2.25 Domestic violence and abuse
- Young people experiencing abuse in their own relationship
- Forced marriage and honour-based violence
- Families with additional vulnerabilities
- Impact of domestic abuse
- Substance misuse and mental health
- Barriers to disclosure of domestic abuse
- Confidentiality and information sharing
- An effective response to domestic abuse
- Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme
- Safety planning
- Further information
- Appendix 1: West Midlands Domestic Violence and Abuse Standards
The purpose of these procedures is to ensure that everyone working with children and young people and their families are alert to the impact of domestic abuse and the relationship between domestic abuse and the abuse and neglect of children, and is able to take action to safeguard children and young people.
There is a considerable impact on the safety and well-being of children and young people who experience domestic abuse both directly and indirectly and the impact of this can be significant in terms of their emotional, behavioural, cognitive and physical well-being.
Most domestic abuse is perpetrated by men against women, and this procedure provides guidance on safeguarding the children and young people who through being in households/relationships, are affected by violence and abuse. This procedure refers to the victim/survivor as female and the abuser as male as this reflects the majority of cases where there are child protection concerns and the gendered nature of domestic abuse as evidenced in national statistics. However agencies should apply the guidance to all situations of domestic abuse regardless of whether abuse is perpetrated by a woman against a man, within same sex relationships, and between any other family members.
The three central imperatives of any intervention for children and young people living with domestic abuse and violence are:
- to protect the child/young person
- to support the mother with her own safety, and the safety of her children
- to hold the abusive partner accountable for his violence and abuse and provide opportunities to change.
This procedure is for use by all individuals who have contact with children and adults who are parents/carers and who therefore have responsibilities for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people.
This includes unqualified managers, staff and volunteers. These individuals will be referred to as professionals throughout this procedural guidance.
Domestic violence and abuse is defined by the Home Office 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:
The Serious Crime Act 2015, Section 77, introduced the offence of controlling and coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship.
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 pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation, and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.”
The main characteristic of domestic abuse is that the behaviour is intentional, and is calculated to exercise power and control within a relationship. Responses to domestic abuse in respect of young people who are aged 16 and 17 years can be via the DASH Risk Assessment Matrix, but will be addressed via child protection processes.
Whilst the Home Office definition refers to this abusive behaviour as ‘Domestic Violence’, this is increasingly referred to as ‘Domestic Abuse’, which ensures that impacts of experiencing non-physical abusive behaviour are not minimised.
Examples of these behaviours are:
- Psychological/ emotional abuse – Intimidation and threats (as well as direct personal threats, these can be threats which are made about children, other family members or family pets), social isolation, verbal abuse, humiliation, consistent criticism, enforced trivial routines, over intrusiveness.
- Physical violence – slapping, punching, pushing, shoving, hair pulling, kicking, stabbing, damage to property or items of sentimental value, attempted murder or murder.
- Physical restriction of freedom – controlling who the mother or children see or where they go, what they wear or do, stalking, imprisonment, and forced marriage.
- Sexual violence – any non-consensual sexual activity, including rape, sexual assault, coercive sexual activity or refusing safer sex.
- Financial abuse – stealing, depriving or taking control of money, running up debts, withholding benefits books or bank cards.
- Coercive or controlling behaviour – taking control of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep.
- Individuals in an abusive relationship may also experience abuse via the use of technologies and/or social media. This can include intimidation and harassment, threats of sharing intimate information, videos or pictures across social networks, isolating from friends and family through online comments, access to passwords (including online banking), checking mobile phones, cyber bullying, non-consensual sexting, and stalking.
Practitioners should be alert to possible signs and indicators that could indicate a woman is experiencing domestic abuse. The following indicators do not define a stereotype of women affected by domestic abuse, with some women demonstrating a variety of indicators, whilst for other women no indicators will be immediately evident and so this is not an exhaustive list:
- Stress related ailments – headaches, irritable bowel syndrome.
- Bruises on the body, particularly on the breasts and abdomen.
- Injuries to face, head or neck – common injuries include perforated eardrums, detached retinas.
- Sexually transmitted infections vaginal/ infections or frequent gynaecological problems.
- Miscarriages/history of miscarriages.
- Repeated termination of pregnancy/still births.
- Frequent A&E visits.
- Multiple injuries in different stages of healing.
- Burns – cigarette burns, rope burns.
- Hair loss – consistent with hair pulling.
- Bi-lateral injuries.
- Frequent use of pain medication.
- Unexplained ‘accidents’ to children.
- Depression/anxiety/panic attacks.
- Vague symptoms and conditions.
- Extreme feelings of isolation.
- Self harm.
- Use of alcohol and other drugs, including frequent use of tranquillisers.
- Eating disorders.
- Attempted suicide.
- Obsessive compulsive behaviour.
Young people experiencing abuse in their own relationship
Young people aged under 16 years may find themselves in abusive intimate relationships, even if they do not live with their partner. They may also be at a higher risk of some forms of abuse such as honour-based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM). Women in the 16–24 age group are statistically shown to be most at risk of being victims of domestic abuse.
Young people will show similar indicators of abuse as adults, however signs of an abusive relationship may also include:
- being late for school or college /not attending/ falling grades
- arriving early/staying late to avoid abuser
- not focused in lessons/preoccupied/worried
- disturbed sleep affecting concentration
- feeling unsafe as afraid of being traced by abuser via school/college
- worried about what people at school/college think of them
- frequent texts/calls from boyfriend/girlfriend or having to answer
- inappropriate sexual behaviour/language/attitude
- use of drugs/alcohol (where there was no prior usage)
- eating disorders
- bullying behaviour/being bullied
- sexually transmitted diseases
Forced marriage and honour-based violence
Children and young people 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.
Whilst honour-based violence can culminate in the death of the victim, this is not always the case. The child or young person may be subjected over a long period to a variety of different abusive behaviours ranging in severity. The abuse is often carried out by several members of a family and may, therefore, increase the child’s sense of powerlessness and be harder for professionals to identify and respond to.
Professionals should respond in a similar way to domestic abuse, by facilitating disclosure, developing individual safety plans, ensuring the child or young person’s safety by according them confidentiality in relation to the rest of the family and completing risk assessments where appropriate.
Families with additional vulnerabilities
All professionals should understand the following issues that children and their mothers may face, and take these into consideration when trying to help them:
- Culture: The culture amongst some communities means that it is often more difficult for women to admit to having marital problems. This is because a failed marriage is often seen as being the woman’s fault, and she will be blamed for letting down the family’s honour. In some cultures, a woman may not be in a position to divorce her husband. If the husband does not want to comply with this, he can prevent giving a religious divorce to his wife.
- Immigration status: Children and their mothers may have an uncertain immigration status, which could prevent them from accessing services. The mother may also be hesitant to take action against her partner for fear of losing her right to remain in the UK. In some cases, women have received threats of deportation from their partner or extended family if they report domestic abuse and have had their passports taken from them. Similarly, children may have had their passports taken away from them and may fear that they and /or their mother could be deported if they disclose domestic abuse in the family.
- Language/literacy: Children and their mothers may face the additional challenge to engaging with services in that English is not their first language. When working with children and families professionals should use professional interpreters, trained in domestic abuse, who have a clear Disclosure and Barring Service check; it is not acceptable to use a family member or friend; and members of the extended community network wherever possible, as there must be consideration as to whether this may jeapardise or threaten the security of the children and mother.
- Temporary accommodation: Many families live in temporary accommodation. When a family moves frequently, they may be facing chronic poverty, social isolation, racism or other forms of discrimination and the problems associated with living in disadvantaged areas or in temporary accommodation. These families can become disengaged from or may have not been able to become engaged with, health, education, social care, welfare and personal social support systems.
- Recent trauma: Some recently immigrant families often have a traumatic history and/or a disrupted family life and can need support to integrate their culture with that of the host country.
- Care and support needs: There may be an increase in vulnerability where a member of the family has care and support needs. The impact of domestic abuse is often especially acute where the perpetrator is also the carer, the carer has considerable power and control and the victim not only relies on them, but will face additional barriers in trying to leave as the abuser may be a primary carer for them and their children, they may need adaptions to their home and refuges often do not have appropriate facilities to respond to their particular needs. The victim may be the carer of the abuser, and feel a sense of obligation to carry on and put up with the abuse. There is a need to understand that many circumstances are both safeguarding situations and domestic abuse, and in these cases joint working across children and adults safeguarding and domestic abuse is required.
- Social exclusion: Children and their families may also face additional vulnerabilities as a result of social exclusion. This can include women with no recourse to public funds. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people may also be especially vulnerable, and issues such as shame, stigma, mistrust of authority (particularly the police), fear of having children taken away because of incorrect stereotyping, ‘outing’ etc. can lead to the abuse being hidden and unreported. There are also issues around safe havens for transgender people and their children and some women’s refuges may not accept men who have not fully transitioned.
Impact of domestic abuse
The impact of domestic abuse and violence on children
The risks to children living with domestic violence include:
- Direct physical or sexual abuse of the child. Research shows this happens in up to 60% of cases; also that the severity of the violence against the mother is predictive of the severity of abuse to the children.
- Domestic abuse is identified as a factor in two thirds of cases where children have been killed or seriously injured.
- The child being physically abused as part of the abuse against the mother, including being injured as a result of intervening during a violent assault.
- Being used as pawns or spies by the abusive partner in attempts to control the mother.
- Being forced to participate in the abuse and degradation by the abusive partner.
- Emotional abuse as a result of the child witnessing the abuse:
- hearing abusive verbal exchanges between adults in the household
- hearing the abusive partner verbally abuse, humiliate and threaten violence
- observing bruises and injuries sustained by their mother
- hearing their mother’s screams and pleas for help
- observing the abusive partner being removed and taken into police custody
- witnessing their mother being taken to hospital by ambulance.
Negative material consequences for a child of domestic abuse include:
- Being unable or unwilling to invite friends to the house.
- Frequent disruptions to social life and schooling from moving with their mother fleeing violence.
- Hospitalisation of the mother and/or her permanent disability.
The impact on children who witness domestic abuse can be significant in terms of their emotional, behavioural, cognitive and physical well-being. Although not all children will be affected in the same way. Children exposed to domestic abuse may have low self-esteem and experience increased levels of anxiety, depression, anger and fear, aggressive and violent behaviours, including bullying, lack of conflict resolution skills, lack of empathy for others and poor peer relationships, poor school performance, anti-social behaviour, pregnancy, alcohol and substance misuse, self-blame, hopelessness, shame and apathy, post-traumatic stress disorder – symptoms such as hyper-vigilance, nightmares and intrusive thoughts – images of violence, insomnia, enuresis and over protectiveness of their mother and/or siblings. In addition children who witness domestic abuse have been identified as being more vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
The impact of domestic abuse on children is similar to the effects of any other abuse or trauma and will depend upon such factors as:
- the severity and nature of the abuse
- the length of time the child is exposed to the abuse
- characteristics of the child: gender, ethnic origin, age, disability, socio economic and cultural background
- the warmth and support the child receives in their relationship with their mother, siblings and other family members
- the nature and length of the child’s wider relationships and social networks
- the child’s capacity for and actual level of self-protection.
The impact of domestic abuse and violence on unborn children
Domestic abuse can start or get worse during pregnancy, and it has been identified as a prime cause of miscarriage or still-birth, premature birth, foetal psychological damage from the effect of abuse on the mother’s hormone levels, foetal physical injury and foetal death. The mother may be prevented by the perpetrator from seeking or receiving proper ante-natal or post-natal care. In addition, if the mother is being abused, this may affect her attachment to her child, more so if the pregnancy is a result of rape by her partner.
- One in three young mothers reported experiencing physical violence from their current partner.
- Two thirds had experienced physical violence in at least one of their relationships.
- Nearly all had experienced controlling behaviour, often directly associated with their pregnancy and motherhood. Many stated the control and violence increased during pregnancy or when the baby was born.
- The NSPCC and the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy found a link between domestic abuse and teenage pregnancy.
The impact of domestic abuse and violence on the young person
Young people in abusive relationships may have little or no frame of reference that enables them to understand that they are in an unhealthy/abusive relationship, in particular if this is their first relationship. Experiences of peers and what is accepted as ‘the norm’ (for example that the perpetrator has the right to control their partner or to demand intimacy) can also have a significant impact on recognising abuse. A child may have witnessed an abusive relationship whilst growing up and may believe that that is how a relationship should be. Further, their relationship with parents/carers or peer group and the ability to discuss what is happening will have an impact on risk levels.
Young people do not always see risk in the same way as adults. For example, an age gap of 2 or more years, drinking/smoking or drug use, or a criminal history are all identified risk factors for young people in abusive relationships, however a young person may see these as ‘exciting’ whereas an adult may think twice. A young person may also minimise abuse because they are afraid they will ‘lose face’ or status if they are single/split up from the ‘perfect’ boyfriend/girl friend or admit that something is wrong to their parents/carers/friends.
Professionals who have concerns about a young person who is being abused should follow this procedure, including safety planning. Young people may also be receiving or need to receive services from children in need or child protection in line with the Childrens Act 1989 and 2004, Working Together to Safeguard Childen 2015 and related statutory guidance.
The impact of domestic abuse and violence on mothers and their ability to parent
Children living with domestic abuse are often reliant on their mother as the only source of good parenting. Particularly because domestic abuse very often co-exists with high levels of punishment, the misuse of power, and failure of appropriate self-control by the abusive partner
Many mothers seek help because they are concerned about the risk domestic abuse poses to their child. However in some cases, domestic abuse may diminish a mother’s capacity to protect her child and some mothers can become so pre-occupied with their own survival within the relationship that they are unaware of the effect on their children, whilst others need time to make sense of their experience and recognise it as abusive to themselves and their children.
Mothers who are subjected to domestic abuse have described a number of physical effects, including frequent accommodation moves, economic limitations, isolation from social networks, disruption and interfence to their parenting and, in some cases, being physically prevented from fulfilling their parenting role by the abuser. The psychological impact can include:
- loss of self-confidence as an individual and parent
- feeling emotionally and physically drained, and distant from the children
- inability to provide appropriate structure, security, or emotional and behavioural boundaries for the children
- difficulty in managing frustrations and not taking them out on the children
- inability to support the child to achieve educationally or otherwise.
The impact of the abusive partner’s behaviour is such that it can significantly diminish a mother’s ability to parent her child.
Mothers experiencing domestic abuse are more likely to suffer from depression, and other mental health difficulties leading to self-harm, attempted suicide and/or substance misuse.
Domestic abuse can present additional issues for the on-going relationship between a mother and the children. Issues include:
- Interference by the perpetrator with her attempts to parent to exercise parental authority.
- A mother having her capacity to meet the developmental needs of her child restricted.
- Domestic abuse undermines a mothers respect for herself and the authority she needs to parent confidently.
- A mother may be put in a position where she will prioritise her abusive partner’s needs over the children to avoid further abuse and violence. This could manifest itself in different ways; including concerns about the level of physical and emotional care provided to the children.
Whilst some mothers parenting can be adversely affected by domestic abuse, there is evidence that their parenting can recover once they are safe, particularly where their lack of social support is addressed.
The abusive partner’s ability to parent
Perpetrating domestic abuse is a significant indicator of failed and dangerous parenting, as their behaviour is creating harm and risk to their children. Those who perpetrate abuse can struggle to acknowledge the impact of their behaviour on children in the family. Research has found that the abusive partners have inferior parenting skills, including:
- inconsistent parenting
- being less physically affectionate
- being less involved in child rearing
- using more negative control techniques, such as physical punishment.
Substance misuse and mental health
Mothers who experience domestic abuse are more likely to use prescription drugs, alcohol and illegal substances. This can be part of a coping and safety strategy. Mothers may have started using legal drugs prescribed to alleviate symptoms of an abusive relationship. Mothers may turn to alcohol and drugs as a form of self-medication and relief from the pain, fear, isolation and guilt associated with domestic abuse. Alcohol and drug use can help mask these feelings and therefore become part of how she copes with the abuse.
Mothers can be coerced and manipulated into alcohol and drug use. Abusers often introduce their partner to alcohol and drug use to increase her dependence on him and to control her behaviour. Furthermore, any attempts by the mother to stop her alcohol and drug use are threatening to the controlling partner and some abusive men will actively encourage mothers to leave treatment.
The double stigma associated with being both a victim of domestic abuse as well as having a substance use problem may compound the difficulties of help-seeking.
Mental health problems such as depression, trauma symptoms, suicide attempts and self harm are frequently ‘symptoms of abuse’ and need to be addressed alongside the issues of substance misuse and domestic abuse.
The relationship between a mother’s alcohol and drug use and/or mental health problems and her experiences of domestic abuse may not (or not all) be linked. Assessment and interventions for these mothers therefore need to be conducted separately, although as part of the same care plan, and at the same time.
Men who abuse may use their own or their partners’ alcohol or drug use as an excuse for their behaviour. An abusive partner may threaten to expose a mother’s (or teenage girl’s) use. He may be her supplier and he may increase her dependence on him by maintaining her supply.
Despite the fact that alcohol, drugs and abuse to women often coexist, there is no evidence to suggest a causal link. In addition, no evidence exists to support a ‘loss of control caused by intoxication’ as an explanation for abuse – research and case examples show that abusive partners exert a huge amount of power and control regardless of intoxication.
Even when physical assaults are only committed whilst intoxicated, abusive partners are likely to be committing non-physical forms of abuse when sober. It should never be assumed that by working with an abusive partner’s substance use the abusive behaviour will also be reduced. In fact, the abuse may increase when substance use is treated. Similarly, it should not be assumed that treating a domestic abuser’s mental ill health will necessarily reduce their violent behaviour – again the violence may increase.
Therefore, work with an abusive partner should comprise separate assessments and interventions for abuse, substance misuse and/or mental ill health. The intervention outcomes are more likely to be positive if the abuse, substance use and /or mental ill health are addressed at the same time.
Barriers to disclosure of domestic abuse
There are many reasons why a mother will be unwilling or unable to disclose that she is experiencing domestic abuse. Usually it is because she fears that the disclosure (and accepting help) will be worse than the current situation and could be fatal. A mother may:
- minimise her experiences and/or struggle to define them as domestic abuse
- be unable to express her concerns clearly (including language barriers)
- fear her children will be taken into care (a common threat by perpetrators)
- fear the abusive partner will find her through lack of confidentiality
- fear death
- believe her abusive partner’s promise it will not happen again (many want the abuse to stop but do not necessarily want the relationship to end)
- feel shame and embarrassment and may believe it is her fault
- fear she will not be believed
- fear that there will be no follow up support
- fear of isolation from her friends, family, and community
- fear she will be detained or deported
- fear that his immigration status will be exposed and she will be punished with an escalation of violence
- be scared of what may happen in the future (where she will go, what she will do for money, whether she will have to hide forever, and what will happen to her children)
- previous poor experience when she has disclosed
- fear that her disclosure will not be managed safely (or the abusive partner will find out in a way that is unsafe for her)
- fear of being pressured to take action she is not ready for/too afraid of/has tried before and it did not work.
Some women are simply not ready. It is therefore important to keep asking the question.
Young people will experience additional barriers to disclosing domestic abuse, which may include:
- having little experience of relationships and therefore unable to recognise possessive and jealous behaviour as unhealthy and may believe even physical abuse to be because of ‘love’
- embarrassment to admiting that their relationship is not healthy, especially if they continue with the relationship against their parents/carers/sibling friend’s advice
- belief there is nothing wrong in their relationship because their friends are also in abusive relationships
- prefering to have an abusive partner than no partner at all or being under pressure from their peers to be in a relationship.
Children affected by domestic abuse often find disclosure difficult or go to great lengths to hide it. This could be because the child is:
- protective of the mother
- protective of their abusing parent
- extremely fearful of the consequence of sharing family ‘secrets’ with anyone – this may include fears that it will cause further violence to their mother and/or themselves
- being threatened by the abusing parent
- feaful of being taken into care
- fearful of losing their friends and school
- fearful of exposing the family to dishonour, shame or embarrassment
- fearful that their mother (and they themselves) may be deported.
Enabling disclosure of abuse
Professionals will work with many individuals who are experiencing domestic abuse and have not disclosed. Professionals in all agencies are in a position to identify, and/or receive, a disclosure about domestic abuse. Professionals should be alert to the signs that a child, young person or mother may be experiencing domestic abuse, or that a father/partner may be perpetrating domestic abuse.
The issue of domestic abuse should only ever be raised with an individual when they are on their own in a private place.
Professionals must ensure their attempts to identify domestic abuse and their responses to recognition or disclosure do not trigger an escalation in violence or increase risk for the individual.
A Routine enquiry can be effective in increasing disclosure as victims are more likely to disclose if asked directly. Therefore it is always good practice to incorporate routine enquiry about domestic violence and abuse into all assessments and below are suggested ways:
- For a mother – “As domestic abuse is so common, we now ask everyone who comes into our service if they experience this because it effects peoples safety, health, and well-being, and our service wants to support and keep people as safe as possible”.
- For a child – “We know that many mums and dads have arguments/get hurt, does this ever happen in your family?”.
If you choose to develop routine questioning, particularly if it is a questionnaire, it is recommended that you follow this up with a further question such as:
- I see that you have ticked ‘no’ to questions relating to feeling safe, do you have any other questions about this issue? I just want you to know that if anything like this does ever come up, this is a safe place to talk about it and get help’.
- Never assume that somebody else will take care of domestic abuse issues. This may be the first or only disclosure or contact with services in circumstances which allow for safeguarding action.
Confidentiality and information sharing
Clarity about information sharing is essential and all agencies, including all voluntary and statutory agencies, should ensure that in sharing information they do so in line with agreed local protocols (see Information Sharing and Confidentiality procedure). It is vitally important that information is shared on a need to know basis as insensitive and uncoordinated information sharing can also endanger the life and well being of the woman and any children. Professionals receiving information about domestic abuse should explain that priority will be given to ensuring that the children and their mother’s safety is not compromised through the sharing of information.
It is essential that when domestic abuse is disclosed, or suspected, that the individual is fully and honestly advised about the confidentiality and storage of what has been disclosed, and knows the limitations of any confidentiality in respect of safeguarding responsibilities and where the information about the disclosure will be stored. This principle applies to adult victims as well as to children who are sharing information about domestic abuse either for the first time, or as part of on-going service provision.
The sharing of information disclosed by children and young people in respect of domestic abuse must be carefully considered to support their on-going safeguarding and when shared between agencies, the agency who first receive/become aware of the information should be consulted. This is so the information can be shared safely and with full consideration of the context in which it was originally disclosed or shared.
It is important that where possible, decisions about information sharing are made in a way that are empowering for the victim to be able to make informed choices about the safety of themselves and their children given the nature and impact of domestic abuse i.e. disempowerment of the victim.
Any referral to Children’s Social Work Services, or any other agency, should detail who knows about the disclosure of domestic abuse that has been made. This is to ensure that information is not inadvertently shared with the perpetrator, or other family members who may not be supportive to protecting the victim and children.
An effective response to domestic abuse
Explain the limits of confidentiality, and their safeguarding responsibilities, which will priortise the child and mothers safety. Professionals have a duty to protect the child/young person under the Children’s Act 1989 and 2004, Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 and the mother under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and other related guidance/legislation.
Information from the public, family or community members must be taken sufficiently seriously by professionals in statuory and voluntary agencies. Recent research evidence indicates that failure to do so has been a contributory factor in at least two-thirds of cases where a child has been seriously harmed or died.
Staff should receive domestic absue training appropriate to their professional role.
Information about domesic abuse should is easily accessible and on display.
Professionals’ response and support
Professionals should be aware that it is crucial that their practice does not jeopardise the safety of women and children, and therefore they need to address safety planning with the woman and her children. Research identifes that women have to access between 5 and 12 different agencies before they get an appropriate response. Any professional response to a woman experiencing domestic abuse will have an impact on her future options and may affect her decision to access help again in the future. A woman living with domestic abuse will often be constantly trying to manage her own safety and that of her children. Therefore she is often in the best position to judge where and when she is safe to talk and most likely to be able to make plans for her and her children’s safety.
Professionals should not press the individual for answers. Instead they should:
- listen, believe and take seriously what is said
- reassure them the abuse is not their fault, and it is not their responsibility to stop it from happening
- not assume that they will consider themselves as being abused
- let them know that they are not the only person experiencing this
- decide how to sensitively manage the information shared to balance any safeguarding needs with their need to have a degree of control over their feelings and any safety strategies that are devised
- if appropriate and safe, provide advice, including telephone numbers of where they can get additional support.
The professional should then seek to establish:
- the nature of the abuse/violence
- if there are children living in, or regularly visiting, the household, including ages of children
- whether the abusive partner is with the mother and where the children are
- what the child and mother’s immediate fears are
- whether there is a need to seek immediate assistance
- whether the child and mother have somewhere safe to go.
Ask the mother, or young person experiencing abuse in their own relationship, about things they have done which have helped to keep her and the children safe, how effective these have been and what you as an agency can do to help her.The professional should then:
- Ask child about what they do when the domestic abuse occurs, ask them how they keep themselves safe, what they want to do when the domestic abuse occurs and what they need help with.
- Make an immediate decision, where possible, about whether a child or mother requires treatment or protection from emergency services.
Professionals should be aware that the majority of abusive partners will deny, or minimise, domestic abuse and may be very skilled at engaging professionals to act or collude with their denial.
Professionals should remain alert to, and prepared to receive and clarify a disclosure about domestic abuse from an abusive partner/father. However, before seeking to enable or clarify a disclosure from an abusive partner, professionals should take into account their own safety and the safety of any children and their mother.
If a man states that domestic abuse is an issue, or the professional suspects that it is they should:
- establish if there are any children in the household and, if so, how many and their ages
- if there are children, tell the man that children are always affected by living with domestic abuse, whether or not they witness it directly
- explain the limits of confidentiality and safeguarding responsibilities
- consider whether the level of detail disclosed is sufficient; if not, the professional may need to ask clarification questions
- be clear that abuse is always unacceptable and that abusive behaviour is a choice
- be respectful, affirm any accountability shown by the man, but not collude.
In all disclosures the professional should act to safeguard the child, young person and/or their mother by:
- Informing their line manager and their agencies designated safeguarding children advisor.
- Completing an appropriate risk identification checklist with the young person or adult victim.
The presence of domestic abuse will always result in the child being in need of support, but the level of safeguarding support required will be identified from the assessment.
In assessing risk, professionals should be mindful of the following additional vulnerabilities:
- Babies under 12 months are particularly vulnerable to the effects of violence.
- Circumstances where there are children under 7 years of age as they do not have the ability to implement safety strategies.
- A child or mother who has special needs may limit the capacity to implement effective safety strategies and if the mother has care and support needs the Adult Safeguarding Procedures should be followed.
- High levels of coercive or controlling abuse may limit mothers options and ability to implement strategies to protect her or her children.
- Children or young people having contact with an abusive parent can be a mechanism to continue abuse within the family and, unless established as part of safety planning, can have harmful consequences for child and mother.
In addition, professionals should also consider whether:
- attention to domestic abuse is inadvertently drawing attention away from identifying that a child in the family may be being sexually or physically abused or targeted in some other way
- a child, or young person, is perpetrating abuse towards other family members.
The scale outcomes in accordance with the Threshold procedures are detailed below:
Scale 1 – Moderate risk of harm to the child whereby any needs can be addressed through single agency family support intervention provided to the child and their mother. The professional should:
- as part of the assessment check whether the child/family are known to children’s social work, either currently or previously
- be satisfied that there are no factors which increases the vulnerability of the child, which might raise the risk scale
- ensure the work plan with the family always include safety planning for children and their mother.
Scale 2 – Moderate, to serious, risk of harm to the child/ren. A child in this situation will have additional needs as identified by the risk identification and a single agency plan will be required. The professional in addition should consider a referral to children services if the mother does not engage, as this may raise the threshold of need/risk.
Scale 3 – Serious risk of harm to the children which requires a multi-agency response (see Referrals procedure).
Scale 4 – Severe risk of harm to the child, identified with the protective factors being limited (Scale 3) or extremely limited (Scale 4) and children are in need of protection. Children’s social work services to consider if a Social Work Assessment and Section 47 Enquiry are required. Children may be at risk of being looked after.
Professionals should in all cases:
- make a detailed and accurate record of:
- the assessment and the information which underpins it and inform their line manager
- the decision to share with whom and when and the rationale for doing so
- be mindful of safety planning for the mother and children
- consider referral to MARAC process.
It is important that throughout the professionals involvement with the family they are mindful to ensure signposting to relevant services.
Separation does not, in itself ensure safety, it often, at least temporarily, increases the risk to the child and mother.
Issues of contact in domestic abuse and in particular where the threshold of significant harm has been met should always be dealt with as a safeguarding matter and not considered a ‘private’ matter between the mother and her ex partner/children’s father.
MARAC (Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference) is a multi-agency meeting which has the safety of ‘high risk’ victims of domestic abuse as its focus. MARAC is a process involving the participation of key statutory and voluntary agencies who might be involved in supporting victims of domestic abuse. The objective of the MARAC is to share information and establish a simple multi-agency action plan to support the victim and make links with other public protection procedures, particularly safeguarding children, Adults at Risk, and the management of offenders.
The MARAC is part of a wider process of support, which includes the involvement of an Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA) and continued specialist case management, both before and after the meeting.
The MARAC should ensure the co-ordination of both specialist support services, together with universal agencies, both of whose resources and involvement will be needed to keep victims and their children safe and hold the perpetrator to account for their behaviour.
Where a perpetrator of domestic abuse is being managed at MAPPA level 2 or Level 3, the MAPPA meeting should take the lead over the MARAC as the MAPPA is a statutory set of arrangements and takes precedence over MARAC.
Any agency can make a referral to MARAC and to do so will need to have completed a DASH assessment. If the outcome of the DASH is assessed as “High Risk”, The completed DASH risk assessment, together with a completed MARAC Referral Form, should be securely forwarded to the MARAC administrator.
When the risk assessment is received the MARAC administrator, Police PPU and IDVA will consider within one working day any action that is required. The case will be considered at the next available MARAC meeting.
Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme
Domestic Violence Protection Orders
Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) were implemented across England and Wales from 8 March 2014. DVPOs were designed to provide immediate protection for a victim following a domestic abuse incident in circumstances where, in the view of the police, there are no other enforceable restrictions that can be placed upon the perpetrator.
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 and space 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’) 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.
A safety plan is a strategy that will support victims to seek help to secure their safety whilst at the same time not compromising them. Professionals should be mindful of the need to prioritise the safety of a/woman and her child and should be aware of the need to establish a safety plan.
A safety plan should be established for all victims who are known to be experiencing domestic abuse not just in respect of women who wish/plan to leave an abusive partner.
Safety plans should be reviewed as situations change, especially when agencies become involved. This is so there can be a risk assessment of the impact of any intervention(s) and the safety plan can be adjusted. accordingly
When a woman realises that she may need to leave home suddenly, she can be greatly assisted by being prepared. As a minimum she needs to plan and prepare:
- where she and the children would go
- how they would get there
- what they would take.
Any safety plan that is developed for children and young people in the family should be undertaken with the direct involvement of them and their mother. Developing safety plans for children and young people in the family without reference to the mother’s safety arrangements could put the child at increased vulnerability.
Young people in abusive relationships should be involved and agree to any safety plan developed. The safety plan should focus on the circumstances and locations in which the young person meets their partner. Various elements need to be taken into account such as the safety of other people in the family home, education, part time jobs (even a paper round), social life and friendships, including online life – it is key to remember that the internet is often part of a young person’s life, not a separate world, and to remove access could be removing another part of their independence.
- National Institute for Health and Care Excellence: Domestic violence and abuse quality standard
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, 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 Childrens 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.