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.
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 received Royal Assent on 29 April 2021. Click here for further information on the Domestic Abuse Act. This procedure will continue to be updated as the various provisions of the Act come into force.
Derby and Derbyshire Multi Agency Protocol for Pre-Birth Assessments and Interventions (Documents Library, Local Protocols)
Use of Written Agreements (Documents Library, Guidance Documents)
Practice Guidance on Bruising in Babies & Children (Documents Library, Keeping Babies Safe)
This chapter was updated in January 2022 to add the above link to Domestic Abuse Act Factsheets.
- 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 (Flowchart) (Documents Library, Protocols)
- Appendix B: Derby City Protocol - Multi-Agency Safeguarding in Domestic Abuse Incidents (Flowchart) (Documents Library, Flowcharts)
Domestic abuse is complex. It can go unidentified by agencies, families and friends, and even victims themselves. In order to transform the response to domestic abuse, it is important that it is first properly recognised and understood.
Domestic abuse does not only occur between couples. It can also involve wider family members, including parental abuse by an adolescent or grown child. It can exist between older siblings, or the wider extended family in elder or honour-based abuse.
Domestic abuse involves many different acts and behaviours. These include physical violence, manipulation, isolation, control, and use of threats and humiliation which are intended to harm, frighten or punish a victim. Domestic abuse is a crime and should be reported to the Police.
Domestic abuse is defined in the proposed Domestic Abuse Bill (2019) as:
'Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, 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 sexual orientation. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:
- Economic and emotional forms of abuse.
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, Honour Based Abuse and Violence 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 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 a person.'
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.
Abuse through technology;
- This includes stalking on social media;
- Un-wanted sharing of sexual images;
- Looking through private messages;
- Demanding passwords;
- Sending constant messages and making constant phone calls.
Between 50-70% of young people report some form of Interpersonal violence and abuse in this manner (Stonard et al, 2015).
Domestic abuse and 16-17 year olds
The non-statutory definition includes 16 and 17 year olds as victims and makes it clear that the impact of domestic abuse on young people needs to be properly recognised and we need to ensure that agencies are aware of it and how to appropriately identify and respond.
Young people are more likely to confide in their friends rather than family or professionals, this raises a number of concerns, including incidents not being reported to the Police, lack of recognition of abuse and failure to receive appropriate advice.
Practitioners should be open to the idea that interpersonal violence and abuse can affect any young person regardless of age, gender, sexuality, race, religion or disability. Young people will be more likely to confide in a practitioner that they have a positive and trusting relationship with. Practitioners should believe any young person who is disclosing abuse, and not minimise the situation solely as a result of the young person's age or length of relationship. They should be prepared to spend time with the young person, exploring what a healthy relationship looks like.
Parents and carers are the main protectors of young people and, if appropriate, can provide useful insight to the young person's situation. Practitioners should always have a conversation with the young person in regards to information sharing. See Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership Information Sharing Guidance (Documents Library, Guidance Documents).
Safety planning for young people in violent and abusive relationships. All children experiencing abuse in their relationship should have a Safety Plan, even if the abuse has stopped. The Safety Plan should support the young person by equipping them to make choices that may keep them safe from harm.
Safety Plans should focus on risks the young person is facing, their physical and emotional needs, and should be ideally be led by the young person and supported by a practitioner. N.B. The Derby and Derbyshire safeguarding children procedures apply to any child under the age of 18.
It is important that practitioners recognise that the young person causing harm has the capacity to change. Young people causing harm tend to have multiple problems, such as poor school attendance, homelessness, substance misuse and offending behaviour. Careful consideration must be given in regards to labelling these young people as 'perpetrators', as this can prove to be a barrier to engagement The preferred term should be 'young person causing harm'.
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.
This includes children living in abusive households, teenage relationship abuse and abuse directed towards siblings and parents. Courts and responding agencies must take into account youth justice guidelines when responding to cases and must avoid unnecessarily criminalising young people.
2. Routine Enquiry
Practitioners in all agencies should ensure that they make enquires about domestic abuse as this will identify individuals at risk and ensure support is made available.
Routine enquiry involves 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. Careful consideration must be given when enquiries are being made to ensure risk is not increased, for example risk may increase if enquiries are made in front of partners or someone else. The enquiries should be made whether or not there are signs or suspicions of abuse.
Victims who are experiencing domestic abuse may not have disclosed what they and their children are going through. (Victims 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 victims 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 directly asked.
Routine enquiry is especially important for universal services such as Emergency Departments, Midwifery, Health Visiting, Education staff, 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, 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. Statistics show 15% of women report abuse during their pregnancy and 40%–60% of women experiencing domestic abuse are abused while pregnant.
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.
Victims are more likely to suffer from conditions such as 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 victim and how this impacts on their ability to safeguard any child in their care.
Assessment of the perpetrator of abuse should take into consideration any other factors that may impact on their ability to safeguard and meet the needs of the child such as mental health or substance misuse issues.
All practitioners should ensure that needs of the child are understood and prioritised. It is important for all practitioners to remain child focused and gain a clear perception of the lived experience of the child and to ensure that the child's voice is informing this analysis.
Practitioners should be mindful not to collude with or be over sympathetic with parents/carers. A chronology of the frequency, severity and details of previous incidences of abuse will help practitioners make judgements about the impact and need for services.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.
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/Education Provider/School Nurse) so that the assessment can be commenced.
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.
Unborn infants and babies under 12 months old are particularly vulnerable to the effects of 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, practitioners 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 on the child. 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 access domestic abuse support services.
In Derbyshire this can be accessed via the Domestic Abuse Support Line and in the City via Refuge Outreach.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 victim 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, and cumulative harm they can cause, must be fully considered. These 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 cumulative harm is 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 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 child:
- 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, if they are school age details of the education establishment attended should be obtained, along with details of any additional vulnerabilities for the victims, such as pregnancy, mental health or substance misuse issues or disabilities;
- If the Police Officer attending sees any children present in the house, they should assess their immediate safety and in emergency situations 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, the child's education provider if they are statutory school age (for the Stopping Domestic Abuse Together Initiative) 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 City Initial Response Team or Derbyshire Starting Point 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 by Starting Point or the Initial Response Team taking into account any previous incidents or concerns.
Children living in families were there is a risk of domestic abuse may have serious or complex needs, any children exposed to high risk situations will require further investigation via Child Protection Section 47 Enquiries Procedure.In Derby and Derbyshire all notifications from the Police are screened by the Initial Response Team or Starting Point to determine appropriate assessment and intervention. The needs of perpetrators aged 16 or 17 will also be considered in this process to ensure appropriate assessment and interventions.
In Derby, the Domestic Abuse Risk Identification Matrix (DVRIM) (see Documents Library, Assessment Tools) will be used to identify the appropriate level of intervention.
Where there is a statutory school age child, educational establishments in Derby and Derbyshire will also be notified via the Stopping Domestic Abuse Together (SDAT) initiative, informing them that a domestic abuse incident has taken place. The school/college should initially respond as they do in any situation where concerns are raised about a child and assess the presentation of the child and what is known about their family and home life. The Domestic Violence Risk Identification Matrix (DVRIM) (Documents Library, Assessment Tools) can help education providers reflect on what is known, not known and make a judgement about risk. If the school/college becomes concerned about what a child tells them and/or as a result of any assessment of the child, they must make a referral to Children's Social Care. See Making a referral to Social Care Procedure.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 the victim 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 judgement 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 the 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 the victim and their 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 victim and/or their 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 victim's views of the risks to themself and their children and the strategies they have in place to address them. Practitioners should establish whether the victim will remain with the abusive partner. If they are to remain, an explicit understanding must be obtained as to whether the victim wants their abusive partner spoken to by practitioners. Practitioners should be mindful that risk may increase when a victim leaves the relationship, and after perpetrators leave the family home.
Where there is evidence of a risk of further abuse, a Safety Plan involving a victim and a child remaining with the 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. Practitioners should be mindful that risk may increase after perpetrators leave the family home. 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 the National Probation Service (NPS). The NPS 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. 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.