2.23 Domestic violence and abuse
- Protection and action to be taken
- Further Information
- Appendix 1: West Midlands Domestic Violence and Abuse Standards
In 2013 the Government definition of DVA was widened to include those aged 16–17, and the wording changed to reflect coercive control. The definition includes ‘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 West Midlands Safeguarding Procedures on honour-based violence, female genital mutilation and forced marriage should therefore be read in conjunction with this document.
Definition of DVA (note this is not a legal definition): Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse:
Controlling behaviour: 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: 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.
Domestic Violence and Abuse (DVA) is a broad description of situations that develop within the home/family environment where power is exercised to the detriment of one party.
Where there is DVA, the well-being of any children in the household must be protected. All agencies must ensure their staff, carers and volunteers are fully aware of the extent and nature of the impact domestic abuse can have on children. Any individual organisations’ policies and procedures must provide for the need to share information with others where DVA comes to their attention in their work.
DVA can happen to anyone, but research and crime statistics consistently indicate that it is a gendered issue which disproportionately affects females. There are several risk factors for becoming a victim of DVA, which include age and pregnancy. Women in younger age groups, in particular those aged 16–24 years, are at greater risk. The greatest risk is for teenage mothers and during the period just after a woman has given birth (see Harrykissoon et al, 2002)
DVA rarely exists in isolation and there are many complexities. For example, DVA may exacerbate or lead to other issues such as mental or physical health concerns, substance misuse or family breakdown. Similarly, issues such as these will in some instances be factors in DVA happening. Everyone working with victims, perpetrators and children should be alert to the frequent inter-relationship between domestic violence and abuse, and other issues such as mental ill health, drug and/or alcohol misuse, homelessness and housing need, deprivation and social exclusion, and child abuse and/or animal abuse.
A child may be the victim of DVA through exposure to DVA or through their own involvement in an abusive relationship. For example, a young person may be involved in a relationship with a violent girlfriend/boyfriend who may be an adult or a young person (aged 16 or over).
Risks to the child
Where there is DVA, the implications for the children and young people in the household must be considered because research indicates a strong link between DVA and all types of child abuse and neglect.
Prolonged or regular exposure to DVA can have a serious impact on a child's development and emotional well-being, despite the best efforts of the victim’s parent to protect the child.
DVA within a household is associated with an increased risk of child abuse, death and serious injury for children and young people, and the risk for young babies in environments where there is DVA is a recurring theme in Serious Case Reviews (Brandon et al, 2009).
Research on the effects of abuse and neglect on child development has shown that babies up to 18 months of age are particularly vulnerable to developing damaged and insecure attachments to their parents when the parents are in a volatile relationship with DVA. An understanding of these risks should assist with identifying the need for prompt action to protect a baby. Later in life, the child’s ability to develop social and emotional capabilities can be at serious risk. For example, research (WHO, 2010) suggests that children who are exposed to violence in childhood are between three and four times more likely to perpetrate violence in adulthood. The same research found that women who witnessed DVA in their childhood may be up to three times more at risk of DVA. The inference is that exposure to violence in childhood may increase acceptance of violence, either as a perpetrator or victim in adulthood. The risk of DVA may be up to six times higher for women sexually abused in childhood, and up to four times higher for physical abuse (Hotaling and Sugarman, 1986)
DVA can have a serious impact on a child's development and emotional well-being. Significant harm to the child as a result of DVA may arise from physical injury during an incident, either by accident or because they attempt to intervene.
If not directly injured, children are greatly distressed by witnessing the physical and emotional suffering of a parent, which can lead to anxiety and distress, often resulting in:
- behavioural issues
- low self-esteem
- ill health
- antisocial or criminal behaviour
- drug and alcohol misuse
DVA can have a negative impact on the victim's ability to look after her/his child/children as a result of physical assaults and/or psychological abuse. The child may also be drawn into the abuse or pressurised into concealing the assaults.
It should be noted that the Adoption and Children Act 2002 broadens the definition of significant harm to include the emotional harm suffered by those children who witness DVA or are aware of DVA within their home environment.
While there are no absolute criteria on which to rely when judging what constitutes significant harm, consideration of the severity of ill treatment may include:
- the degree and extent of physical harm
- the duration and frequency of abuse or neglect
- the extent of premeditation
- the degree of threats and coercion
- evidence of sadism, and bizarre or unusual elements in child sexual abuse.
An unborn child is at risk of injury because violence towards women increases both in severity and frequency during pregnancy, and often involves punches or kicks directed at the women’s abdomen.
In almost one third of cases, DVA begins or escalates during pregnancy, and it is associated with increased rates of miscarriage, premature birth, foetal injury and foetal death (Department of Health, 2009). Staff providing antenatal services need to be alert to, and competent in recognising, the risks of harm to the unborn child.
Possible indicators of domestic violence and abuse in an adult include:
- evidence of single or repeated injuries with unlikely explanations
- frequent use of prescribed tranquillisers or pain medication
- injuries to the breast, chest and abdomen, especially during pregnancy
- evidence of sexual or frequent gynaecological problems
- frequent visits to GP with vague complaints or symptoms
- stress or anxiety disorders; isolation from friends, family or colleagues; depression, panic attacks or other symptoms; alcohol and/or drug abuse; suicide attempts; or child presenting with behavioural difficulties at school
- appearing frightened, ashamed or evasive; a partner who is extremely jealous or possessive; minimisation of abuse; accepting blame for ‘deserving’ the abuse
- irregular or late attendance for antenatal care.
When a victim is not being seen alone, practitioners should also be alert to the following combination of signals:
- the victim waits for her/his partner to speak first
- the victim glances at her/his partner each time she/he speaks, checking her/his reaction
- the victim smoothes over any conflict
- the partner speaks for most of the time
- the partner sends clear signals to the victim, by eye/body movement, facial expression or verbally, to warn them
- the partner has a range of complaints about the victim, which she/he does not defend.
Protection and action to be taken
Practitioners should be aware that many victims will find it difficult to disclose DVA and seek support. Some victims potentially face additional difficulty in disclosing abuse, for instance:
- Older or disabled victims, including those with learning disabilities, may be dependent on the abuser for care.
- Parents may fear the removal of children (it is important to stress that unless there is evidence of serious neglect or abuse this fear is almost certainly unfounded).
- Where abuse is perpetrated by extended family members or relates to forced marriage.
- Black and minority ethnic groups, including those from the travelling community, may be more isolated due to religious and/or cultural pressures, language barriers, having no recourse to public funds or fear of bringing shame to their 'family honour'.
- Male victims who feel ashamed due to perceived stigma attached to being a man who “lets” a woman be violent towards him.
- Victims from same-sex relationships who fear stigma and prejudice.
- Victims with other problems, e.g. mental health or substance misuse issues may fear that they will not be believed.
- Children affected by domestic abuse may be protective of both the victim and their abusing parent and may be fearful of the consequences of disclosing the abuse.
- Victims might not actually recognise that what they are experiencing is abuse, for example in cases of cohesion and control.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Domestic Violence and Abuse Overview (2016) gives guidance on asking about domestic abuse:
- The enquiry should be made in private on a one-to-one basis in an environment where the person feels safe, and in a kind, sensitive manner.
- Trained staff in antenatal, postnatal, reproductive care, sexual health, alcohol or drug misuse, mental health, children’s and vulnerable adults’ services should routinely ask users whether they have experienced domestic violence and abuse, even when there are no indicators of such violence and abuse.
- Staff should know, or have access to, information about services, policies and procedures of all relevant local agencies for people who experience or perpetrate domestic violence and abuse.
Victims will want the abuse to stop, but may want to save the relationship. They may also be coercively controlled and the impact of coercive control can have a significant effect on how family members respond to professionals, even when they are highly motivated to change their situation. In such situations victims may feel it impossible to talk openly and honestly with professionals despite a desire to do so. Professionals need to be aware of the impact on the behaviour of victims where there are high levels of fear and difficulties articulating the abuse and what makes them afraid. It is possible for professionals to unwittingly collude with the perpetrator, for example by accepting the perpetrators self-reporting and not applying a healthy level of professional scepticism, further isolating the victims within the family. Evidence suggests that perpetrators of coercive control do not easily cease their abusive behaviour, often seeking to manipulate and control professionals or making allegations about the victims.
Victims are at a significantly increased risk at the point of leaving, or having recently left a violent partner, and may need support and safety planning. Most homicides relating to DVA take place at the point of separation or in the following few months.
Dealing with the abuse is a complex process that will take time to resolve in a way that is effective in the long term, and there may be repeated requests for help. A victim will need continuing support and the full range of services each time, not less. Victims may experience a cycle in response to the abuse and may alternate between engaging and not.
A parent and child/children fleeing from DVA may require a significant level of support as they may be:
- experiencing problems with housing, finance and employment
- isolated from usual family support or community networks, especially if they moved/were placed outside their home area
- struggling to provide/maintain stability.
Agency assessments and information sharing
Any agency assessment should consider the possibility of DVA and ensure organisational responses safeguard both the child/children and non-abusing parent.
Health professionals are often the only agency that has involvement with a family, so they have significant opportunities for direct contact and observation of families to enable them to detect potential risks to children. Practitioners should use evidence from their direct observation and knowledge of parents and their children to inform assessment of risks.
There is a need for coordination between the different aspects of health provision involved with the safeguarding of children, particularly on the transfer of care between midwifery services, health visitors and GPs.
It is vital to adequately assess the heightened risks for children that arise from DVA in the home. When assessing the risk relating to DVA, an unborn child must be considered as a victim and as a child who was present. Consideration must also be given to young people who may themselves be in abusive relationships.
Multi-agency work and information sharing is crucial in safeguarding children and adults in situations of DVA. In cases where the adult has care and support needs a referral should be made to Adult’s Social Care within the Local Authority who have a duty to consider a Section 42 enquiry under the Care Act 2014, where an adult is considered to be experiencing, or at risk of, abuse or neglect.
On notification/disclosure/suspicion of DVA within a family, all agencies must immediately consult existing records and consider what else is known of the family and any previous domestic incidents.
Where children are involved, all professional should follow the advice set out in Responding to concerns about a child. Information should be shared in line with this procedure and the Sharing Information procedure. Effective and timely information sharing will help ensure relevant professionals are able to assess risks to an unborn baby, child or young person, and ensure appropriate action is taken.
Each case should be judged on its own merits, and while consent is always desirable, there are times when best practice is to share information/make referrals, even when this is initially without the knowledge of the parties involved or contrary to their wishes. Where a child is suffering, or likely to suffer significant harm, consent is not required to make a referral to Children’s Social Care. The decision to share or not to share information of DVA incidents or concerns must be recorded, with its rationale.
The level of safeguarding support required for a child affected by domestic abuse should be assessed using an assessment tool such as the Barnardo’s Domestic Violence Risk Identification Matrix (DVRIM). Practitioners should check if their local safeguarding area has agreed the use of a specific assessment tool.
Where the referral is deemed by Children’s Social Care to meet the threshold for early help intervention, appropriate action will be taken to assign this to the most appropriate agency to lead a coordinated, multi-agency response to meet the needs of the whole family.
Where the child/children are deemed to be suffering, or are at risk of suffering, significant harm, statutory safeguarding processes will be followed, led by Children’s Social Care. Relevant agencies will be involved in the initial assessment and strategy meeting, which will determine the most appropriate course of action.
If a professional is unclear about the action they should take, they should speak to their line manager, designated safeguarding lead or seek advice from the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH), or via the local contact details for making a referral/if you have a concerns about the safety or welfare of a child. There should be no delay in taking action. Where there is immediate risk of harm to a child, call 999.
The decision about where a child’s needs fit within the thresholds document will depend on a number of factors, including:
- the age and vulnerability of the child
- the number of previous incidents
- whether there have been any previous serious incidents/escalation in frequency and/or severity of incidents
- concerns about parental/adult mental health or substance misuse
- whether the child themselves is involved in a violent relationship (for example an adolescent relationship)
Consultation with Children’s Social Care can be undertaken to establish if there is any previous knowledge of the family.
Significant harm can occur where there is a single event, such as a violent assault. However, more often, significant harm is identified when there have been a number of events which have compromised the child’s physical and psychological wellbeing.
Where there is DVA in families with a child under 12 months old (including an unborn child), even if the child was not present, professionals should make a referral to Children's Social Care if there is any single incident of DVA.
Any decision (and its rationale) not to refer or consult with Children's Social Care must be recorded.
Police are often the first point of contact with victims and they (or any other agency that becomes aware of DVA) should safeguard the victim and:
- ascertain whether there are any children living in the household or if the victim is pregnant
- make a preliminary determination of the degree of exposure of the children to the incidents of abuse and its consequent impact
- provide the victim with information on local support services and refuge details, taking into account any ethnic or cultural issues (i.e. National Helpline, local specialist agencies/helplines, Woman’s Aid or Victim Support).
At all DVA calls the attending officer will complete a DASH Risk Assessment Form detailing all persons present and children in the household. Where there are children under the age of 18 years in the household, the officer will then send a copy of the form to the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub/Children’s Social Care.
Children’s Social Care response to police notification
Following consultation of agency history, Children's Social Care must decide how to respond to each communication of DVA.
Children's Social Care may decide to treat the communication as 'information and advice' only if:
- the report concerns a minor incident
- there are no other indicators of risk and there are no high-risk indicators in the police assessment.
Further information from other agencies may be required before a decision can be made about the appropriate threshold of response.
In making the decision about seeking information prior to/after direct contact with the family, consideration should be given to the:
- likely impact on the child and the adult victim, including the possibility of increasing the risk of domestic violence and abuse
- need for an approach that takes full account of information available on home circumstances.
The police should have already provided the victim with information leaflets.
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 to the family (Humphries and Stanley, 2006, Domestic Violence and Child Protection: Directions for Good Practice, supports this also).
Where the threshold criteria for a Children’s Social Care Child and Family Assessment or Section 47 are not met, consideration should be given to the support that can be provided by other targeted or universal services.
Child and Family assessment/Section 47 enquiries
Normally one serious or several lesser incidents of DVA where there is a child in the household indicate that Children’s Social Care should carry out an assessment of the child and family, including consulting existing records.
An assessment should also be considered, by the Children's Social Care duty manager, for lesser incidents where there are possible concerns about the welfare of the children or where the family is high risk on the police assessment.
Where the family fail to meaningfully engage with an assessment and there is reasonable cause to believe that the child may be at risk of significant harm a strategy discussion should be convened to decide if there are grounds for undertaking a Section 47 enquiry. Circumstances where a Section 47 enquiry should be undertaken include where:
- a child has experienced harm during any domestic violence or abuse incident (even if inadvertently injured)
- a child has witnessed another being seriously injured or abused
- the victim is pregnant or there is a baby under 12 months in the household
- there has been an escalation in frequency and/or severity of incidents
- the violence involved sexual assault or attempted strangulation, or the use of weapons or threats to kill
- where a child is known to be involved in a violent relationship, e.g. a young person may be involved in a relationship with a violent girlfriend/boyfriend.
Whenever a Child and Family Assessment or Section 47 enquiry is undertaken, there must be liaison with all agencies involved with the family and the child/children.
Both partners should be interviewed separately, and in a safe setting.
Many victims of domestic violence and abuse feel unable to disclose its existence or severity. The following issues should be discussed with the alleged victim as part of any assessment:
- severity, frequency and history of any abuse, threats etc
- circumstances of the abuse and if compounded by drugs/alcohol
- extent and nature of the children's experience of the abuse
- perception of risk to the child/children
- threats used – consider all household members
- available options – immediate and in the future
- factors that prevent the victim taking action to protect self and child/children
- whether it is possible to share victim's perceptions with the alleged perpetrator or whether this would increase levels of risk.
The alleged victim of abuse should be advised of the availability of legal advice and the options available through the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Family Law Act 1996 Part IV.
The interview with the alleged perpetrator of the abuse should be planned carefully between the worker and their line manager. Care must be taken not to disclose addresses or other potentially sensitive information, or make unsafe contact arrangements.
If there is an acknowledgement of abuse, the interview should clarify the points above. Where there is no acknowledgement of abuse and it is not possible to share the victim's account, there should be a general discussion about the child/children's welfare.
The child/children should be interviewed (if of sufficient age and understanding) and their experiences explored. It is important to consider the possibility that a child may have experienced direct abuse her/himself and/or may be inhibited from disclosing concerns due to fear of (further) DVA.
If a Child Protection Conference is held, consideration will be given to any need to exclude the violent partner for part or all of the meeting.
The local authority may pursue legal options of:
- relocation of alleged perpetrators of abuse and if necessary relocation of victim and child/children
- injunctions attached to a Prohibited Steps Order
- exclusion conditions attached to an Emergency Protection Order and Interim Care Order
- an injunction under the Housing Act 1996 (chapter III of Part V) to restrain antisocial behaviour with power of arrest attached, where abuse has occurred or is threatened.
Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC)
Role of MARAC
The role of a MARAC meeting is to enable partner agencies to discuss primarily how to safeguard an adult victim of domestic abuse who is identified as being at high risk of homicide or serious harm. At the meeting agencies will share information about the situation and formulate an action plan addressing the victim’s safety and the safety of their children. The MARAC will assist in linking measures to safeguard the adult victim and measures to safeguard children and young people and manage the behaviour of the perpetrator (SafeLives, 2015). Attendees at a MARAC include the police, an Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA) who is the voice of the victim (the victim does not attend), children’s social services, health and other agencies such as probation and housing. The MARAC referral should be discussed with the victim where this is safe, professional judgement should be exercised. In cases where the victim does not consent to information being shared consideration should be given to sharing it in line with the Data Protection Act, Human Rights Act, Caldecott guidelines, Common Law and in the public or vital interest where there is a high risk of harm (Multi-Agency MARAC Referral Form, 2015).
The aims of MARAC are:
- to share information to increase the safety, health and well-being of victims – adults and their children
- to determine whether the perpetrator poses a significant risk to any particular individual or to the general community
- to construct jointly and implement together a coordinated risk management plan that provides professional support to all those at risk and that reduces the risk of harm
- to reduce repeat victimisation
- to improve agency accountability
- to improve support for staff involved in high-risk DVA cases
Criteria for referring a case to MARAC
Any agency can refer a case which fits the criteria under one of the following categories, Professional Judgement, Visible High Risk or Potential Escalation. It is important to recognise that professional judgement may be adequate where there are serious concerns about the victim.
- Professional judgement
If a professional has serious concerns about a victim’s situation, they should refer the case to MARAC. There will be occasions where the particular context of a case gives rise to serious concerns even if the victim has been unable to disclose the information that might highlight their risk more clearly. This could reflect extreme levels of fear, cultural barriers to disclosure, immigration issues or language barriers, particularly in cases of ‘honour-based’ violence. The judgement would be based on the professional’s experience and/or the victim’s perception of their risk even if they do not meet criteria 2 and/or 3 below.
- ‘Visible high risk’
The number of ‘ticks’ on the Safelives DASH Risk Identification Checklist. If you have ticked 14 or more ‘yes’ boxes the case would normally meet the MARAC referral criteria.
- Potential escalation
The number of police callouts to the victim as a result of domestic violence in the past 12 months. This criterion can be used to identify cases where there is not a positive identification of a majority of the risk factors on the list, but where abuse appears to be escalating and where it is appropriate to assess the situation more fully by sharing information at MARAC.
Referral to MARAC
Referrals should be made by completing the Safelives DASH risk checklist. All referrals to MARAC must relate to an adult victim. Where there are children in the family, they will be considered as part of the MARAC discussions; however, where professionals have a concern about a child in relation to DVA they must follow the usual safeguarding procedures set out in Responding to concerns about a child. Where there are concerns about an unborn child a copy of the MARAC referral should automatically be sent to the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub(MASH), or via the local arrangements for making a referral/if you have a concerns about the safety or welfare of a child.
Responsibility for individual actions remains with the individual agency and is not transferred to the MARAC.
Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs)
Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs) provide primary and essential support to the MARAC. The IDVA service is available to all sectors of the community aged over 16 who are assessed to be at high risk of DVA, including those from minority ethnic groups, forced marriage, honour-based violence, those involved in sex work, same-sex relationships and male victims.
To contact the IDVA Service refer to your local Council website for further information on Domestic Abuse support services.
Domestic Violence Protection Notices and Domestic Violence Protection Orders
These notices and orders may be used by the police following a domestic incident to provide short-term protection to the victim when arrest has not been made but positive action is required, or where an arrest has taken place but the investigation is in progress. This could be where a decision is made to caution the perpetrator or take no further action, or when the suspect is bailed without conditions. They may also be considered when a case is referred by MARAC.
The DVPN/DVPO process can be pursued without the victim’s active support, or even against their wishes, if this is considered necessary to protect them from violence or threat of violence. The victim also does not have to attend court. This can help by removing responsibility from the victim for taking action against their abuser.
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.
Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (‘Clare’s Law’)
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS; also known as ‘Clare’s Law’) commenced in England and Wales in 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 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. This process should only be used for those with concerns whom are not already engaged with any agencies who can provide help and share information.
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.
Developing a safety plan is a way of helping the victim to protect themselves and their children by planning in advance for the possibility of future violence and abuse. It also helps the victim to think about how they can increase their safety either within the relationship, or if they decide to leave.
Women’s Aid offer advice on making a safety plan via their website.
- National Institute for Health and Care Excellence: Domestic violence and abuse quality standard
- Safelives DASH Risk Checklist
- SafeLives (2015) Toolkit for MARAC, Children and Young People’s Services
- Domestic Abuse Bill 2019 factsheets
Appendix 1: West Midlands Domestic Violence and Abuse Standards
Statutory organisations and specialist domestic abuse services across the West Midlands region (Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall & Wolverhampton) are committed to 11 standards of good practice. These West Midlands Domestic Violence and Abuse Standards are intended to identify and promote evidence-based, safe and effective practice in working with adult and child victims of domestic abuse, and to ensure perpetrators are held to account.
Monitoring and implementation of the standards will be the responsibility of Domestic Abuse Strategic Group, who will report to the Children’s Safeguarding Board and the Safer Board.
The 11 standards are:
- Organisations address domestic abuse within their policies.
- Organisations have pathways and procedures to respond to domestic abuse.
- Staff are trained, supervised and supported in domestic abuse commensurate with their role.
- Creating safe spaces.
- Avoiding unsafe responses.
- Responding to diversity.
- Working with domestic abuse perpetrators.
- Multi-agency working.
- Data collection.
- Workplace policy.
- Commissioning and service design.