LEVELS of domestic violence are expected to peak over the Christmas and New Year period, according to figures released by Hertfordshire Police.

A rise in reports of abuse are expected as emotional and financial strains reach boiling point.

Detective Chief Inspector Fiona Gaskell, Head of the force's specialist investigation unit, said: "Figures for domestic violence do fluctuate across the county throughout the year but there is a high point at Christmas time and that does cause us concern.

"Christmas is a time when tensions in troubled families can mount further."

To combat the problem, families are being offered help and advice from counsellors by accessing a new helpline. The number is being advertised in a hard-hitting poster campaign highlighting the impact of domestic abuse on children.

The poster carries a hand written wish from Jamie, a six year-old boy. He says: "Dear Santa, I wish my mummy and daddy would stop fighting."

Detective Chief Inspector Gaskell added: "We can easily forget children are just as much victims when domestic violence happens in the home."

"We developed a poster that reflects the negative impact of domestic violence on a child living within a damaged home environment. The sight of adults you love fighting can have a devastating impact on a child."

Deborah Brice, Chair of the Domestic Violence Sub Group of Hertfordshire Safeguarding Children Board said: "We have identified domestic violence as a key priority and we are keen to support this campaign."

The new helpline can be accessed on 08 088 088 088. A 24 hour nation wide alternative is available on 0808 2000 247.