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Introduction

Children living in households affected by domestic abuse may suffer harm, both directly and indirectly. Domestic abuse can have a damaging effect on the health and development of children. Everyone working with children and families should be alert to the frequent inter-relationship between domestic abuse and child abuse and neglect.

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 abuse or other harm. Conversely, in situations where it is believed that a child is being abused; those involved with the child and family should be alert to the possibility of domestic abuse within the family.

Both the physical assaults and psychological abuse suffered by adult victims who experience domestic abuse can have a negative impact on their ability to look after their children. Child living in households affected by domestic abuse may witness or be drawn into the abuse and / or pressurised into concealing the assaults. Children’s exposure to parental conflict, can lead to serious anxiety and distress, particularly when it is routed through children. The negative impact of domestic abuse is exacerbated when the abuse is combined with substance misuse.

The Police may be the first point of contact when domestic abuse takes place, and they should always consider the immediate safety of the children. Similarly, Health Visitors and Midwives play a key role in identifying domestic abuse as an issue, particularly during pregnancy.

Normally, one serious incident or several lesser incidents of domestic abuse where there is a child in the household would indicate that Children’s Social Care should carry out an Assessment of the child and family, including consulting existing records. Children who are living with domestic abuse may benefit from a range of support and services, and some may need safeguarding from harm. Supporting a non-abusive parent is likely to be the most effective way of promoting the child’s welfare.

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.

The full extent of the impact on children of exposure to domestic abuse is often not fully understood until a child feels safe; they will need several opportunities over a period of time to talk about their experiences.

Children can also experience domestic abuse within their own relationships. Girls are more likely than boys to report experiencing abuse in their intimate relationships, and younger adolescents are just as likely as older adolescents to experience it. Most children do not tell an adult about this abuse.

The issue of domestic abuse should only ever be raised with a child or mother when they are on their own and in a private place. Separation from an abusive partner does not ensure safety; it can even temporarily increase the risk to the child/ren or mother.

Information from the public, family or community members must be taken seriously by professionals in statutory and voluntary agencies. Recent research evidence indicates that failure to do so has been a contributory factor in a significant number of cases where a child has been seriously harmed or died.

Risk of violence towards professionals should be considered by all agencies who work in the area of domestic abuse, and assessments of risk should be undertaken when necessary. It is acknowledged that intimidatory or threatening behaviour towards professionals may inhibit the professional’s ability to work effectively. The importance of effective supervision and management is highlighted, and agencies should take account of the impact or potential impact on professionals in planning their involvement in situations of domestic abuse.


Definition

The Government defines domestic abuse 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:

  • 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.”

This definition includes 'honour’ based Abuse (see Honour Based Abuse Safeguarding Practice Guidance), female genital mutilation (FGM) (see Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Safeguarding Practice Guidance) and forced marriage (see Forced Marriage Safeguarding Practice Guidance), and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.

While the cross-government definition above applies to those aged 16 or above, ‘Adolescent to parent violence and abuse ‘(APVA) can involve children under 16 as well as over 16. See: Information guide: adolescent to parent violence and abuse (APVA) (Home Office).

Where there is domestic 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.

For more details of the national plans to tackle domestic abuse see: Ending Violence against Women and Girls Strategy 2016 – 2020 March 2016 This is intended to set out a life course approach to ensure that all victims – and their families - have access to the right support at the right time to help them live free from abuse.

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

Crime Statistics and research show that domestic abuse is one of a range of crimes that are gendered, meaning, it is most commonly experienced by women and perpetrated by men, particularly when there is a pattern of repeated and serious physical assaults, or when it includes rape or sexual assaults or results in injury or death. Men can also experience abuse from their partners (both within gay and straight relationships); however the types, frequency and context of abuse perpetrated and experienced are often significantly different when analysed by gender. E.g. post separation abuse is a good example of this.


Main Characteristics of Domestic Abuse

Psychological / emotional – intimidation and threats (e.g. about children or family pets), social isolation, verbal abuse, humiliation, constant criticism, enforced trivial routines, marked over intrusiveness.

Physical violence – slapping, pushing, kicking, stabbing, damage to property or items of sentimental value, attempted murder or murder, physically restricting freedom.

Physical restriction of freedom – Controlling who the mother or child/ren see or where they go, what to wear or do, stalking, imprisonment, forced marriage. (See Forced Marriage Safeguarding Practice Guidance and Honour Based Abuse Safeguarding Practice Guidance.)

Sexual violence – any non-consensual sexual activity, including rape, sexual assault, coercive sexual activity.

Financial abuse – Stealing, depriving or taking control of money, running up debts, withholding benefit books or bank cards.

Coercive Control - A new offence of Coercive and Controlling Behaviour: Section 76 - The Serious Crime Act 2015 (came into force on 29th December 2015) closes a gap in the laws around patterns of controlling or coercive behaviour that occur during a relationship between intimate partners, former partners who still live together or family members. The offence sends a clear message that this form of domestic abuse can constitute a serious offence particularly in light of the violation of trust it represents and will provide better protection to victims experiencing repeated and continuous abuse. It sets the importance of recognising the harm caused by coercion and control, the cumulative impact on the victim and that a pattern of abuse can be more injurious and harmful than a single incidence of violence or abuse.

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; and
  • Preventing a person from having access to transport or from working.

For more information about coercive control and the law please see Rights of Women – Coercive Control and the Law and Duluth Power and Control Wheel and Chart of Coercion.


Risks to Children Living with Domestic Abuse

The emotional responses of children who witness domestic abuse may include fear, guilt, shame, sleep disturbances, sadness, depression, and anger (at both the abuser for their abusive behaviour and at the other parent for being unable to protect them).

Physical responses may include stress-induced aches and pains, bedwetting, and inability to concentrate. Some children are the direct victims of other types of abuse or injured while trying to intervene on behalf of their parent or sibling.

The behavioural responses of children who witness domestic abuse may include acting out, withdrawal, or anxiousness to please. A change in achievement or behaviour at school can be an indicator of problems at home.

Domestic abuse 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 abuse may impact negatively on an adult victim’s parenting capacity;
  • Children may be drawn into the abuse and themselves become victims of physical violence.

For children living in situations of domestic abuse, 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 abuse 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 abuse 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 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.


Teen Relationships and Domestic Abuse

Although many people assume that they will never have to face being in an abusive relationship, one in three teen relationships involves domestic abuse. Almost none of these teens tell their parents or carers, and most teens in abusive relationships don't know where to seek help. Abuse in teen relationships is related to certain risk factors which are more commonly seen among teens who are in unhealthy relationships:

  • Belief that it is okay for boyfriends to use threats or violence to get their way or to express frustration or anger;
  • Use alcohol or drugs;
  • Hang out with violent peers and young person's violence is an integral part of the culture of the local community/school setting where they live;
  • Have a friend involved in dating violence resulting in poor advice and expectations around dating abuse;
  • Are depressed or anxious;
  • Have learning difficulties and other problems at school;
  • Don't have adequate parental / carer supervision and support; and / or
  • Witness violence at home or in the community.

Young people’s intimate violence is often part of a wider pattern of abuse towards that young person. Some children who are sexually exploited may have been groomed for abuse and exploitation by a 'boyfriend' who becomes increasingly controlling and violent (see Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) Safeguarding Practice Guidance).

Use of alcohol and drugs and criminal activity may be part of the grooming process and is often instrumental in keeping young people compliant and prevent them from seeking help.

Teen abuse can be prevented when teens, families, organisations, and communities work together to implement effective prevention strategies.


Indicators

Professionals should be alert to the signs that a child or adult may be experiencing domestic abuse, or that a partner may be perpetrating domestic abuse. Professionals should always consider during an assessment the need to offer children and adults the opportunity of being seen alone and ask whether they are experiencing, or have previously experienced, domestic abuse.

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 abuse is occurring within the family. 

Considerations in assessments where domestic abuse may be present include:

  • Checking whether domestic abuse has occurred whenever child abuse is suspected and considering the impact of this at all stages of assessment, enquiries and intervention this should include checks with the Police unit responsible for vulnerable people and any domestic abuse screening process;
  • Identifying those who are responsible for domestic abuse, 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 abuse 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 abuse 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 abuse 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 abuse on their children.

Responding to Domestic Abuse

When responding to incidents of domestic abuse, the practitioner 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 ensure the children are seen and their safety established whenever they attend a domestic abuse incident. Where there are concerns a referral should be made to Children’s Social Care in accordance with the Contacts and Referrals with Children’s Social Care Procedure.

The three central imperatives of any intervention for children living with domestic abuse are:

  1. To protect the child/ren, including unborn children;
  2. To empower the mother to protect herself and her child/ren; and
  3. To identify the abusive partner, hold him accountable for his abusive behaviour and provide him with opportunities to change.

In responding to situations where domestic abuse may be present, considerations include:

  • Asking direct questions about domestic abuse. (To do this, the victim must be spoken to away from the alleged perpetrator.);

  • Checking whether domestic abuse has occurred whenever child abuse is suspected and consider the impact of this at all stages of assessment, enquiries and intervention;

  • Identifying those who are responsible for domestic abuse in order that relevant criminal justice responses may be made;

  • Providing victims with full information about their legal rights and the extent and limits of statutory duties and powers;

  • Assisting women and children to escape from abuse by providing relevant practical and other assistance;

  • Supporting non-abusing parents in making safe choices for themselves and their children;

  • Working separately with each parent where domestic abuse prevents non-abusing parents from speaking freely and participating without fear of retribution; and

  • Responding to domestic abuse discreetly in order to avoid further endangering children and/or adult victims.

Working in a multi-agency partnership is the most effective way to approach the issue at both an operational and a strategic level.


Increased Vulnerability

There are certain groups who present a much higher risk of domestic abuse; this includes:

  • Babies under 12 months (including unborn children) are particularly vulnerable;
  • Victims at times of separation (when risk often increases);
  • Young People (particularly young women in the 16 – 24 age group) are most at risk of being victims of domestic abuse;
  • Those involved in Forced marriage (see Forced Marriage Safeguarding Practice Guidance);
  • Families with additional needs (vulnerabilities);
  • Families where there are substance misuse issues;
  • Families where there are mental health problems.

Risk Identification

The term risk identification tool is used for a list of trigger questions that would indicate to a trained professional that there are issues of domestic abuse within a family. This is not to be confused with the term risk assessment.

It is important to remember that risk identification is not just a stand-alone tick-box task but should open up a dialogue with the victim and work in conjunction with other information.

The risk identification tool that has been adopted in Hull is the Domestic Abuse, Harassment and Honour Based Violence (DASH) tool.

The tool assists practitioners to identify the level of risk to the victim. If the tool identifies that they are high risk then a referral needs to be made to the Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) (see below).

Briefings are available through the training diary on how to use the DASH. It is essential that practitioners complete Domestic Abuse training before the briefing. For more information on domestic abuse training, please see the Hull Safeguarding Children Board website.


Child Protection Concerns

If at any stage an agency becomes aware of one or more incidents concerning domestic abuse and it is known that there are children under the age of 18 living in the household and there are concerns about their welfare a referral needs to be made to Children’s Social Care (see Contacts and Referrals with Children’s Social Care Procedure).

Whenever there are child protection concerns, ensure that a referral is made to Children’s Social Care.


Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) in Hull

See also Hull MARAC Operating Procedures.

The Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) is part of a coordinated community response to domestic abuse, incorporating representatives from statutory, community and voluntary agencies working with victims/survivors, children and the alleged perpetrator. The MARAC covers only the highest risk cases of actual or suspected domestic abuse. Cases will generally be those where there is a threat of serious harm or homicide to the victim and/or her children. Hull DAP manage, co-ordinate and administer the MARACs which are held every four weeks in Hull. The MARAC aims to:

  • Share information to increase the safety, health and well-being of victims/survivors – adults and their children;
  • Determine whether the alleged perpetrator poses a significant risk to any particular individual or to the general community;
  • Construct jointly and implement a risk management plan that provides professional support to all those at risk and that reduces the risk of harm;
  • Reduce repeat victimisation;
  • Improve agency accountability; and
  • Improve support for staff involved in high-risk domestic abuse cases.

The success of the MARAC hinges on effective and timely information sharing. This may include input from agencies working in the social, welfare, economic, safety, housing, criminal and civil justice sectors. Other agencies may be invited to attend or supply information to the MARAC where there is one or more cases being discussed where they can provide relevant information on the case and assist in the development and execution of the risk management plan. Because of this a partnership approach is vital. Individual agencies may hold incomplete information about the family and this can inhibit the development of the most appropriate approach to managing risk. In contrast, sharing information through the MARAC facilitates the development of appropriate and timely risk management plans.

It is a matter of good practice, where appropriate and possible to gain consent for the MARAC from the victim/survivor. However, in many cases the aims of the MARAC might be prejudiced if agencies were to seek consent. For example if it would put the victim at greater risk. In such cases, the disclosing agency must consider possible grounds to override the consent.

Disclosures to MARAC are made under the Data Protection Act, Human Rights Act and Caldicott Guidelines. Relevant information can be shared when it is necessary to prevent crime, protect health and/or safety of the victim/survivor and/or the rights and freedom of those who are victims/survivors of domestic abuse and/or their children. Sharing of information must be proportionate to the level of risk of harm to a named individual or known household.

N.B. The MARAC does not replace a Child Protection Conference. Where there are concerns about a child’s welfare, child protection procedures must be followed.

In situations when the adult victim has left the perpetrator taking the child/ren, professionals need to be alert to the on-going potential for risk. The dynamics of domestic abuse 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 abuse escalating. 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 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 abuse 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 partner’s level of care and supervision of the child/ren in the past;
  • The attitude of the parent to their past abuse 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. Language barriers can also be an issue and only approved interpreters should be used (in no circumstances should children be used to interpret).
  • MARAC referral forms and information leaflets can be found in the Documents Library.

Hull Domestic Abuse Partnership (DAP)

Hull DAP is a multi agency team co-located in one office; it aims to improve the safety of survivors and children in Hull through a co-ordinated and effective inter-agency response.

The Hull DAP team is a group of professionals experienced in the field of domestic abuse who work together to provide support for victims of domestic abuse. The team consists of Specialist Domestic Abuse workers, housing officers, and specialist Police Officers.

The team provides a range of tailored support options to enable survivors and their children to live safer lives without fear.

Support can include:

  • Sanctuary Scheme Measures; i.e. support to stay in their own home with; increased home security; home fire safety check completed by Humberside Fire and Rescue Service, Lifeline panic alarm, new mobile phone / SIM card, personal alarm, CCTV, etc;
  • Risk Identification and Safety Planning;
  • Emotional support, legal advice, specialist housing advice, health related advice, advice with regards to child contact, support through the civil and criminal justice routes;
  • The support workers also link in with the other disciplines in the team to ensure all the needs of victim's woman and any children are met.

Hull DAP works in partnership with many agencies to provide information, training, advice and guidance to other professionals working in this field.

Strength to Change

Strength to Change service is for men who are concerned about their abusive behaviour. It aims primarily at enhancing the safety of women and children whilst giving men an opportunity to change their behaviour.

Calls to Strength to Change are confidential and men are encouraged to self refer. Whilst professionals’ providing basic information and the helpline number to potential clients is useful, essentially the men themselves need to want to change their behaviour and be prepared to engage consistently over a year long programme. In return the project will work with them to encourage and motivate them to stop their abuse and to understand how their behaviour affects their family and friends.

Ultimately, Strength to Change strives to keep women and children safe by providing a holistic approach to domestic abuse that encompasses support for all family members within a non-judgemental supportive framework.


Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (‘Clare’s Law’)

Domestic Violence Protection Orders

Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) provide protection to victims by enabling the police and magistrates to put in place protection in the immediate aftermath of a domestic abuse 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.

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

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) (also known as ‘Clare’s Law’) 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 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.



Amendments to this Chapter

In January 2017, this chapter was updated to include links to the Home Office 'Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy 2016 to 2020 (Home Office, 2016), and the 'Information Guide: Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse (APVA)'. A link has also been added to a locally produced guidance document which provides practitioners with additional information on the new offence of coercive control; the document contains a Power and Control Wheel and Chart of Coercion. The Power and Control wheel diagram illustrates how a perpetrator of coercive control exerts power over their victim(s), describes their behaviours and how this manifests itself for the victim(s).

The Chart of coercion provides information on the methods used as part of coercive behaviour, what its purpose and effect on the victim is whilst also providing a number of examples.

End.