A domestic abuse victim whose baby was subsequently put up for adoption was failed by South Wales Police, the police watchdog has concluded.
The teenage mum was initially not treated as a victim of abuse despite eyewitness evidence of an assault, of which he has now been convicted, and evidence of abusive messages.
Her local authority, the Vale of Glamorgan, is also now being investigated over its handling of her case, which saw it enrol her on joint counselling sessions with her abusive partner.
The father of the 18-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, believes the public bodies’ handling of the allegations led to her child, now two, being taken away from her against her will.
He said his whole family has been devastated.
“She has been badly let down by the authorities,” he said.
“It’s true that she became involved with drink and drugs, but her problems were greatly exacerbated by the failure to provide her with proper support.
“Her former partner has been convicted of assaulting her, but initially the police did not see her as a victim of domestic abuse.
“It is heartbreaking that her child has been taken away from her for adoption. It’s an enormous blow that has had a devastating impact on her. At present she is greatly traumatised by what has happened and finding it very difficult to cope.”
Stacey Daly, a casework manager with the Independent Police Complaints Commission, ordered South Wales Police to undertake a further reinvestigation of their handling of the case.
In a formal findings report upholding the complaint, she said: “[Part] of your initial complaint was that police did not arrest [the baby’s father] at the time the offence [of assault on his partner] was reported.
“Added to this were your concerns that there was evidence at the time which highlighted the severity of the domestic violence incident and the conduct of [the baby’s father] which was not properly recorded and/ or considered by police investigating at the time.
“[This includes] evidence provided by your other daughter regarding a previous incident of domestic violence which she witnessed against [her sister] and evidence of abusive and threatening messages which [the baby’s father] had sent prior to the incident.”
The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales has now launched an investigation into a complaint that Vale of Glamorgan council also let down the teenager by enrolling her on a programme that involved participating in joint counselling sessions with her abusive partner.
The woman’s father has complained that the Vale council failed to comply with its legal duty to “assess the care and needs of a child for care and support”, instead referring her to a programme called Atal y Fro at which she and her violent partner were meant to discuss their relationship.
The teenage mother, who did not feel safe during the sessions because her partner was assaulting her afterwards, was seen by social workers as withdrawn and uncooperative.
Amanda Seed, the services director at Cardiff Women’s Aid, is a qualified independent domestic violence adviser who has supported hundreds of women experiencing domestic and sexual abuse.
She said: “During my time in this organisation I have never experienced a case of domestic abuse where there has been no emotional abuse.
“The effects of emotional abuse on a woman can vary depending on resilience, length of exposure, severity of abuse and vulnerability, including age with 16-24 year-olds deemed to be at higher risk.”
Ms Seed said the symptoms of emotional abuse could include depression, making it difficult to achieve daily tasks including engagement with professionals. Anxiety is also a symptom, with victims on constant “red alert” waiting for the next incident to happen.
Often women suffering from anxiety can appear jumpy.
“We have not supported share therapy or counselling between perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse as we understand the manipulation tactics that can be used by perpetrators with professionals,” said Ms Seed.
“We have first-hand experience of this when working in collaboration with a perpetrator programme several years ago. During a particular meeting, the probation officer facilitating the training provided an update on how a particular attendee was making some great steps, taking responsibility for his actions and she believed the programme was working for him.
“However, the probation officer was unaware of the police incident a day or two before where he had physically assaulted his partner.”
Ms Seed said her argument was that perpetrators who appeared validated and believed in front of professionals reinforced a victim’s feeling of hopelessness, making them much less likely to engage with professionals.
“Ongoing physical abuse, coercive control and fear combined with stressful conditions that can be interpreted as threats from professionals when experiencing depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress and low self-esteem, can make women appear angry and unwilling to co-operate,” she said.
Lance Carver, Vale of Glamorgan Council Head of Adult Services, said: “The council works in partnership with Atal y Fro to provide support for women and children within the Vale who have experienced, or are experiencing domestic violence. Other local authorities up and down the country use similar organisations who provide similar services for such situations.
“Our social services department takes the duty of care towards all our residents extremely seriously. Their well-being is of paramount importance. We only remove a child from an individual’s care in the most serious circumstances, when the safety of that child is deemed to be at risk.”