Daphne Toolkit

UNARS Understanding Agency and Resistance Strategies: Children in Situations of Domestic Abuse

Project Reference Number: 

UNARS Understanding Agency and Resistance Strategies: Children in Situations of Domestic Abuse

The main objectives of the UNARS project were: 

  1. To develop a detailed understanding of children and young people's (CYP) experiences of living with domestic violence (DV), with a particular focus on understanding points of constriction and constraint, and possibilities for agency and resistance.

  2. To explore dominant representations of DV in policy and professional discourses, for families living with violence, and to consider critically the implications of these for our understanding of young people as 'victims' and as 'agents'.

  3. To promote greater awareness of young people, not as passive victims of DV, but as people with a capacity to act and resist.

  4. To provide an appropriate training programme for staff in health, social services, policing, education, and other relevant statutory and voluntary agencies to promote an awareness of the potential mental health and social implications of DV for CYP, and the importance of recognising and supporting their capacity for agency and safe strategies of resistance, to build resilience in young survivors of DV.

  5. To develop an appropriate programme of intervention with young people to enable them to explore their agentic self in relation to DV.

  6. To create a model to disseminate the results of project and to involve workers in relevant statutory and voluntary organisations.

  7. To create the foundation of a longer standing research and practice collective, with expertise in work with DV with young people that is non-labelling and non-pathologising. 


Using an action research approach, the project developed through 2 stages, with a range of dissemination activities incorporated across the duration of the project.


Stage 1: Understanding Children and Young People’s Agency

In each participating country, the project team developed detailed, contextually and culturally nuanced understandings of CYP's experiences of DV, and of the service and policy landscape within which their experiences were located. 1:1 interviews and photo-elicitation facilitated exploration of CYPs experiences of DV, focusing specifically on agency, capacity, empowerment, resistance and resilience. Researchers also used a policy analysis, and focus groups with professionals and stakeholders working with CYP affected by DV, to build a detailed understanding of the professional service landscape that CYP must navigate to live with, escape from, or heal from DV.


Stage 2: Training and Interventions

Two actions were planned to ensure that the insights developed in stage 1 were translated into practice.

  • The intervention team developed a manualised group-based intervention programme to enable cross-national implementation. Two cycles of the programme ran in each country in the partnership. Using psychological and creative therapeutic techniques, CYP explored experiences of constraint and empowerment, of being helpless and being powerful, to develop a clearer awareness of the agentic self in situations of DV.

  • The training team developed a manualised training package for professionals and stakeholders to help them understand the concept and importance of agency and develop strategies to build this into their work with CYP.


Key Results

The project provides an insight into the many creative and resourceful ways that CYP find to manage and cope. Findings illustrate children as impacted by violence, but also as resilient and active agents in their own lives, making purposeful attempts to protect themselves and other family members, to heal and to build positive self-identities during and post-violence.  The project evidenced children’s capacity to articulately voice their experiences of DV. In understanding how children are able to resist and have agency in situations of domestic violence and abuse, we suggest that what characterises children’s experiences of violence is a kind of paradoxical resilience. When children live in conflict laden environments, they have to find complex ways of coping and managing themselves and their relationships. What may appear as ‘dysfunctional’ and difficult in the eyes of clinically trained adults, is often the way that children have found to cope in highly located, creative and agentic ways. Children’s ways of coping are not always obvious, and are often intertwined with what might be termed as ‘damage’ or ‘woundedness’.



Workforce development: A range of professionals attended the various elements of the UNARS training programme and dissemination events. Training provided practitioners with knowledge and skills to understand and work more effectively with CYP who have experienced DV.  211 professionals attended the training workshops offered by UNARS in the four partner countries. 145 professionals, policy makers, academics and other stakeholders (including families affected by domestic violence) attended the knowledge café event and public seminar in Northampton. 120 professionals attended the final conference in Valencia. Supplementary events were also held in each partner country, including half day conferences in Greece and Italy (Puglia), and a range of additional events in the UK, including a 3 day conference (Violence: Children, Family and Society http://www.violenceconference.com/resources/Violence%20Conference%20timetable.pdf), which included a UNARS keynote address, symposium and exhibition; training to 200 social work professionals through the ‘Making Research Count’ network, and various additional keynote addresses in the UK and around Europe. Training and other dissemination events were well received, and there was a strong perception of a need for more training in all regions.  Trainees reported that their practice had been enhanced by the transfer of knowledge and skills facilitated by the training events. They reported positive experiences of the programme and were enthusiastic about applying the ethos and principles of the UNARS project in their own practice and that of their colleagues, organizations and service development.

For Children and Young People the project offered multiple opportunities to make their voice heard to policy makers and stakeholders – particularly through the young people’s exhibition which was held in each partner country. In addition, young people who participated in the intervention reported numerous positive gains as a consequence of participation, suggesting that their sense of well being, resilience and empowerment had improved as a consequence of participation.

Policy Impact: In Puglia, Italy, a chapter on children as victims of domestic violence has been included in regional policy implementation guidance, as a consequence of the knowledge gained in this project. In Spain, the team continues to work closely with police and regional government to ensure that knowledge from the project informs the regional implementation of changing policy regarding child victims of domestic and gender based violence. In the UK, Dr Callaghan acted as expert advisor to the Department of Work and Pensions, to secure more sustained financial support for families fleeing domestic violence under the new ‘Universal Credit’ scheme.