Domestic Violence can take many forms, for example physical, emotional or psychological abuse, sexual violence, financial control and the imposition of social isolation or movement.
Prolonged and/or regular exposure to domestic violence can have a serious impact on a child’s development and emotional wellbeing, despite the best efforts of the adult victim to protect the child. Anyone working with children and parents/carers should be alert to the frequent inter-relationship between domestic violence and the abuse and neglect of children.
The adoption of the childrens act 2002 has extended the definition of harm ( within the meaning of the childrens act 1989 ) to include harm suffered from seeing and hearing ill-treatment of another, such as harm caused by witnessing Domestic Violence.
Research has highlighted that there are significant links between domestic violence and child abuse. In households where domestic violence takes place, children might also be subject to abuse. Similarly in households where there is child abuse, domestic violence may be present. Children witnessing domestic abuse are exposed to harm and risk. In child abuse investigations the welfare of the child is paramount, failing to identify and fully investigate the domestic violence element of any abuse could result in the failure to protect the safety and well being of both child and adult victims.
An estimated third of domestic abuse starts or escalates during pregnancy.
Agencies should be aware of the indicators of domestic violence that may come to their attention during their interaction with families. Any suspicion of domestic violence should be referred through to the police FCIU at the earliest opportunity. The police when investigating cases of domestic violence should be alert to potential child protection concerns, including abuse or neglect of children in the family or physical or emotional abuse suffered as a child in a household where domestic violence is perpetrated.
Domestic violence can have an impact on the safety and welfare of children in a number of ways, including:
- children being physically assaulted during episodes of domestic violence
- children being emotionally harmed by witnessing the physical and emotional suffering of parents
- the safety of an unborn child being threatened, where a pregnant woman is assaulted or subjected to abuse
- the experience of domestic violence having a negative impact on the ability of the adult victim to look after the children
The impact of domestic violence on children is exacerbated when
- The violence is combined with substance abuse
- Children witness the violence
- Children are drawn into the violence
- Children are pressurised into concealing the violence
It should be remembered that children’s exposure to parental conflict, with or without violence, can lead to serious anxiety and distress among children. It can also lead to behavioural problems, lack of cognitive functioning and in some cases a risk of long term development problems.
Where there is evidence of domestic violence, the implications for any children in the household should be considered, including the possibility of the children being physically harmed or being emotionally harmed by witnessing or overhearing the violence.
One serious incident or several lesser incidents of domestic violence where a child is living in the household should result in children’s social care undertaking an initial assessment, including consulting existing records.
When the police or other agencies respond to or receive information about an incidence of domestic violence, efforts should be made to confirm as quickly as possible whether there are children living in the household.
Where there is immediate concern about the safety of the child in relation to an incident of domestic violence, the police can exercise their powers to safeguard, either by removing the abusing adult, or indeed removing the child.
Where emergency action is taken to protect a child, the police should inform children’s social care immediately, and a strategy discussion, involving the police, children’s social care and any other relevant agency should take place.
In circumstances where it has not been necessary to take emergency action to protect a child, but the police have responded to an incident of domestic violence and a child is a member of the household, the police should refer the matter to children’s social care.
The issue of informing the parents of the referral will need to be handled sensitively in such situations, in order that the process of referral and children’s social care assessment does not put the non-abusing parent and children at further risk.
In responding to situations where domestic violence may be present, social workers or other professionals should always seek to support the non-abusing parent in safeguarding the child. The assessment should focus on the ability of the non-abusing parent to protect the child from abuse and neglect, and the support and services she/he might need to do so.
In working with families where domestic violence is an issue, professionals should:
- ask direct questions about domestic violence
- check whether domestic violence has occurred whenever child abuse is suspected and consider the impact of this at all stages of assessment, enquiries and intervention
- identify who is responsible for the violence
- provide non-abusing parents with full information about their legal rights
- assist non-abusing parents and children to get protection from violence by providing practical assistance and advice as appropriate
- support non-abusing parents in making safe choices for themselves and their children
- work separately with each parent where domestic violence prevents non-abusing parents from participating fully
- understand that there may be continued or increased risk of domestic violence towards the abused parent and/or child after separation, especially in connection with post-separation child contact arrangements
St Helens Pilot Scheme
The St Helens Pilot scheme has been developed to improve service delivery to children caught up in domestic violence settings. The Pilot is a weekly meeting between partner agencies such as SSD, Police, Probation, Womens Aid and health in particular, it should be remembered however that all agencies can contribute to the Pilot by making referrals and in some cases sitting on the panel. The group meet to consider domestic violence cases that meet their criteria and to develop action plans to ensure appropriate service provision is made available, in a co-ordinated manner for victims of domestic violence.
St Helens now has a Domestic Violence Social Worker housed within the Police FCIU who has direct daily contact with DV officers and information. This has developed into a particular strength as trust has developed between agencies and the flow of accurate communication has dramatically increased, particularly in relation to safeguarding children.
Any agency that has concerns about children caught up in a domestic violence setting can refer into the Pilot via the Police FCIU or through Social Services.
Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences ( MARACS )
In the coming months St Helens along with other local authorities will be setting up and delivering MARACS. It is anticipated that the MARAC will take a similar form to Pilot but will not replace it. The MARAC will concentrate on high-risk victims of domestic violence as opposed to children and emphasis will be placed on producing a multi agency risk reduction plan to safeguard these adults. This will however undoubtedly flag up some safeguarding concerns for children within those households.
St Helens Police FCIU 0151 777 1590/1595/1582
Domestic Violence Social Worker Anita Blakey, 0151-777-1579
Womens Aid 01744 735477
St Helens Safeguarding Unit 01744 456577