6.2 Domestic Violence and Abuse: Guidance and Procedure
- The child
- The adult
- Agency assessments information sharing
- The Police
- Child and family assessment / section 47 enquiries
- Assessment process
- Multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC) and independent domestic violence advisors (IDVAS)
- Domestic violence
- Buckinghamshire DVA champion's network
- Related Policies, Procedures, and Guidance
Domestic Violence and Abuse (DVA) is a broad description of situations that develop within the home/family environment where power is exercised to the detriment of one party.
Where there is DVA, the well-being of any children in the household must be protected. All agencies must ensure their staff, carers and volunteers are fully aware of the extent and nature of the impact domestic abuse can have on children. Any individual organisations’ policies and procedures must provide for the need to share information with others where DVA comes to their attention in their work.
DVA can happen to anyone, but research and crime statistics consistently indicate that is a gendered issue which disproportionately affects females. There are several risk factors for becoming a victim of DVA, which include age and pregnancy. Women in younger age groups, in particular those aged 16–24 years, are at greater risk. The greatest risk is for teenage mothers and during the period just after a woman has given birth (see Harrykissoon et al, 2002).
DVA rarely exists in isolation and there are many complexities. For example, DVA may exacerbate or lead to other issues such as mental or physical health concerns, substance misuse or family breakdown. Similarly, issues such as these will in some instances be factors in DVA happening. Everyone working with women and children should be alert to the frequent inter-relationship between domestic violence and abuse, and other issues such as mental ill health, drug and/or alcohol misuse, homelessness and housing need, deprivation and social exclusion, and child abuse and/or animal abuse.
A child may be the victim of DVA through exposure to DVA or through their own involvement in an abusive relationship. For example, a young person may be involved in a relationship with a violent girlfriend/boyfriend who may be an adult or a young person (aged 16 or over).
In 2013 the Government definition of DVA was widened to include those aged 16–17, and the wording changed to reflect coercive control. The definition includes ‘honour’ based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group. The Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Children Board (BSCB) guidance on honour-based violence, female genital mutilation and forced marriage should therefore be read in conjunction with this document.
Definition of DVA (note this is not a legal definition): Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse:
Controlling behaviour: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape, and regulating their everyday behaviour.
Coercive behaviour: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victim.
Where there is DVA, the implications for the children and young people in the household must be considered because research indicates a strong link between DVA and all types of child abuse and neglect.
Prolonged or regular exposure to DVA can have a serious impact on a child's development and emotional well-being, despite the best efforts of the victim’s parent to protect the child.
DVA within a household is associated with an increased risk of child abuse, death and serious injury for children and young people, and the risk for young babies in environments where there is DVA is a recurring theme in Serious Case Reviews (Brandon et al, 2009).
The potentially unresponsive and neglectful parenting that can be a feature of an abusive relationship between parents presents a risk to babies, children and young people.
Research on the effects of abuse and neglect on child development has shown that babies up to 18 months of age are particularly vulnerable to developing damaged and insecure attachments to their parents when the parents are in a volatile relationship with DVA. An understanding of these risks should assist with identifying the need for prompt action to protect a baby. Later in life, the child’s ability to develop social and emotional capabilities can be at serious risk. For example, research (WHO, 2010) suggests that children who are exposed to violence in childhood are between three and four times more likely to perpetrate violence in adulthood. The same research found that women who witnessed DVA in their childhood may be up to three times more at risk of DVA. The inference is that exposure to violence in childhood may increase acceptance of violence, either as a perpetrator or victim in adulthood. The risk of DVA may be up to six times higher for women sexually abused in childhood, and up to four times higher for physical abuse (Hotaling and Sugarman, 1986).
DVA can have a serious impact on a child's development and emotional well-being. Significant harm to the child as a result of DVA may arise from physical injury during an incident, either by accident or because they attempt to intervene.
If not directly injured, children are greatly distressed by witnessing the physical and emotional suffering of a parent, which can lead to anxiety and distress, often resulting in:
DVA can have a negative impact on the victim's ability to look after her/his child/children as a result of physical assaults and/or psychological abuse. The child may also be drawn into the abuse or pressurised into concealing the assaults.
It should be noted that the Adoption and Children Act 2002 broadens the definition of significant harm to include the emotional harm suffered by those children who witness DVA or are aware of DVA within their home environment.
While there are no absolute criteria on which to rely when judging what constitutes significant harm, consideration of the severity of ill treatment may include:
An unborn child is at risk of injury because violence towards women increases both in severity and frequency during pregnancy, and often involves punches or kicks directed at the women’s abdomen.
In almost one third of cases, DVA begins or escalates during pregnancy, and it is associated with increased rates of miscarriage, premature birth, foetal injury and foetal death (Department of Health, 2009). Staff providing antenatal services need to be alert to, and competent in recognising, the risks of harm to the unborn child.
Possible indicators of domestic violence and abuse in an adult include:
When a victim is not being seen alone, staff should also be alert to the following combination of signals:
Practitioners should be aware that many victims will find it difficult to disclose DVA and seek support. Some victims potentially face additional difficulty in disclosing abuse, for instance:
Victims will want the abuse to stop, but may want to save the relationship.
Victims are at a significantly increased risk at the point of leaving, or having recently left a violent partner, and may need support and safety planning. Most homicides relating to DVA take place at the point of separation or in the following few months.
Dealing with the abuse is a complex process that will take time to resolve in a way that is effective in the long term, and there may be repeated requests for help. A victim will need continuing support and the full range of services each time, not less. Victims may experience a cycle in response to the abuse and may alternate between engaging and not.
A parent and child/children fleeing from DVA may require a significant level of support as they may be:
Agency assessments information sharing
Any agency assessment should consider the possibility of DVA and ensure organisational responses safeguard both the child/children and non-abusing parent.
Health professionals are often the only agency that has involvement with a family, so they have significant opportunities for direct contact and observation of families to enable them to detect potential risks to vulnerable babies. Practitioners should use evidence from their direct observation and knowledge of parents and their babies to inform assessment of risks.
There is a need for coordination between the different aspects of health provision involved with the safeguarding of babies, particularly on the transfer of care between midwifery services, health visitors and GPs.
Multi-agency work and information sharing is crucial in safeguarding children and adults in situations of DVA.
It is vital to adequately assess the heightened risks for babies that arise from DVA in the home. When assessing the risk relating to DVA, the unborn child must be considered as a victim and as a child who was present. Consideration must also be given to young people who may themselves be in abusive relationships.
On notification/disclosure/suspicion of DVA within a family, all agencies must immediately consult existing records and consider what else is known of the family and any previous domestic incidents.
Where children are involved, all professionals should follow the advice set out in the BSCB's Neglect Guidance. Information should be shared in line with this procedure and the Buckinghamshire Code of Practice for Sharing Personal Information. Effective and timely information sharing will help ensure relevant professionals are able to assess risks to an unborn baby, child or young person, and ensure appropriate action is taken.
Each case should be judged on its own merits, and while consent is always desirable, there are times when best practice is to share information/make referrals, even when this is initially without the knowledge of the parties involved or contrary to their wishes. Where a child is suffering, or likely to suffer significant harm, consent is not required to make a referral to Children’s Social Care. The decision to share or not to share information of DVA incidents or concerns must be recorded, with its rationale.
Where the level of need has met level 3 or 4 of the thresholds, a referral should be made to Children’s Social Care using the Multi-Agency Referral Form (MARF).
Where the referral is deemed by Children’s Social Care to meet the threshold for level 3, appropriate action will be taken to assign this to the most appropriate agency to lead a coordinated, multi-agency, Early Help response to meet the needs of the whole family. This may be done via the Early Help Panel process.
Where the child/children are deemed to be suffering, or are at risk of suffering, significant harm (level 4), 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 First Response. There should be no delay in taking action. Where there is immediate risk of harm to a child, call 999.
The decision about where a child’s needs fit within the thresholds document will depend on a number of factors, including:
Consultation with Children’s Social Care (First Response) can be undertaken to establish if there is any previous knowledge of the family.
Significant harm can occur where there is a single event, such as a violent assault. However, more often, significant harm is identified when there have been a number of events which have compromised the child’s physical and psychological wellbeing.
Where there is DVA in families with a child under 12 months old (including an unborn child), even if the child was not present, professionals should make a referral to Children's Social Care if there is any single incident of DVA.
Any decision (and its rationale) not to refer or consult with Children's Social Care must be recorded.
Police are often the first point of contact with victims and they (or any other agency that becomes aware of DVA) should safeguard the victim and:
At all DVA calls the attending officer will complete a form Dom 5 – a 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 attendance form to the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub Domestic Violence Risk Assessor.
The police will apply a jointly agreed triage process by which the safeguarding of the child will be reviewed. The police assessor will be aided by access to the child social care system and give due regard to the threshold document before determining the appropriateness of a referral to Children’s Social Care.
Children’s Social Care response to police notification
Following consultation of agency history, Children's Social Care must decide how to respond to each communication of DVA
The Children's Social Care duty manager may decide to treat the communication as 'information and advice' only if:
Child and family assessment / section 47 enquiries
Normally one serious or several lesser incidents of DVA where there is a child in the household indicate that Children’s Social Care should carry out an assessment of the child and family, including consulting existing records.
An assessment should also be considered, by the Children's Social Care duty manager, for lesser incidents where there are possible concerns about the welfare of the children or where the family is high risk on the police assessment.
Where the family refuse to cooperate with an assessment, consideration should be given to undertaking a Section 47 enquiry. Circumstances where a Section 47 enquiry should be undertaken include where:
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.
Opportunities should be provided for both partners to be interviewed separately, and in a safe setting.
Many victims of domestic violence and abuse feel unable to disclose its existence or severity. The following issues should be discussed with the alleged victim as part of any assessment:
The interview with the alleged perpetrator of the abuse should be planned carefully between the worker and their line manager. Care must be taken not to disclose addresses or other potentially sensitive information, or make unsafe contact arrangements.
If there is an acknowledgement of abuse, the interview should clarify the points above. Where there is no acknowledgement of abuse and it is not possible to share the victim's account, there should be a general discussion about the child/children's welfare.
The child/children should be interviewed (if of sufficient age and understanding) and their experiences explored. It is important to consider the possibility that a child may have experienced direct abuse her/himself and/or may be inhibited from disclosing concerns due to fear of (further) DVA.
If a Child Protection Conference is held, consideration will be given to any need to exclude the violent partner for part or all of the meeting.
The local authority may pursue legal options of:
Multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC) and independent domestic violence advisors (IDVAS)
The MARAC is a multi-agency meeting that provides safety planning for high-risk DVA victims and their families, through formulation of a risk management plan, to ensure a joined-up approach to intervention to keep them safe. The Committee sits once a month for the north of the county (Aylesbury and Chiltern) and once a month for the south of the county (Wycombe and South Bucks). Its purpose is to discuss high risk DVA cases.
The meeting is chaired by the Domestic Abuse Investigation Unit (DAIU) Detective Inspector and is attended by representatives from across a number of agencies.
Domestic Violence Protection Orders
Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (‘Clare’s Law’)
Buckinghamshire DVA champion's network
Buckinghamshire DVA Champions are typically front-line agency practitioners. These include employees from the police, social care, health, schools, children’s centres and housing. Professionals who are part of the Champion’s Network function as part of a virtual team to raise awareness of domestic abuse within their organisation and positively identify, safety plan and refer into DVA support agencies.
All Champions receive free training (usually two days). The training includes:
Champions will also be invited to quarterly DVA Champion Network Meetings in which the usual schedule allows a guest speaker and then an hour of all Champions’ feeding back on best practice within the field. Further information is available.
Those interested in becoming Champions should visit the website and sign up using the electronic form. An email will then be sent to their manager informing them that they wish to become a Champion, and that this requires buy-in via returning a confirmation email.
DVA training is provided by the BSCB for all child protection leads, designated staff and other identified personnel. DVA training should be accessed by all identified child protection leads. This includes designated teachers and nominated key staff within children's/young people’s services. Within health, key staff will include maternity staff, health visitors, school nurses, emergency department staff, GPs, sexual health practitioners and children’s nurses.
Specialist DVA training is also provided through Buckinghamshire County Council.
Harrykissoon SD, Vaughn IR, Wiemann CM (2002) Prevalence and patterns of intimate partner violence among adolescent mothers during the post-partum period. Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 156: 325-30.
World Health Organisation (WHO) (2010) ‘Preventing intimate partner and sexual violence against women Taking action and generating evidence’
Hotaling, GT and Sugarman, DB (1986) ‘An analysis of risk markers in husband to wife violence: The current state of knowledge’, Violence and Victims. 1(2): 101–124.