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2.24 Domestic abuse

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To be read in conjunction with Chapter 2.22 Forced Marriage procedure


In 2021 the Domestic Abuse Act came into force, the Act defines Domestic abuse as:

Behaviour of person (A) towards another person (B) if –

  1. A and B are each aged 16 or over and are personally connected to each other, and
  2. The behaviour is abusive

Behaviour is “abusive” if it consists of any of the following –

  1. Physical or sexual abuse
  2. Violent or threatening behaviour
  3. Controlling or coercive behaviour
  4. Economic abuse (behaviour that has substantial adverse effect on B’s ability to: acquire, use or maintain money or other property or obtain goods or services)
  5. Psychological, emotional or other abuse

And it does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident or a course of conduct. A’s behaviour may be “towards” B despite the fact that it consists of conduct directed at another person (for example B’s child)

Any reference in the Act to a victim of Domestic abuse includes a reference to child who –

  1. See’s or hears, or experiences the effect of, the abuse and
  2. Is related to A or B; a child is related to a person if the person is a parent or, or has parental responsibility for, the child, or the child and the person are relatives. (In this section child means person under the age of 18 years)

Personally connected: Two people are personally connected to each other if any of the following apply –

  1. They are, or have been, married to each other;
  2. They are, or have been, civil partners of each other;
  3. They have agreed to marry one another (whether or not the agreement has been terminated)
  4. They have entered into a civil partnership agreement (whether or not the agreement has been terminated)
  5. They are or have been, in an intimate partner relationship with each other;
  6. They each have, or there has been a time when they each have a parental relationship in relation to the same child
  7. They are relatives

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 abuse can have a devastating impact on children exposed to it in their own home. Under the statutory definition of domestic abuse, a child who sees or hears, or experiences the effects of domestic abuse and who is related to the person being abused or the perpetrator, is also to be regarded as a victim of domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse can affect anyone, regardless of age, disability, gender identity, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. Domestic abuse can also manifest itself in specific ways within different communities.  Domestic abuse takes many forms and impacts the lives of those who perpetrate it, witness it and suffer it every day.

Domestic Abuse can happen to anyone, but research and crime statistics consistently indicate that it is a gendered issue which disproportionately affects females.  Women are more likely to experience repeat victimisation, be physically injured or killed as a result of domestic abuse and experience non-physical abuse, including emotional and financial abuse, than men.  There are several risk factors for becoming a victim of domestic abuse:

  • Has a long-term illness, a disability, or a mental health problem.
  • Is a woman who is separated from her partner — there is a higher risk of abuse around the time of separation.
  • Is pregnant or has recently given birth.
  • Aged 16–24 years (women) or 16–19 years (men).

[British Medical Association (2014) Domestic Abuse.]

The greatest risk is for teenage mothers and during the period just after a woman has given birth (see Harrykissoon et al, 2002).

An article entitled Intimate Partner Violence During Pregnancy: Maternal and Neonatal Outcomes, from the Journal of Women’s Health, 2015, states that the majority of research has found that between 3% and 9% of women experience abuse during pregnancy.  The article describes the effects of intimate partner violence on maternal health, insufficient or inconsistent prenatal care, poor nutrition, inadequate weight gain, substance use, increased prevalence of depression as well as adverse neonatal outcomes.

Whilst the majority of abuse is perpetrated by men against women, domestic violence may also be carried out by women against men and within same sex relationships. Abuse can be perpetrated by partners, ex-partners and family members, including children under the age of 18, adult children or siblings.  Domestic abuse rarely exists in isolation and there are many complexities. For example, it 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 abuse 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.

Teenage relationship abuse

Teenage relationship abuse is not a term that is defined by the 2021 Act, or elsewhere in law. However, if the victim and perpetrator are at least 16 years old, abuse in their relationship can fall under the statutory definition of domestic abuse. Whilst young people under the age of 16 can experience abuse in a relationship, it would be considered child abuse as a matter of law. Abusive behaviours by one young person toward another, where each are aged between 16 and 18 could be both child abuse and domestic abuse as a matter of law.

Consider the following procedures

Abuse by family members

Domestic abuse may also be perpetrated by a family member: by children, grandchildren, parents, those with “parental responsibility”, siblings, or extended families including in-laws. Abuse within a family set up can encompass a number of different harmful behaviours

Child to parent abuse

Abuse within the family includes child-to-parent abuse, also commonly referred to as Adolescent to Parent Violence/Abuse (APV/A) and Child and Adolescent to Parental Violence and Abuse (CAPVA). Child-to-parent abuse can involve children of all ages, including adult children, and abuse toward siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles as well as other family members such as those acting as kinship carers. If the child is 16 years of age or over, the abuse falls under the statutory definition of domestic abuse in the 2021 Act.

Controlling or coercive behaviour

Controlling or coercive behaviour can amount to an offence under section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. The following examples are within the range of behaviours that might be considered controlling or coercive behaviour. This list is not exhaustive:

  • Controlling or monitoring the victim's daily activities and behaviour, including making them account for their time, dictating what they can wear, what and when they can eat, when and where they may sleep;
  • Controlling a victim’s access to finances, including monitoring their accounts or coercing them into sharing their passwords to bank accounts in order to facilitate economic abuse;
  • Isolating the victim from family, friends and professionals who may be trying to support them, intercepting messages or phone calls;
  • Refusing to interpret and/or hindering access to communication;
  • Preventing the victim from taking medication, or accessing medical equipment and assistive aids, over-medicating them, or preventing the victim from accessing health or social care (especially relevant for disabled victims or those with long-term health conditions);
  • Using substances to control a victim through dependency, or controlling their access to substances;
  • Using children to control the victim, e.g. threatening to take the children away;
  • Using animals to control or coerce a victim, e.g. harming or threatening to harm, or give away, pets or assistance dogs;
  • Threats to expose sensitive information (e.g. sexual activity or sexual orientation) or make false allegations to family members, religious or local community including via photos or the internet; • Intimidation and threats of disclosure of sexual orientation and/or gender identity to family, friends, work colleagues, community and others;
  • Intimidation and threats of disclosure of health status or an impairment to family, friends, work colleagues and wider community – particularly where this may carry a stigma in the community; • Preventing the victim from learning a language or making friends outside of their ethnic or cultural background;
  • Threatening precarious immigration status against the victim, withholding documents, giving false information to a victim about their visa or visa application, e.g. using immigration law to threaten the victim with potential deportation;
  • Using the victim’s health status to induce fear and restrict their freedom of movement;
  • Threats of institutionalisation (particularly for disabled or elderly victims); and
  • Physical violence, violent or threatening behaviour, sexual abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, economic abuse and verbal abuse.

CAFCASS have designed a tool to assist in the assessment of coercive control

Physical abuse, violent or threatening behaviour

Physical abuse and violent or threatening behaviour can involve being threatened to or being kicked, punched, pinched, pushed, dragged, shoved, slapped, scratched, spat on, bitten, burned, poisoned, drowned, having objects thrown in the direction of the victim and much more. Section 70 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 (‘the 2021 Act’) amends Part 5 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 to create an offence of non-fatal strangulation. Non-fatal strangulation can be used as a form of assault in domestic abuse and a history of strangulation can increase the risk of an eventual fatality. Non-fatal strangulation is often used to instil fear and exert power and control.

Sexual Abuse

It is very difficult impossible for someone to freely give consent to sex if they are in a coercive and controlling relationship. Non-consensual or harmful non-fatal strangulation can arise in a sexual context. Section 70 of the 2021 Act makes a change to the Serious Crime Act 2015 to provide that a person commits the offence of strangulation or suffocation if they intentionally strangle another person or do any other act that affects another person’s ability to breathe. These actions constitute battery. Whilst it is a defence for the person accused to show that the other person consented, this does not apply where that other person suffers serious harm as a result of the strangulation or any other act, and the person accused intended to cause that other person harm or were reckless as to whether that other person would suffer serious harm.

Victims of domestic abuse can also be the subject of reproductive coercion, which can involve things like: restricting a partner’s access to birth control; refusing to use a birth control method; deception regarding the use of birth control including falsely claiming to be using contraception; and forcing a partner to get an abortion, IVF or other related procedure; or denying access to such procedures

Harassment or Stalking

Where harassment or stalking occurs, and the perpetrator and victim are 16 or over and “personally connected”, this behaviour falls within the scope of the statutory definition of domestic abuse in the 2021 Act. For example, it may constitute physical Domestic Abuse Act 2021 Statutory Guidance 34 abuse, threatening behaviour, controlling or coercive behaviour, or emotional or psychological abuse

Economic Abuse

Economic abuse refers to behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on an individual’s ability to acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or to obtain goods or services. This can include an individual’s ability to acquire food or clothes, or access transportation or utilities. These behaviours can include an attempt to control through restriction, exploitation and/or sabotage.

Emotional or psychological abuse

Domestic abuse often involves emotional or psychological abuse. Some of these behaviours will also be controlling or coercive behaviour. Emotional or psychological abuse can include things like manipulating a person’s anxiety or beliefs, hostile or silent treatment as a pattern of behaviour to make a victim feel fearful, being insulting, belittling, intimidating including through social media keeping a victim awake/ preventing them sleeping, persuading a victim to doubt their own sanity.

Verbal Abuse

Verbal abuse may amount to emotional or psychological abuse, threatening behaviour, or controlling or coercive behaviour. Some examples include: Repeated yelling and shouting; Abusive, insulting, threatening or degrading language; Verbal humiliation either in private or in company; Being laughed at and being made fun of etc.

Technology assisted abuse

Perpetrators can use technology, including social media to abuse victims. This can happen during and after the relationship. Section 69 of the 2021 Act, amended the offence under section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, of disclosing a private sexual photograph or film with intent to cause distress to an individual who appears in the photograph or film, so as to include threats to disclose such photographs and films. This means it is a criminal offence for an individual to threaten to share intimate images without the consent of the individual depicted, with the intent to cause distress. Threats to share intimate or sexual images and films may be used as a part of a pattern of behaviour to control

Abuse relating to faith

Whilst an individual’s faith can be a source of support and comfort to victims, domestic abuse can occur in relation to it, and through using, manipulating, or exploiting it. Domestic abuse can also involve preventing a victim from practising their faith or religious obligations.

Religious marriage and divorce

Religious-only marriages, being unregistered marriages that are conducted in accordance with the rites of a particular religion but without legal status, can be used by perpetrators to trick people and deny their legal rights.

Risks to the child

Where there is domestic abuse the implications for the children and young people in the household must be considered because research indicates a strong link between domestic abuse  and all types of child abuse and neglect.

Prolonged or regular exposure to domestic abuse 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.

Domestic abuse within a household is associated with an increased risk of child abuse, death and serious injury for children and young people, in 2020 domestic abuse was a factor in 40% of cases notified to the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel.

Domestic Abuse can have a serious impact on a child's development and emotional well-being. Significant harm to the child as a result of domestic abuse may arise from physical injury during an incident, either by accident or because they attempt to intervene.

Exposure to domestic abuse and/or violence can have a serious, long lasting emotional and psychological impact on children. In some cases, a child may blame themselves for the abuse or may have had to leave the family home as a result.

Children can experience both short and long term cognitive, behavioural and emotional effects as a result of witnessing domestic abuse. Each child will respond differently to trauma and some may be resilient and not exhibit any negative effects.

Children’s responses to the trauma of witnessing domestic abuse may vary according to a multitude of factors including, but not limited to, age, race, sex and stage of development. It is equally important to remember that these responses may also be caused by something other than witnessing domestic abuse.  Witnessing the physical and emotional suffering of a parent, can lead to anxiety and distress, often resulting in:

  • behavioural issues
  • low self-esteem
  • anxiety or depression
  • absenteeism
  • ill health
  • bullying
  • antisocial or criminal behaviour
  • drug and alcohol misuse
  • self-harm.

Domestic abuse has a serious impact on people’s ability to parent and care for children. A perpetrator can be overly focused on their own needs being met, and can undermine a victims ability to parent, they may also draw children into achieving this and their control can create pressure to conceal the abuse

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 of threats and coercion and control
  • the degree and extent of physical harm
  • the duration and frequency of abuse or neglect
  • the extent of premeditation
  • 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, domestic abuse 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 abuse in an adult may 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
  • non-fatal strangulation
  • examples of coercive control
  • economic abuse
  • technological abuse
  • 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
  • threats to hurt or kill
  • threats to a child
  • threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. threatening to 'out' someone)
  • assault
  • criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods)
  • rape
  • preventing a person from having access to transport or from working

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.

Possible indicators of those who cause (perpetrate) domestic abuse

Perpetrators have the ability to be some of the most charming and amenable people at times; if the abuse is known they may seek to minimise allegations, normalise the behaviour and discredit reports of abuse. They may often talk about the abuse as if it was a ‘one off’ or single act of physical violence that has come to the attention of services. Domestic abuse is never a single, one-off ‘incident’ and practitioners shouldn’t use this language because it can have a reinforcing message. The following signs may be apparent in someone who is being abusive:

  • Jealousy and possessiveness. Wants to be with someone constantly
  • Controlling Behaviour
  • Very quick in-depth involvement in someone’s life
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Isolation
  • Blames others for problems
  • Blames others for feelings
  • Hypersensitivity

Mixed methods research published by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and Refuge suggests that perpetrators of domestic abuse may also target and undermine parents’ relationships with their children, using power and control dynamics. Behaviours can potentially include:

  • Disguised compliance, missing or cancelling appointments, non-attendance, playing different professionals off against one another;
  • Making false or vexatious allegations against victims and convincing professionals that their controlling tactics are for the victim’s own safety and/or for the safety of their children;
  • Using the courts to continue abuse, for example not turning up to court dates, sending unnecessary and repeated legal letters and making threats around contact;
  • Making counter-allegations against the victim;
  • Exploiting interpretations of religion or faith to maintain control of victims and perpetuate harm;
  • Using children as a form of control – e.g. access visits, seeking to manipulate children’s feelings towards ex-partner (the victim);
  • Attempting to frustrate or interfere with a police investigation, including attempting to undermine the victim’s statements by claiming they are mentally ill;
  • Use of family members, new partners, or others to indirectly communicate with or threaten the victim, especially in cases where the perpetrator is under investigation, subject to a protection order or detained;
  • Use of false profiles on social media or other technology platforms;
  • Telling the victim that they will not be believed because they have mental health issues, learning difficulties or disabilities, or issues with substance abuse;
  • Threatening to ‘out’ the victim as a form of coercive control, telling the victim that they will not be believed because they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or trans, or manipulating the victim’s knowledge of what support is available for LGBT people and using myths and stereotypes around LGBT domestic abuse to make professionals believe that abuse between same-sex couples does not exist;
  • Threatening to remove care or not undertake caring responsibilities where the victim is reliant on this, threatening the victim around the withdrawal of medicines;
  • Exploiting the communication support needs of the victim or manipulating the victim’s knowledge of what support is available and making professionals believe that the victim does not have capacity to report accurately or that reports are not credible due to communication difficulty;
  • Using threats to manipulate the victim, for example, by telling the victim they will not be believed by the police or other agencies, that they will inform social services, that their children will be taken away;
  • Seeking to control the victim’s finances, ability to access funds or obtain an income; and
  • Manipulating the victim’s immigration status as a form of coercive control, including withholding ID, passports and visas from the victim, lying about their status, purposely letting a victim’s visa lapse or failing to act on sponsorship duties for immigration purposes

Professionals are often very optimistic about men's parenting skills (Hester and Radford 1996), whilst scrutinising the mother's parenting in much greater detail. However, research (Holden and Ritchie America, 1991) has found that the abusive partners had inferior parenting skills, including being:

  • More irritable;
  • Less physically affectionate;
  • Less involved in child rearing; and
  • Using more negative control techniques, such as physical punishment.

Practitioners should be aware that many victims will find it difficult to disclose domestic abuse 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 are often blamed for the abuse and not believed or seen to be victims
  • Victims from same-sex relationships who fear stigma and prejudice.
  • People with multiple disadvantages such as substance misuse or poor mental health may fear they will not be believed
  • Child victims of 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 recognise that they are experiencing abuse, for example in cases of  coercive and controlling behaviour

Enabling disclosure

Given the insidious and often hidden nature of domestic abuse, it is critical that those working with families where domestic abuse is present, employ professional curiosity to recognise patterns of behaviour over time. Professionals should understand the stigma and fear that victims may have when disclosing domestic abuse, including the fear by the non-abusive parent of the possibility of having their children removed, should they disclose abuse. They should also be alive to the ways in which perpetrators might seek to manipulate them or other professionals. This stigma may be compounded by intersecting factors which may create further barriers in disclosure. Professionals should have the ability to build empathic and trusting relationships to seek to overcome this, understanding the nuances of each situation and working with the victim’s wishes where possible. Domestic Abuse Statutory Guidance ( Domestic Abuse Statutory Guidance (

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 curiosity, 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 domestic abuse 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 being able to engage and not.

A parent and child/children fleeing from domestic abuse 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

Every assessment when domestic abuse is present should draw relevant information gathered from the child and their family and any other relevant practitioners involved with members of the family; including teachers, school staff, early years workers, health practitioners, the police, and adult social care.

The NICE Domestic Violence and Abuse Overview Report, 2016, states that “practitioners need to understand equality and diversity issues and ensure that assumptions about people’s beliefs, values, gender identity or sexuality do not stop them from recognising and responding to domestic violence and abuse.”

Practitioners should use evidence from their direct observation and knowledge of parents and their children to inform assessment of risks in line with information sharing agreements.  

There is a need for coordination between all agencies including 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. 

Where there is domestic abuse, 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 domestic abuse comes to their attention in their work.

It is vital to adequately assess the heightened risks for children that arise from domestic abuse in the home. When assessing the risk, an unborn child must also be considered as a victim in their own right. Consideration must also be given to young people who may themselves be in abusive relationships.

Risk assessment

Professionals who are trained to do so can use tools such as the Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment (DASH) risk assessment (DASH link) to help identify the level of risk an individual is facing and to tailor their support accordingly. The DASH risk tool is not a definitive assessment of risk but provides for the identification and assessment of risk based on structured professional judgment. Professionals using this, or other risk assessment tools, should be alert to the risk to children as well as adults. It is essential to identify changes, such as escalation in severity and/or frequency of abuse. Risk assessments should holistically encompass specialist professional judgement, survivor perceptions of risk, along with additional indicators relevant to minority groups. (Info taken from DA Statutory guidance)

Multi-agency information sharing

Multi-agency work and information sharing is crucial in safeguarding children and adults in situations of domestic abuse. It is important to include specialist domestic abuse services in domestic abuse risk assessments.  In cases where bruising has been found on a non-mobile infant a multi-agency discussion to consider any other information on the child and family and any known risks of domestic abuse should take place in order to jointly decide whether any further assessment, investigation or action is needed to support the family or protect the child. This multi-agency discussion should always include the health professional who reviewed the child.  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 domestic abuse 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 professionals 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 domestic abuse incidents or concerns must be recorded, with its rationale.

Where the threshold has met Child in Need, and consent has been gained to receive a service, a referral should be made to Children’s Social Care using the Multi-Agency Referral Form (MARF).

The level of safeguarding support required for a child affected by domestic abuse should be assessed using an assessment tool.  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 concern 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, but domestic abuse should no longer be viewed as incidents alone; "Recorded incidents likely represent only a small number of real cases as families facing crisis point make the difficult decision to disclose their abuse "* there needs to be recognition of the course of conduct and patterns of coercive & controlling behaviour that are continual and not reported (*statutory guidance)  

"An overemphasis on physical violence meant that non-physical incidents of domestic abuse were viewed as ‘low level’ and therefore not responded to appropriately. For example, in some cases, first-known incidents or incidents without physical violence reported did not lead to any response for either child or adult victims. In other cases, it was not clear who was using abusive behaviours and who was the victim, leading to responses that inappropriately made the mother, or both parents, equally responsible for risk. While situations where both parents/carers pose a risk occur, they are relatively rare, and professionals have a responsibility to identify the dynamics of the situation and thoroughly understand the risks to children. These ‘low level’ incidents of domestic abuse were often conflated with the term ‘parental conflict’. Parental conflict and domestic abuse are evidently distinct and require different types of intervention and action”

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 domestic abuse in families with a child under 18 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 domestic abuse.

Any decision (and its rationale) not to refer or consult with Children's Social Care must be recorded.

Agency responses to Domestic Abuse

The domestic abuse statutory guidance has individual sections for several professional organisations.

The Police

Police are often the first point of contact with victims and they (or any other agency that becomes aware of domestic abuse) should safeguard the victim and:

  • ascertain whether there are any children living in the household, any children who do not live in the household but have contact with the victim or alleged perpetrator 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 domestic abuse calls the attending officer will complete a DASH/DARA 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.

Harm may be indirect and non-physical as, for example, in the case of some domestic abuse which may involve controlling and coercive behaviour and economic abuse. An officer attending a domestic abuse incident should be aware of the effect of such behaviour on any children in the household.

Operation Encompass

Operation Encompass operates in the majority of police forces across England. It helps police and schools work together to provide emotional and practical help to children. The system ensures that when police are called to an incident of domestic abuse, where there are children in the household who have experienced the domestic incident, the police will inform the key adult (usually the designated safeguarding lead) in school before the child or children arrive at school the following day.  This ensures that the school has up to date relevant information about the child’s circumstances and can enable support to be given to the child according to their needs. Police forces not signed up to operation encompass will have their own arrangements in place.

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 domestic abuse.

Professionals have a responsibility to identify the dynamics of the situation and thoroughly understand the risks to children.

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 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

An understanding of the dynamics of the situation will help to explore the risks where there is a child in the household and indicate if 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 abuse including the impact of coercion and control on their life
  • a child has witnessed another being seriously injured or abused
  • the victim is pregnant or there is a baby under 18 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.

Assessment process

Both partners should be interviewed separately, and in a safe setting.

Many victims of domestic 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 and pets
  • available options – immediate and in the future
  • factors that mean the abuser is causing harm to the child and controlling the ability of the victim to intervene
  • whether it is possible to share victim's perceptions with the alleged perpetrator or whether this would increase levels of risk- specialist support agencies should be involved to help understand this risk and inform safety planning.

The  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 child as a victim themselves and that they may have experienced direct abuse her/himself and/or may be inhibited from disclosing concerns due to fear of (further)domestic abuse.


If a Child Protection Conference is held, consideration will be given to any need to exclude the abusive 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 a 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 (Safe Lives, 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 domestic abuse 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 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

Once the risk is identified referrals should be made by using a local MARAC referral form and should ideally be accompanied by the Safelives DASH risk assessment. All referrals to MARAC must relate to a victim and perpetrator who are both aged 16 years and above. 

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 domestic abuse they must follow the usual safeguarding procedures set out in Responding to concerns about a child.   Where there are concerns about an unborn child or a child under 18 months of age 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 domestic abuse, 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

A DVPN is an emergency non-molestation and eviction notice which can be issued by the police, following a domestic abuse incident, to a perpetrator. It is effective from the time of issue, thereby giving the victim the immediate support they require in such a situation. Within 48 hours of the DVPN being served on the perpetrator, an application by police to a magistrates’ court for a DVPO must be heard. A DVPO can prevent the perpetrator from returning to a residence and from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days. This allows the victim a degree of breathing space to consider their options with the help of a support agency. Both the DVPN and DVPO contain conditions prohibiting the perpetrator from molesting the victim.

DVPOs are a civil order that fills a “gap” in providing protection to victims by enabling the police and magistrates’ courts to put in place protective measures in the immediate aftermath of a domestic violence incident where there is insufficient evidence to charge a perpetrator and provide protection to a victim via bail conditions. They may be used simultaneously with other protective measures and bail with conditions to build up greater protection for the victim.

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.

Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders

The Domestic Abuse Act has repealed Domestic Violence Protection Orders and introduces a new civil Domestic Abuse Protection Notice (DAPN) to provide immediate protection following a domestic abuse incident, and a new civil Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO) to provide flexible, longer-term protection for victims.  The DAPN and DAPO are being piloted in some local areas before being rolled out nationally.

DAPNs and DAPOs will be used to protect victims from all forms of domestic abuse, including non-physical abuse and controlling or coercive behaviour.

DAPN’s, like the current Domestic Violence Protection Notice, will give victims immediate protection following an incident. A DAPN would be issued by the police and could, for example, require a perpetrator to leave the victim’s home for up to 48 hours.

DAPOs will have a flexible duration so that longer-term protection can be provided where necessary and proportionate.

DAPOs will impose both prohibitions and positive requirements on perpetrators. These could include prohibiting the perpetrator from coming within a specified distance of the victim’s home and/or any other specified premises, such as the victim’s workplace, alongside requiring the perpetrator to attend a behaviour change programme, an alcohol or substance misuse programme or a mental health assessment.

Breach of a DAPO will be a criminal offence, carrying a maximum penalty of up to five years’ imprisonment, or a fine, or both.

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.  It enables the police to disclose information to a victim or potential victim of domestic abuse about their partner’s or ex-partner’s previous abusive or violent offending.

Under the scheme an individual or relevant third party (for example, a family member) can ask the police to check whether a current or ex-partner has a violent or abusive past. This is the “Right to Ask”. If records show that an individual may be at risk of domestic abuse from a partner or ex-partner, the police will consider disclosing the information. Whilst anybody can make an enquiry 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.

This scheme adds a further dimension to information sharing about children where there are concerns that domestic 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.

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.

Safety Planning

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.

This page is correct as printed on Friday 21st of June 2024 10:33:23 PM please refer back to this website ( for updates.