happened during family conflict
Help and support (based on 157 respondents who had sought help for conflicts in their family)
  • 23% would have liked more information about parenting teenage children and children with behaviour problems
  • 20% would have liked someone safe to talk to about what was happening in their family (conflicts/arguments/violence) without fear of losing their children
  • 17% would have liked more relationship counselling advice for both themselves and their partner


  1. As a result of the report’s findings, 4Children has proposed a raft of recommendations which would all help to address the gaps in the system to support families experiencing violence in the UK;
  2. Reshape the definition of violence within families;
  3. Definitions of domestic violence should be expanded in all statutory services to fully encapsulate family violence;
  4. Make family violence a high priority locally and nationally;
  5. Make family violence a key interdepartmental priority for national government and for local authorities’ new health and wellbeing boards, to ensure that families receive the joined up support they need;
  6. Introduce a ‘whole family approach’ to responding to family violence;
  7. From contact with the police to support from family workers, to ensure that the whole family is strengthened and has the support they need to overcome their problems;
  8. Raise awareness among professionals;
  9. To ensure that victims of family violence can receive the support they need at the earliest opportunity, and that opportunities for intervention are not missed;
  10. Recognise the impact of family violence in national initiatives to strengthen families and turn around crisis;
  11. Make family violence a national or local measurement in the payment by results criteria for turning around 120,000 troubled families;
  12. Move to an early intervention approach to prevent family violence and crisis:
  • Government lead to mainstream good practice;
  • Local public bodies to fund joined up early intervention;
  • Up-skill professionals to respond early;
  • Set up a national network of family violence projects;
  • Stronger therapeutic support services for children and families in crisis.

£3.1 billion cost to the taxpayer based on findings in S. Wallby, The Cost of Domestic Violence, Womens Equity Unit, University of Leeds, 2004.
An estimated 79% of the 120,000 troubled families that the Prime Minister has pledged to turn around experience family violence in some areas (This figure refers to the London Borough of Croydon). Sibling and child violence is experienced by 44% of families with the most complex problems in Croydon.  The new Family Violence Programme is working closely with these families through therapeutic support to reduce violence and conflict,
4Children’s current national campaign, Give Me Strength, demands more help for families to avert crises. Every year 28,000 children go into care in England. Millions more have their chances of success in later life diminished by growing up in families facing serious and multiple challenges with little or no practical help. Yet research shows us that these crises can often be prevented if the right help is available at the right time. Families tell us that this means early help as problems develop and before crisis sets in.

About 4Children
4Children is the national charity all about children and families. We have spearheaded a joined-up, integrated approach to children’s services and work with a wide range of partners around the country to ensure children and families have access to the services and support they need in their communities. We run Sure Start Children’s Centres as well as family and youth services across Britain.
We develop, influence and shape national policy on all aspects of the lives of children, young people and families.  As the Government’s strategic partner for early years and childcare we have a crucial role in co-producing policy with the Department of Education and representing the sector’s views and experiences.  Our national campaigns, like Give Me Strength, change policy and practice and put the needs of children and families on the political and policy agenda.

For further information, please contact:
Attila Kulcsar at or call 020 7522 6919 / 07917542464
or on 07917870641
or on 07967 273118



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