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Safeguarding: Domestic Abuse

Domestic Abuse

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 received Royal Assent on 29 April 2021. The Act introduced the first ever statutory definition of domestic abuse and recognised the impact of domestic abuse on children as victims in their own right, if they see, hear or experience the effects of abuse.

Domestic abuse is defined as controlling, coercive, threatening or violent behaviour between family members or partners (even after a relationship has ended) and may include psychological, physical, sexual, economic and emotional abuse, not just violence. Both the person who is carrying out the behaviour and the person to whom the behaviour is directed towards must be aged 16 or over and they must be “personally connected” (as defined in section 2 of the 2021 Act). It does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident or a course of conduct.

Types of domestic abuse include intimate partner violence, abuse by family members, teenage relationship abuse and child/adolescent to parent violence and abuse. Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse, regardless of sexual identity, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexuality or background and domestic abuse can take place inside or outside of the home.

All children can witness and be adversely affected by domestic abuse in the context of their home life where domestic abuse occurs between family members. Exposure to domestic abuse can have a serious, long lasting emotional and psychological impact on children and they are likely to be at increased risk of other types of abuse.

Young people can also experience domestic abuse within their own intimate relationships. This form of peer on peer abuse is sometimes referred to as ‘teenage relationship abuse’. Depending on the age of the young people, this may not be recognised in law under the statutory definition of ‘domestic abuse’ (if one or both parties are under 16), however, as with any child under 18, where there are concerns about safety or welfare, child safeguarding procedures should be followed and both victims and perpetrators should be offered support.

Understanding the signs of domestic abuse

It can sometimes be difficult to spot domestic abuse, as it occurs within the confines of the home between trusted family members; children may not disclose incidents of domestic abuse if they:

  • have been told not to tell
  • are afraid of getting family members into trouble
  • blame themselves for the abuse.

Some of the following signs may be possible indicators that a child is living with domestic abuse:

  • aggression or withdrawal
  • anti-social behaviour
  • depression or anxiety
  • nightmares or insomnia
  • difficulty concentrating at school
  • frequently missing from care, home or education
  • drug or alcohol misuse
  • eating disorders or self-harm.

Operation Encompass

Operation Encompass operates in Kent and 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 DSL) 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.

Operation Encompass provides an advice and helpline service for all staff members from educational settings who may be concerned about children who have experienced domestic abuse. The helpline is available 8AM to 1PM, Monday to Friday on 0204 513 9990 (charged at local rate).