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1.4.21 Domestic Violence and Abuse


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Child
  3. Confidentiality
  4. Assessing Concerns of Domestic Violence and Abuse
  5. Managing Risk and Levels of Intervention
  6. Referral to Children’s Social Care
  7. Managing Risks in Child Protection Conferences
  8. Safety of Professionals Working with Domestic Violence
  9. Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme


1. Introduction

Domestic violence and abuse may manifest itself in a variety of ways including physical violence, emotional or psychological abuse, sexual violence and abuse, financial control and abuse and the imposition of social isolation or movement deprivation. Often it will involve a combination of these behaviours or acts used by one individual to dominate another.

In March 2013, the Home Office revised terminology in relation to domestic violence. The term ‘domestic violence and abuse’ should now be used and is reflected in the revised title of this chapter. The Government definition of domestic violence and abuse has also been widened to include those aged 16-17 and the wording changed to reflect coercive control. The new definition is:

'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:

  • Psychological;
  • Physical;
  • Sexual;
  • Financial;
  • Emotional.

'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.

The main characteristic of domestic violence and abuse is that the behaviour is intentional and is calculated to exercise power and control within a relationship. The adults may be, or have been, intimate partners, or family members regardless of gender or sexuality.

The majority of domestic violence and abuse is committed by men towards women. It can also involve men being abused by their female partners, abuse in same sex relationships, and by young people towards other family members, as well as the abuse of older people in families. Domestic abuse occurs irrespective of social class, racial, ethnic, cultural, religious or sexual relationships or identity.

Where there is domestic violence and abuse, the wellbeing of the children in the household must be promoted and all assessments must consider the need to safeguard the children, including unborn child/ren.

No one agency can address all the needs of people affected by, or perpetrating, domestic abuse. For intervention to be effective the agencies and partner organisations of the Northumberland Safeguarding Children Board need to work together, and be prepared to take on the challenges that domestic violence creates.

The Serious Crime Act 2015 creates 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);
  • Assault;
  • Criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods);
  • Rape;
  • Preventing a person from having access to transport or from working.


2. The Child

Prolonged or regular exposure to domestic violence can have a serious impact on a child’s development and emotional well-being, despite the best efforts of the victim parent to protect the child.

Domestic violence has an impact in a number of ways. The impact will be exacerbated when violence is combined with any form of substance misuse.

See also Children of Alcohol Misusing Children Procedure and Children of Drug Misusing Parents Procedure.

Domestic violence may have a long term psychological and emotional impact in a number of ways:

  • Children may be greatly distressed by witnessing (seeing or hearing) the physical and emotional suffering of a parent, or witnessing the outcome of any assault;
  • Children may be pressurised into concealing assaults, and experience the fear and anxiety of living in an environment where abuse occurs;
  • The domestic violence may impact negatively on an adult victims parenting capacity;
  • Children may be drawn into the violence and themselves become victims of physical abuse.

For children living in situations of domestic violence the effects may result in behavioural issues, absence from school, difficulties concentrating, lower school achievement, ill health, bullying, substance misuse, self-harm, running away, anti-social behaviour and physical injury.

During pregnancy domestic violence can pose a threat to an unborn child as assaults on pregnant women often involve punches or kicks directed at the abdomen, risking injury to both the mother and the foetus. In almost a third of cases domestic violence begins or escalates during pregnancy and it is associated with increased rates of miscarriage, premature birth, foetal injury and foetal death. The mother may be prevented from seeking or receiving anti-natal care or post-natal care. In addition if the mother is being abused this can affect her attachment to her child, more so if the pregnancy is a result of rape by her partner.

Young people themselves can be subjected to domestic violence and abuse perpetrated in order to force them into marriage or to punish him/her for ‘bringing dishonour on the family’. This abuse may be carried out by several members of a family increasing the young person’s sense of isolation and powerlessness. See Forced Marriages Procedure.

Young women in the 16 to 24 age group are most at risk of being victims of domestic violence, some of which may be teenage mothers. Research by the University of Bristol and the NSPCC has also found that young people in the 13 to 16 age group are also vulnerable to abuse within relationships (see Barter, C. et al (2009) Partner Exploitation and Violence in Teenage Intimate Relationships).

Whilst young people are under the age of 18 years they should receive support and safeguarding in line with the Children Act 1989 and Children Act 2004.

Children who are experiencing domestic violence or conflict may benefit from a range of support and services; some may be at risk of Significant Harm.

The three key imperatives of any intervention for children living with domestic violence are:

  1. To protect the child/ren, including unborn child/ren;
  2. To empower the adult victim to protect themselves and their children;
  3. To hold the abusive partner accountable for the violence and provide opportunities for change.


3. Confidentiality

Clarity about information sharing is essential and all agencies, including all refuge projects and non statutory services, should ensure that in sharing information they do so in line with agreed local protocols - see Information Sharing and Confidentiality Procedure

Professionals must ensure that their efforts do not trigger an escalation of violence by only raising the issue with the child or adult victim when they are safely on their own. It is essential in contact with children and parents to be realistic and honest about the limits of confidentiality.

In some cases a child may be in need of immediate protection and a referral will need to be made to Children’s Social Care Services. 

When a referral is made to Children’s Social Care Services, there must be clarity about who in the family is aware that a referral is to be made. Any response by Children’s Social Care Services to such referrals should be discreet, in terms of making contact with the adult victim in ways which will not further endanger them or their children.


4. Assessing Concerns of Domestic Violence and Abuse

Professionals in all agencies are in a position to identify or receive a disclosure from a child, victim or abuser about domestic violence. Professionals should be alert to the signs that a child or adult may be experiencing domestic violence, or that a partner may be perpetrating domestic violence and abuse. A disclosure may be prompted during routine questioning or be unprompted. Professionals should never assume that somebody else is addressing the issue of domestic violence. This may be the child, adult victim, or perpetrators first or only disclosure which enables an assessment of the risks of harm to be initiated.

Professionals will work with many adults who are experiencing domestic violence and have not disclosed. Research suggests that women experience on average 35 incidents before reporting it to the police. Professionals should therefore, in conducting assessments, consider the need to offer children and adults the opportunity of being seen alone and ask whether they are experiencing, or have previously experienced, domestic violence.

Concerns about domestic violence may also be reported to a professional by a third party such as extended family member, neighbour or community member. Information from the public, family or community members must be taken sufficiently seriously by professionals in statutory and voluntary agencies and responded to in accordance with these procedures.

Professionals who are in contact with adults who are threatening or abusive to them need to be alert to the potential that these individuals may be abusive in their personal relationships and assess whether domestic violence is occurring within the family.

Considerations in assessments where domestic violence may be present include:

  • Asking direct questions about domestic violence;
  • Checking whether domestic violence has occurred whenever child abuse is suspected and considering the impact of this at all stages of assessment, enquiries and intervention;
  • Identifying those who are responsible for domestic violence, in order that relevant family law or criminal justice responses may be made;
  • Providing victims with full information about their legal rights, and about the extent and limits of statutory duties and powers;
  • Helping victims and children to get protection from violence, by providing relevant practical and other assistance;
  • Supporting non-abusing parents in making safe choices for themselves and their children;
  • Taking into account that there may be continued or increased risk of domestic violence towards the abused parent and/or child after separation especially in connection with post-separation child contact arrangements;
  • Working separately with each parent where domestic violence prevents non-abusing parents from speaking freely and participating without fear of retribution;
  • Working with parents to help them understand the impact of the domestic violence on their children.

Professionals in contact with children and families who identify that there are, or have been, domestic abuse incidents or issues, need to consider these in relation to the behaviours, severity, frequency and duration. This will indicate the length of time that children may have been exposed to a traumatic and abusive event. The adult experiencing the abuse will usually, but not always, be well placed to predict the risks faced and the likelihood of further abuse. The adult victim should be encouraged and supported to complete a personal risk assessment. Practitioners should be aware that there can be an underestimation of the risk of harm to themselves and their children.

The Early Help Assessment can be used to explore and assess any concerns that practitioners may have about children or young people. The Early Help Assessment can be used to assess the degree of exposure of each child in the family to the domestic violence and abuse, the impact on them, the risks involved, and the protective factors bearing in mind the ages of the children. This should include physical and emotional impact, and the effect on parenting capacity, as well as any other risks posed by the perpetrator. A separate assessment form should be used for each child.

4.1 Assessing the Needs of Children and Young People Living with Domestic Violence

When assessing harm and the needs of children or young people living with domestic violence, the following questions should be considered:

  • Frequency and severity of the abuse, how recent and where it took place;
  • Whether the child was present or has ever been present when abuse has occurred;
  • The age and vulnerability of the child;
  • What does the child do when the abuse is happening?
  • Has the child ever intervened, or are they likely to in future?
  • Has the child been physically threatened or sustained any injury?
  • The child’s description of the effects upon them, their siblings, and upon their parent/carer;
  • Is the child being made to participate in or witness acts of abuse against their parent?
  • Is the child used physically or emotionally to exert control over their parent?
  • Is the non-abusing parent able to meet the child/ren’s immediate and longer term needs?
  • Has the adult victim and/or child/ren been locked in the house or prevented from leaving it?
  • Is the abuse connected with any other factors that undermine parenting capacity (such as alcohol or substance misuse or mental health)?
  • Have any weapons been used or has there ever been a threat to use a weapon?
  • Is actual or threatened ill treatment of animals used to control the child/ren and or other parent / carer?
  • Has physical abuse or threats been directed towards a pregnant woman and her unborn child?

Determine whether there is a safety threat present. If a threat to the child’s safety is identified at any stage refer to Children’s Social Care Services.

Throughout the assessment process and within any services being provided the needs of the child must not become overshadowed by the focus on the adults and the range of services being provided must include support and services for the children in the family.

The assessment should include contact with a range of support services such as refuge projects and the voluntary sector.

The Police are often the first point of contact with families in which domestic violence takes place although the Ambulance Service and Accident and Emergency Departments can also often be involved as a first point of contact.

When responding to incidents of violence, the agency in question should always find out if there are any children in the household or any children who would normally live in the household. The Police or other agencies should exercise judgement in determining whether it is safe to leave the scene of the incident without having seen the children.

Professionals will undertake an assessment and if they have specific concerns about the safety and welfare of a child will always make a referral to Children’s Social Care Services. A referral will always be made where:

  • The child made the original call (usually to the Police);
  • The child has been injured;
  • The child has been used as a shield;
  • A pregnant woman is involved in a violent incident;
  • The victim is assessed as High Risk by the Police and there is a child in the household;
  • A multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC) is convened and there are children in the household;
  • Any other circumstances, which are judged by a professional to warrant a referral.

In addition, in situations where adults in a household where children live display intimidating or threatening behaviour towards professionals the possible impact of this type of behaviour should always be considered within the assessment of risk to the children.

4.2 Assessing the Needs of Children and Young People in Contact with a Parent who Perpetrated Domestic Violence

In situations when the adult victim has left the perpetrator taking the child/ren, professionals need to be alert to the ongoing potential for risk. The dynamics of domestic violence are based on the perpetrator maintaining power and control over their partner. Challenges to that power and control, for example, by separation may increase the likelihood of escalating violence. Statistically the period following separation is the most dangerous time for serious injury and death. Professionals in contact with children and their families in these circumstances may decide that an Early Help Assessment is indicated and in all cases would need to consider:

  • The previous level of physical danger to the adult victim and in particular the presence of the child during violent episodes;
  • The previous pattern of power, control and intimidation in addition to the physical violence;
  • The level of coercive or manipulative behaviour of the parent who was violent;
  • Any threats to hurt or kill family members or abduct the child/ren;
  • Any information about parental drug or alcohol misuse, or poor mental health;
  • Any reported stalking or obsession about the separated partner or the family;
  • The motivation of the parent in seeking/ maintaining contact with the child/ren - is it a desire to promote the child’s best interest or as a means of continuing intimidation, harassment or violence to the other parent;
  • The child/ren’s views about contact and whether they have any worries about the contact taking place;
  • Has there been a shared decision regarding the arrangements for contact including location;
  • The likely or reported behaviour of the parent during contact and its effect on the child;
  • The partners level of care and supervision of the child/ren in the past;
  • The attitude of the parent to their past violence and capacity to appreciate its effect and whether they are motivated and have the capacity to change;
  • Be alert to cultural issues when dealing with ethnic minority victims and that in leaving a partner they may be ostracised by family, friends and the wider community increasing the risks to their safety.


5. Managing Risk and Levels of Intervention

There are many risk assessment models and ‘tool’s’ available. Analysis by the Metropolitan Police of domestic homicides and research elsewhere informed the development of ‘SPECSS+’ model of risk indicators currently in used by the Police Service. SPECSS identifies the 6 High Risk factors within the model Separation, Pregnancy, Escalation, Cultural issues, Stalking and Sexual Assault. During 2010 this model will be replaced by the Domestic Abuse and Harassment and Honour Based Violence (DASH) Identification and Risk Assessment Model. This is a victim focus model which identifies the risk to the victim as Standard, Medium or High. In households where there are children and the assessment for the victim is High Risk a referral will be made to Children’s Social Care Services.

Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service have created their own domestic abuse assessment framework available on their website. Barnardo’s have also provided a useful model ‘Assessing the risks to children from domestic violence’. The model highlights nine areas for assessment. The areas to consider are the risk to the children posed by the perpetrator; risks of lethality; perpetrator’s pattern of assault and coercive behaviours; impact of the abuse on the adult victim; impact of the abuse on the children; impact of the abuse on parenting roles; protective factors; and the outcomes of past help-seeking.

The following guidance is taken from a number of sources but predominantly from the London LSCB Risk Matrix, which explores areas of risk and protective factors in relation to perpetrators, victims and children and suggests levels of intervention. The younger the children in the family, or the presence of special needs, the higher the risk to their safety.

Babies under 12 months old are particularly vulnerable to violence. Professional’s who become aware of an incident of domestic violence in a family with a child under 12 months old (even if the child was not present) or in families where a woman is pregnant, should always complete a risk assessment to determine what action is required including consideration of whether a referral to Children’s Social Care Services is indicted.

The following indicators are provided to aid professional judgement when assessing risk and the appropriate level of intervention in response to reported incidents or domestic violence and abuse.

Level 1: Factors which may indicate the potential risk of harm to the child/ren to be moderate.

  • Single or up to 3 minor incidents of physical violence which were short in duration and the victim did not require medical treatment;
  • Occasional intense verbal abuse;
  • Children were not present or not drawn into the incident;
  • Victim’s relationship to the child is nurturing, protective and stable;
  • Abuser accepts responsibility for the abuse/violence indicting remorse and willingness to engage in services to address abusive behaviour.

The professional should consult with the manager/child protection adviser within the agency and check if an Early Help Assessment has been completed by another agency. With the parents consent complete an Early Help Assessment if one has not been completed in relation to the domestic abuse, or refer under local arrangements for an Early Help Assessment to be completed.

A child in this situation will have additional needs as defined within the Early Help Assessment. The child/ren and their parents are likely to need targeted family support interventions which can be offered by the agency itself, by another single agency. The professional needs to consider what their own agency can contribute as part of any interventions and/or make a referral to another agency to offer interventions. Early Help Assessment planning will need to include safety planning for the child/ren and victim, and consideration of a referral to an appropriate resource for the perpetrator if there is a willingness to engage with services to address abusive behaviour.

If consent to an Early Help Assessment is not obtained review with the manager/child protection adviser the potential level of risk to the child. A reluctance to engage in an assessment of the needs of the child may give cause to raise the level of concern and a referral to Children’s Social Care Services may be indicated.

Level 2: Factors which may indicate the potential risk of harm to the child/ren to be moderate to serious.

  • History of minor/moderate incidents of physical violence of short duration;
  • Victim received minor injury that did not lead to medical attention being sort;
  • Evidence of intimidation/bullying behaviour to victim but not towards the child/ren;
  • Destruction of property;
  • Family, relatives, neighbours report concerns regarding the victim and children;
  • Intense verbal abuse;
  • Abuser attempts to control victim’s activities or movements;
  • Children were present in the home during the incident but did not directly witness it;
  • Mental health issues for victim or abuser;
  • Substance misuse for victim or abuser;
  • Victim’s relationship to the child is nurturing, protective and stable and despite abuse was not prevented from attending to the child/ren’s needs;
  • Significant other nurturing adults in the child’s life provides protective factor;
  • Older children able to identify coping/ protective strategies.

At Level 2 the professional should consult with the manager/child protection adviser within their agency and check if an Early Help Assessment has been completed by another agency; if not, with the parents consent, complete an Early Help Assessment, or refer under local arrangements for an Early Help Assessment to be completed. If the parent does not consent to the completion of an Early Help Assessment make a notification or referral to Children’s Social Care Services

The professional should share information with relevant multi-agency professionals, convene or attend an Early Help meeting and consider what their own agency can contribute as part of any Early Help interventions. A child in this situation will have additional needs, as defined within Early Help. The child/ren and their parents are likely to need family support interventions offered by more than one agency, which are co-ordinated by a lead professional. The intervention and support may also include Children’s Social Care Services planning via a Section 17 children in need assessment.

Planning at Level 2 must also include safety planning for the child/ren and victim and consideration of referral to an appropriate resource for the perpetrator if there is willingness to engage with services to address abusive behaviour.

Level 3: Factors which may indicate the potential risk of harm to the child/ren is assessed as serious.

  • Incidents of serious and/or persistent physical violence increasing in severity, frequency and duration;
  • Victim and/or children indicate that they are frightened of the abuser;
  • Victim required medical attention or explanation for injuries implausible;
  • Requests for police intervention;
  • Incidence of violence occur in presence of children;
  • Threat of harm to children/and or adult victim;
  • Physical assault on a pregnant woman;
  • Abuser has history of domestic violence and abuse in previous relationships;
  • Mental health issues for victim or abuser;
  • Substance misuse by victim and/or abuser;
  • Strong likelihood of emotional abuse of children e.g. may display behaviour problems/ self harm;
  • Abuser suspected of physically abusing child/ren;
  • Minimisation by abuser, lack of remorse/guilt;
  • The police identify the level of risk as High on a SPECSS/DASH assessment and there are children in the household.

Protection factors in these circumstances are limited and the children may be suffering or be at risk of suffering Significant Harm. Intervention and support for the child/ren and the adult victim will require Local Authority Children’s Social Care Services planning via Section 17 child in need assessment or may require Section 47 Enquiries. Professionals should make a record of their assessment and the information which underpins it and inform their line manager and contact Children’s Social Care Services to make a referral.

In all cases where a referral is made for a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) to plan intervention in relation to a high risk domestic violence situation if there are children in the family a referral must be made to Children’s Social Care Services.


6. Referral to Children’s Social Care

Whenever a professional becomes concerned that a child is, or may be, at risk of significant harm, a referral must be made to Children’s Social Care Services in accordance with the Referrals Procedure.

Normally, one serious or several lesser incidents of domestic violence where there is a child in the household means that Children’s Social Care Services should carry out a Statutory Assessment of the child and family, including consulting existing records.

Children’s Social Care Services may assess the child/ren to be child/ren in need, and offer services under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. However, child protection intervention (i.e. under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989) may be necessary if the threshold of Significant Harm is reached. Children’s Social Care Services will convene a multi-agency meeting following the appropriate level of assessment and initiate safety planning for the child/ren and adult victim.


7. Managing Risks in Child Protection Conferences

Where a Child Protection Conference is held, the Conference Chair, in consultation with the professionals, must assess the risks carefully in relation to the participation of the violent or oppressive parent/carer, the non violent parent/carer and the child/ren. See Section 7, Criteria for Excluding Parents or Restricting their Participation of Initial Child Protection Conferences Procedure.

It is not only issues of safety at the Conference itself but any travel arrangements before and after as well as the contents and addresses (including schools) on the minutes of the meeting which may pose a risk if disclosed.

The same careful approach to disclosure of information should be adopted with the records of all meetings, i.e. Core Group, Planning meetings etc.

All arrangements to contact family members that are made as part of any plan for the child, whether person to person directly or via letters, emails, telephone including mobile phone calls and text messages, must be carefully assessed bearing in mind the safety of the children and the non-abusing parent/carer.


8. Safety of Professionals Working with Domestic Violence

Care must be taken to assess any potential risks to professionals, carers, foster carers or other staff who are involved in providing services to a family where domestic violence is, or has occurred. This includes support services offered to a victim or child following separation.

If someone intends to visit or collect the child’s belongings from the family home where the abusive parent/ partner resides or has access, it should never be the case that one person does so on their own. A risk assessment should be undertaken and the assistance of the Police may be required. Professional should speak with their manager and follow their own agencies guidance for staff safety.


9. Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

9.1 Domestic Violence Protection Orders

Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) are implemented across England and Wales from 8 March 2014.

They provide protection to victims by enabling the police and magistrates to put in place protection in the immediate aftermath of a domestic violence incident.

With DVPOs, a perpetrator can be banned with immediate effect from returning to a residence and from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days, allowing the victim time to consider their options and get the support they need.

Before the scheme, there was a gap in protection, because police couldn’t charge the perpetrator for lack of evidence and so provide protection to a victim through bail conditions, and because the process of granting injunctions took time.

9.2 Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (‘Clare’s Law’)

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) (also known as ‘Clare’s Law’)  commenced in England and Wales on 8 March 2014. The DVDS gives members of the public a formal mechanism to make enquires about an individual who they are in a relationship with, or who is in a relationship with someone they know, where there is a concern that the individual may be violent towards their partner. This scheme adds a further dimension to the information sharing about children where there are concerns that domestic violence and abuse is impacting on the care and welfare of the children in the family.

Members of the public can make an application for a disclosure, known as the ‘right to ask’. Anybody can make an enquiry, but information will only be given to someone at risk or a person in a position to safeguard the victim. The scheme is for anyone in an intimate relationship regardless of gender.

Partner agencies can also request disclosure is made of an offender’s past history where it is believed someone is at risk of harm. This is known as ‘right to know’.

If a potentially violent individual is identified as having convictions for violent offences, or information is held about their behaviour which reasonably leads the police and other agencies to believe they pose a risk of harm to their partner, the police will consider disclosing the information. A disclosure can be made if it is legal, proportionate and necessary to do so.

For further information, see Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

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