SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter outlines the key points in relation to the effects on children of domestic abuse and the actions that should be taken.
In July 2017, this procedure was reviewed throughout and updated as required. In particular Section 3, Assessment of the Child's Needs, was updated to reinforce that when practitioners identify that a child or children are living in a household where there is domestic abuse, parental/carer mental ill health and parental/carer substance misuse (drugs and/or alcohol), the interaction between these complex issues, also known as the 'toxic trio', must be fully considered. The 'toxic trio' are indicators of increased risk to children and the likelihood of poor outcomes into adulthood, therefore effective assessment to clearly identify risk, strengths and resilience is required. Practitioners must ensure that all cases where the 'toxic trio' are present are discussed with their line manager and/or designated safeguarding lead to ensure that appropriate support and interventions are identified.
- Routine Enquiry
- Assessment of the Child's Needs
- Responding to Domestic Abuse
- Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC)
- Safety Planning
- Appendix A: Derbyshire Multi-Agency Safeguarding Protocol in Domestic Abuse Incidents (Documents Library, Protocols)
- Appendix B: Derbyshire Protocol - Multi Agency Safeguarding in Domestic Abuse Incidents (Flowchart) (Documents Library, Flowcharts)
- Appendix C: Derby City Protocol - Multi-Agency Safeguarding in Domestic Abuse Incidents (Flowchart) (Documents Library, Flowcharts)
Agencies and practitioners should be mindful of these procedures in all situations of domestic abuse affecting children. Most domestic abuse is perpetrated by men against women. Domestic abuse can also be perpetrated by women against men and within same sex relationships, and the principles within these procedures would apply, acknowledging that specific assessment would be required to reflect the individual circumstances of the family setting.
Domestic abuse is defined as:Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse:
Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.
Coercive behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.
The definition includes so called 'honour' based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group. (See also Safeguarding Children at Risk of Abuse Through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Procedure and Forced Marriage Procedure.
The Serious Crime Act 2015 created a new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships. Controlling or coercive behaviour does not relate to a single incident, it is a purposeful pattern of behaviour which takes place over time in order for one individual to exert power, control or coercion over another. Such behaviours might include:
- Isolating a person from their friends and family;
- Depriving them of their basic needs;
- Monitoring their time;
- Monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware;
- Taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep;
- Depriving them of access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services;
- Repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless;
- Enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim;
- Forcing the victim to take part in criminal activity such as shoplifting, neglect or abuse of children to encourage self-blame and prevent disclosure to authorities;
- Financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance;
- Threats to hurt or kill;
- Threats to a child;
- Threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. threatening to 'out' someone);
- Criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods);
- Preventing a person from having access to transport or from working.
Domestic abuse is a crime and should be reported to the Police.
In all cases it is important that practitioners from children's agencies and adult agencies work together using a Think Family approach to ensure the needs of both the child and parent are considered. At all times the welfare of the child remains paramount.
N.B. The safeguarding children procedures apply to 16 and 17 year olds and these should take priority and the needs of young people assessed accordingly.
2. Routine Enquiry
Staff in all agencies should make routine enquiries about domestic abuse as it helps to increase the rates of identification, particularly among vulnerable groups. Routine enquiry involves routinely asking service users about their experiences of domestic abuse, regardless of whether or not there are any signs of abuse, or whether abuse is suspected. Routine enquires must be made in an appropriate manner and should never be made in front of a partner or someone else.
Victims who are experiencing domestic abuse may not have disclosed what they and their children are going through. (Women are reported to have experience, on average, 35 incidents before there is any form of disclosure). Practitioners should be mindful of the significant reasons for this including fears that the disclosure (and accepting help) will be worse than the current situation.
Practitioners can promote early support and intervention to meet the needs of children and women experiencing domestic abuse through routine enquiry as part of the services they provide. Evidence suggests that the victims of domestic abuse are more likely to tell someone about it if they are asked directly about it.
Routine enquiry is especially important for universal services such as Emergency Departments, Midwifery, Health Visiting, School Nursing and GP's.
3. Assessment of the Child's Needs
Children may suffer both directly and indirectly if they live in households where there is domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is likely to have a damaging effect on the health and development of children.
Children living in families where they are exposed to abuse have been shown to be at risk of behavioural, emotional, physical, cognitive functioning, attitudes and long term developmental problems. Incidents of domestic abuse towards pregnant women are associated with poor obstetric outcomes in a number of ways, such as increased rates of miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, foetal injury and foetal death.
Where there is evidence of domestic abuse, the implications for any children in the household should be considered, including the possibility that the children may themselves be subject to violence or abuse or may be harmed by witnessing or overhearing the violence or abuse.
It is important to remember that each child will respond to the trauma arising from domestic abuse differently and some may not exhibit any negative effects at, or near the time of an incident.
Women experiencing abuse often have to balance strategies to minimise the violence or abuse towards themselves and reduce the risks to the children, whilst at the same time finding themselves responsible for meeting the main caring responsibilities for the children. They are also more likely to suffer from depression and other mental health difficulties leading to self-harm, attempted suicide and/or substance misuse. Any assessment should consider the impact of domestic abuse and other risk factors on the woman, how this impacts on her ability to care for any children as well as the impact on the child.
The violent or abusive behaviour of the abusive partner may significantly diminish their ability to parent well. Explicit consideration should be made of the impact of the perpetrator's abusive behaviour as well as any mental health issues and/or substance misuse on their capacity to meet the needs of the child.
All practitioners should ensure that needs of the child are recognised and assessed using the best available skills. It is important for all practitioners to remain child focused and gain a clear perception of the individual child's experience of life, being mindful not to collude with or be over sympathetic with parents/carers. An overall picture of the frequency, severity and details of previous incidences of abuse will help practitioners make judgements about the impact and need for services. On notification/disclosure or suspicion of domestic abuse within a family, all practitioners must immediately consult existing records and consider what else is known of the family, any previous domestic incidents and other agencies involved.Practitioners should use tools to support the assessment of needs, risks and strengths including:
- Safelives DASH Risk Checklist (RIC) (see Documents Library, Assessment Tools) for victims age 16 or over;
- Domestic Violence Risk Identification Matrix (DVRIM) (see Documents Library, Assessment Tools) to assess risks to children;
- Domestic Violence Risk Assessment Model (DVRAM) an assessment tool for use by Children's Social Care.
All agencies and practitioners should refer to the Derby City and Derbyshire Thresholds Document (see Documents Library, Guidance Documents) to identify the level of need and the appropriate assessment and interventions.
Where there are emerging needs (i.e. low level domestic abuse) the family will require support and co-ordinated services through an Early Help Assessment. (See Providing Early Help Procedure). Practitioners should be mindful that there are likely to be circumstances where escalating levels of concern mean that the completion of an Early Help Assessment may be difficult; this could be due to the lack of agreement of the abusive adult or that by raising concerns there is an increased risk of harm to the child and/or the non-abusing parent.
Where a practitioner or an agency is not in a position to complete an Early Help Assessment, they should liaise within their service or with an associated agency (for example a GP to a Midwife/Health Visitor/School Nurse) so that the assessment can be commenced.
Where this is not feasible a referral should be made to a Local Authority Children's Services Multi Agency Team (MAT). In Derbyshire referrals can be made via Starting Point and in Derby via weekly locality Vulnerable Child meeting (VCM) direct to the locality Single Point of Access Clerk.
Children living in situations where there is repeated or medium / high risk domestic abuse should be referred to Children's Social Care. See Making a Referral to Social Care Procedure.
Babies under 12 months old are particularly vulnerable to violence. Where there is domestic abuse in families with a child under 12 months old (including an unborn baby), even if the child was not present, professionals should make a referral to Children's Social Care if there is any single incident of domestic abuse.
Practitioners should ensure that their contribution to the Early Help or Single Assessment includes appropriate information about the impact of domestic abuse. There should be specific clarity about any sensitive information that may place the children or parent at risk of Significant Harm and any restrictions to whom it may be shared.
Input from specialist domestic abuse agencies should be sought to ensure appropriate support and advice is secured. Where appropriate victims should be encouraged and supported to attend the Freedom Programme to enable them to make sense and understand what has happened to them and the impact on children.
Abusive partners should be interviewed by Children's Social Care where an assessment is being undertaken, although the timing of this must not place the child or woman or practitioner at risk of serious harm. Specific advice and support should be sought from the Police or other agencies to ensure that all appropriate information is obtained.
The Police and other agencies have defined powers in criminal and civil law which can be used to help those who are subject to domestic abuse. This includes the Domestic Abuse Protection Notices (DVPN), Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPO) and Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme also known as Clare's Law. See Managing Individuals who Pose a Risk of Harm to Children Procedure.
Note: If practitioners identify that a child or children are living in a household where there is domestic abuse, parental/carer mental ill health and parental/carer substance misuse (drugs and/or alcohol), the interaction between these complex issues, also known as the 'toxic trio', must be fully considered. The 'toxic trio' are indicators of increased risk to children and the likelihood of poor outcomes into adulthood, therefore effective assessment to clearly identify risk, strengths and resilience is required. Practitioners must ensure that all cases where the 'toxic trio' are present are discussed with their line manager and/or designated safeguarding lead to ensure that appropriate support and interventions are identified. See the procedures for children in these specific circumstances: Working with Parents who are Misusing Substances Procedure and Working with Parents / Carers Who Have Mental Health Needs Procedure. These should be read in conjunction with the Derby City and Derbyshire SCBs Thresholds Document and Information Sharing Agreement and Guidance for Practitioners both of which are found in the Documents Library, Guidance Documents.
4. Responding to Domestic Abuse
Police are often the first point of contact and they (or any other agency that becomes aware of domestic abuse) should ensure the safety of the victim and:
- Complete the Safelives DASH Risk Identification Checklist – also known by the Police as a Public Protection Notice (see Documents Library, Assessment Tools) to identify level of risk;
- Find out whether there are any children living in the household or if the victim is pregnant. The Police Officer should see any children present in the house to assess their immediate safety and in emergency situation take immediate action. In most cases children can be safeguarded by the perpetrator removing themselves from the situation or the child and non-perpetrator parent staying elsewhere;
- Take into consideration what the impact is on the welfare of the children;
- Involved parents/carers should be informed of the notification to Social Care and other agencies.
On the basis of this domestic abuse cases where there are children and/or pregnant women will be responded to via the Derby or Derbyshire Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs as follows. See:
- Appendix A: Derbyshire Multi-Agency Safeguarding Protocol in Domestic Abuse Incidents (Documents Library, Protocols);
- Appendix C: Derby City Protocol - Multi-Agency Safeguarding in Domestic Abuse Incidents (Flowchart) (Documents Library, Flowcharts).
All cases will be reviewed in the MASH taking into account any previous incidents or concerns.
Children living in families were there is medium risk domestic abuse will usually be considered to have serious or complex needs, while those living in high risk situations are likely to have child protection concerns and will require appropriate assessment and intervention by Children's Social Care.
Any level of domestic violence, where there is a child under the age of one or the victim is pregnant, will also require Social Care services.
Standard risk cases where children are in the household will be screened by the Domestic Abuse Triage meeting involving Social Care, Health and Education Welfare and/or where appropriate the MASH Manager. At this stage if serious or complex needs or child protection concerns are identified Children's Social Care will undertake appropriate assessment and interventions.
Where a crime may have been committed or where there are specific emerging needs, the local authority Multi Agency Teams (MAT's) will commence an Early Help Assessment. See Providing Early Help Procedure. All other cases will be discussed at the Domestic Abuse Triage meeting and requests made to Health or Education to complete an Early Help Assessment or provide further support.
In Derby, the Domestic Abuse Risk Identification Matrix (DVRIM) (see Documents Library, Assessment Tools) will be used to identify the appropriate level of intervention.
The needs of perpetrators aged 16 or 17 will also be considered in this process to ensure appropriate assessment and interventions.
In Derby, Health Visitors, and School Nurses and Midwifery are notified of domestic abuse incidents that occur within Derby city (standard, medium or high risk cases). In Derbyshire domestic abuse incidents are notified to the Community Midwifery Team if the woman is pregnant and where there are children less than 5 years of age, notifications at all levels are sent to the child's Health Visitor, who will make a further assessment of the situation and inform the GP. Where there are school age children, the school are notified of the incident and the School Nurse is informed by the school as relevant.
It is important to clarify whether the family is aware that a referral is to be made. Any response to such referrals should be discreet, in terms of making contact with women in ways which will not further endanger them or their children. In some cases, a child may be in need of immediate protection.
Whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer Significant Harm, Section 47 Enquiries should be commenced following a Strategy Discussion / Meeting involving Police, Children's Social Care, Health and other relevant agencies (see Child Protection Section 47 Enquiries Procedure).
Circumstances in which a strategy discussion or meeting should be undertaken include where:
- The Safelives DASH Risk Identification Checklist (RIC) (see Documents Library, Assessment Tools) indicated high risk;
- A child has experienced Significant Harm during any domestic abuse incident (even if unintentionally injured);
- Informal agreements have broken down, placing the children at increased likelihood of suffering Significant Harm;
- The adults are unable to accept the serious impact the violence or abuse has on the child;
- A child has witnessed another person being seriously injured;
- The victim is pregnant or there is a baby under one in the household;
- There has been an escalation in frequency and/or severity of incidents;
- The abuse involved sexual assault or attempted strangulation or the use of weapons or threats to kill;
- Contact arrangements exist, or are planned, and there is a risk of significant harm; or
- Where a child is known to be involved in a violent relationship.
The Police are required to determine whether any court orders or injunctions are in force, these could include Domestic Violence Protection Orders in respect of members of the household.
The strategy discussion/meeting will:
- Consider the assessment of the safety needs of the child and non-abusing adult as inter related;
- Take into account that the role of the Police will be to focus the criminal process on the perpetrator of the domestic abuse within the family;
- Agree on requirements for further information and assessment, including medical examination/treatment;
- Consider how the child and non-abusing parent can be provided with strategies to "exit" safely from the circumstances where they are experiencing domestic abuse;
- Consider which other agencies should provide services to meet the needs of the child and non-abusing adult (for example risk of homelessness);
- Consider the particular vulnerability of the non-abusing parent (for example a woman with no recourse to public funds i.e. who may have had her bank account frozen or may be seeking asylum) and the impact this may have on the welfare of the child; and
- Careful consideration should be given to the purpose and method of contacting the family, particularly in relation to the wording of any letters sent out. (This would need to take account of the level of power and control the abusive partner has over the non-abusive partner).
The impact of domestic abuse on the welfare of a child and non-abusing parent may be very complex. When completing the Social Care single assessment, Social Workers in Derby must complete the Domestic Violence Risk Identification Matrix (DVRIM) (see Documents Library, Assessment Tools) at the outset to ensure there is an effective assessment of the child's needs, the risks and strengths and the appropriate level of intervention required.
Professional judgements may conclude that the safety needs can be adequately met within the family through the on-going intervention and services from different agencies, even with the perpetrator of the abuse remaining in the family.
Evidence suggests a victim will leave a perpetrator many times and then return, before a final separation. Risks may also increase following a separation. A separation therefore should not be seen as a solution and support and monitoring will still be required.
There may be situations where the child will be at continuing risk of significant harm and it becomes necessary to take the matter to an Initial Child Protection Conference or consider legal intervention. See Child Protection Conferences Procedure.
In some situations where the child cannot be kept safe consideration will need to be given to removing the child by way of consent or court order. Where there is evidence of significant harm to the child/ren further assessment tools, i.e. Domestic Violence Risk Assessment Model (DVRAM), should be used to inform the assessment; this should be completed during the first review period if subject to a child protection plan or as part of a PLO or any application to the court.
5. Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC)
The Safelives DASH Risk Identification Checklist (RIC) (see Documents Library, Assessment Tools) is used to identify the level of risk to victims of domestic abuse. Any agency or practitioner can complete the RIC and refer to MARAC.
Where the risk to an adult in a household is identified as a high risk (or medium risk where professional judgement considers the risk to be serious) there must be a referral to the local Domestic Violence Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) along with a referral to an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA). The conference would consider what measures have been put in place, and what measures are required to protect the safety of the adult and their children.
Situations may be identified at MARAC which require an early help assessment or Social Care referral.
Should any further incidents occur within 12 months and identified as medium or high risk, a re-referral to MARAC must be made.
For more information about MARAC in Derby and Derbyshire see Safer Derbyshire website.
6. Safety Planning
Safety planning for victims and children is an important element of all interventions to safeguard children experiencing domestic abuse. All assessments should include a judgement on existing safety planning and recommend any alteration. Building up a plan can help women and children take control, increase their options and ensure a greater degree of safety than previously experienced.
A safety plan should only be developed by a practitioner with suitable professional knowledge and skills. There may be serious risks to the lives of the woman and/or her children and practitioners must seek specialist advice if they are any doubt e.g. independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA).
Practitioners developing a safety plan should understand the women's views of the risks to herself and the children and the strategies she has in place to address them. Practitioners should establish whether the woman will remain with the abusive partner. If she is to remain, an explicit understanding must be obtained as to whether she wants her abusive partner spoken to by practitioners. Practitioners should be mindful that risk may increase when a victim leaves the relationship.
Where there is evidence of a risk of further abuse, a safety plan involving a woman and a child remaining with her abusive partner should only be agreed where it is judged safe by the agencies to discuss the concerns about the violence or abuse with the abusive partner.
All practitioners should be mindful of their responsibilities for the safety of themselves, colleagues within their own agency and other organisations. If a judgement is made at any stage of intervention that identifies a risk of serious harm to a practitioner from an abusive adult, appropriate advice must be sought within his or her own organisation. Additionally, if a safety plan is established for practitioners in respect of the risk from a service user, explicit advice must be obtained to clarify under what circumstances this information would be shared with other agencies that may be unaware of the risk.
It is important that all practitioners hold perpetrators to account for their behaviour and ensure that the safety of the child and victim are considered at all times when making any decisions. The potential for behaviour change in perpetrators must be considered as part of any assessment.
A serial perpetrator is defined as, 'Alleged to have used or threatened violence against two or more victims who are unconnected to each other and who are or have been intimate partners of the perpetrator (as opposed to repeat offending against the same victim or persons in the same household).' A repeat perpetrator is defined as someone who has committed 'two or more incidents of domestic violence against an intimate partner.'
Serial or repeat offending will be taken into account in any action by the Police.
Some perpetrators are sentenced via the courts to a Community Sentence or Term of Imprisonment which requires them to be under the supervision of either the National Probation Service (NPS) or Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC). The NPS or CRC will hold important information in relation to a perpetrator and there is a focus on risk assessment, risk management and intervention, whether as a single agency or through multi-agency groups such Safeguarding, MAPPA, MARAC or IOM. If a perpetrator has received a prison sentence of 12 months or above, the NPS will have offered statutory victim contact to a victim of that offence. In addition, some perpetrators are sentenced via the courts to attend perpetrator programmes which are facilitated by the CRC. The victim of a perpetrator on a programme will be offered contact by a Women's Safety worker in the NPS.Interventions should be offered at an early stage when a perpetrator may be most motivated to change their behaviour. Even where a perpetrator leaves a family or is excluded this remains important given the likelihood of either their return or their future involvement in a new household is very high.