Domestic Abuse

LOCAL GUIDANCE

Local Guidance in relation to this chapter can be found in: Safeguarding Children at Risk Because of a Concern about a Parent or Carer.

Also see: Further Information at the end of this chapter.

AMENDMENT

This chapter updated in May 2022 to reflect the new definition of Domestic Abuse within the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and to update the links within Further Information. The provisions of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 are still being introduced and the statutory guidance is still in draft so there will be a further update to the chapter once the statutory guidance is finalised.

1. Definition

Working Together to Safeguard Children defines Domestic Abuse as:

Domestic abuse can encompass a wide range of behaviours and may be a single incident or a pattern of incidents. Domestic abuse is not limited to physical acts of violence or threatening behaviour, and can include emotional, psychological, controlling or coercive behaviour, sexual and/or economic abuse.

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

Domestic abuse continues to be a prevalent risk factor identified through children social care assessments for children in need. Domestic abuse has a significant impact on children and young people.

Children may experience domestic abuse directly, as victims in their own right, or indirectly due to the impact the abuse has on others such as the non-abusive parent.

Under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, children are recognised as victims of domestic abuse in their own right, if they see, hear, or experience the effects of the abuse, and are related to the perpetrator of the abuse or the victim of the abuse. Abuse directed towards the child is defined as child abuse.

Where there is domestic abuse, the wellbeing of the children in the household must be promoted and all assessments must consider the need to safeguard the children, including unborn children.

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 says that 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;
  5. Psychological, emotional or other abuse.

and it does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident or a course of conduct. The perpetrator of the abuse and the victim of the abuse have to be aged 16 or over and are ‘personally connected’ as intimate partners, ex-partners, family members or individuals who share parental responsibility for a child. There is no requirement for the victim and perpetrator to live in the same household.

Domestic abuse in teenage relationships is just as severe and has the potential to be as life threatening as abuse in adult relationships. Victims under 16 should be treated as victims of child abuse and age appropriate consequences should be considered for perpetrators under 16. Abuse involving perpetrators and victims aged between 16 and 18 could be both child and domestic abuse.

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 uses the term ‘victim’ but not everyone who has experienced, or is experiencing, domestic abuse chooses to describe themselves as a ‘victim’ and they may prefer another term, for example, ‘survivor’.

The statutory guidance Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship defines controlling or coercive behaviour as:

  • 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 a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.

Note:- The Government is updating the statutory guidance relating to the controlling or coercive behaviour offence as section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 will be amended by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

Other forms of abuse may be present for example:

Abuse by family members which can involve abuse by any relative or multiple relatives. Abuse within a family set-up can encompass a number of different behaviours, including but not limited to violence, coercive or controlling behaviours, and economic abuse. Abuse by family members also encompasses forced marriage, so called ‘honour’-based abuse and female genital mutilation.

Child-to-Parent Abuse which can include physical violence from a child towards a parent or other family members such as siblings and a number of different types of abusive behaviours, including damage to property, emotional abuse, and economic/financial abuse. Violence and abuse can occur together or separately. Abusive behaviours can encompass, but are not limited to, humiliating language and threats, belittling, damage to property and stealing and heightened sexualised behaviours.

Technological abuse using technology and social media as a means of controlling or coercing victims. This happens frequently both during and after relationships with abusers and is particularly common amongst younger people.

Spiritual abuse using religion and faith systems to control and subjugate a victim often characterised by a systemic pattern of coercive or controlling behaviour within a religious context. A form of spiritual abuse may include the withholding of a religious divorce, as a threat to control and intimidate victims.

2. Risks

Exposure to domestic abuse 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.

Domestic abuse affecting young people can also occur within their personal relationships, as well as in the context of their home life.

The emotional responses of children who witness domestic abuse may include fear, guilt, shame, sleep disturbances, sadness, depression, and anger (at both the abuser for the abuse and at the other parent for being unable to protect them).

Physical responses may include stress-induced aches and pains, bedwetting, and inability to concentrate. Some children are the direct victims of other types of abuse or injured while trying to intervene on behalf of their parent or sibling.

The behavioural responses of children who witness domestic abuse may include acting out, withdrawal, or anxiousness to please. A change in achievement or behaviour at school can be an indicator of problems at home.

Domestic abuse may have a long term psychological and emotional impact in a number of ways:

  • Children may be greatly distressed by witnessing (seeing or hearing) the physical and emotional suffering of a parent, or witnessing the outcome of any assault;
  • Children may be pressurised into concealing assaults, and experience the fear and anxiety of living in an environment where abuse occurs;
  • The domestic abuse may impact negatively on an adult victim's parenting capacity;
  • Children may be drawn into the violence and themselves become victims of physical abuse.

For children living in situations of domestic abuse, the effects may result in behavioural issues, absence from school, difficulties concentrating, lower school achievement, ill health, bullying, substance misuse, self-harm, running away, anti-social behaviour and physical injury.

During pregnancy, domestic abuse can pose a threat to an unborn child as assaults on pregnant women often involve punches or kicks directed at the abdomen, risking injury to both the mother and the foetus. In almost a 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. The mother may be prevented from seeking or receiving antenatal care or post-natal care. In addition if the mother is being abused this can affect her attachment to her child, more so if the pregnancy is a result of rape by her partner.

Young people themselves can be subjected to domestic abuse perpetrated in order to force them into marriage or to punish them for 'bringing dishonour on the family'. This abuse may be carried out by several members of a family increasing the young person's sense of isolation and powerlessness. See also Safeguarding Children and Young People from "So Called" 'Honour' Based Abuse Procedure.

3. Indicators

Professionals should be alert to the signs that a child or adult may be experiencing domestic abuse, or that a partner may be perpetrating domestic abuse. Professionals should always consider during an assessment the need to offer children and adults the opportunity of being seen alone and ask whether they are experiencing, or have previously experienced, domestic abuse.

Professionals who are in contact with adults who are threatening or abusive to them need to be alert to the potential that these individuals may be abusive in their personal relationships and assess whether domestic abuse is occurring within the family.

Considerations in assessments where domestic abuse may be present include:

  • Checking whether domestic abuse has occurred whenever child abuse is suspected and considering the impact of this at all stages of assessment, enquiries and intervention, this should include checks with the Police unit responsible for vulnerable people and any domestic abuse screening process;
  • Identifying those who are responsible for domestic abuse, in order that relevant family law or criminal justice responses may be made;
  • Providing victims with full information about their legal rights, and about the extent and limits of statutory duties and powers;
  • Helping victims and children to get protection from violence, by providing relevant practical and other assistance;
  • Supporting non-abusing parents in making safe choices for themselves and their children;
  • Taking into account that there may be continued or increased risk of domestic abuse towards the abused parent and/or child after separation especially in connection with post-separation child contact arrangements;
  • Working separately with each parent where domestic abuse prevents non-abusing parents from speaking freely and participating without fear of retribution;
  • Working with parents to help them understand the impact of the domestic abuse on their children.

4. Protection and Action to be Taken

When responding to incidents of domestic abuse, the practitioner should always find out if there are any children in the household or any children who would normally live in the household. The Police or other agencies should ensure the children are seen and their safety established whenever they attend a domestic abuse incident. Where there are concerns a referral should be made to Children's social care in accordance with the Referrals Procedure.

The following guidance is based on the Pan London Risk Matrix, which explores areas of risk and protective factors in relation to children that bully, victims and children and suggests levels of intervention. The younger the children in the family, or the presence of special needs, the higher the risk to their safety.

Babies under 12 months old are particularly vulnerable to violence. Professionals who become aware of an incident of domestic abuse in a family with a child under 12 months old (even if the child was not present) or in families where a woman is pregnant, should always complete a risk assessment to determine what action is required including consideration of whether a referral to Children's social care should take place.

The following indicators are provided to aid professional judgement when assessing risk:

Level 1: Factors which may indicate the potential risk of harm to the child/ren to be moderate:

  • Single or up to 3 minor incidents of physical violence which were short in duration and the victim did not require medical treatment;
  • Occasional intense verbal abuse;
  • Children were not present or not drawn into the incident;
  • Victim's relationship to the child is nurturing, protective and stable;
  • Abuser accepts responsibility for the abuse/violence indicting remorse and willingness to engage in services to address abusive behaviour.

Level 2: Factors which may indicate the potential risk of harm to the child/ren to be moderate to serious:

  • History of minor/moderate incidents of physical violence of short duration;
  • Victim received minor injury that did not lead to medical attention being sought;
  • Evidence of intimidation/bullying behaviour to victim but not towards the child/ren;
  • Destruction of property;
  • Family, relatives, neighbours report concerns regarding the victim and children;
  • Intense verbal abuse;
  • Abuser attempts to control victim's activities or movements;
  • Children were present in the home during the incident but did not directly witness it;
  • Mental health issues for victim or abuser;
  • Substance misuse for victim or abuser;
  • Victim's relationship to the child is nurturing, protective and stable and, despite abuse, was not prevented from attending to the child/ren's needs;
  • Significant other nurturing adults in the child's life provide protective factor;
  • Older children able to identify coping/ protective strategies.

At Level 2 the professional should consult with the manager/child protection advisor within their agency and check if an Early Help Assessment has been completed by another agency; if not, with the parents' consent, complete an Early Help Assessment, or refer under local arrangements for an Early Help Assessment to be completed. If the parent does not consent to the completion of an Early Help Assessment make a notification or referral to Children's Social care services.

Planning at Level 2 must also include safety planning for the child/ren and victim and consideration of referral to an appropriate resource for the child that bullies if there is willingness to engage with services to address abusive behaviour.

Level 3: Factors which may indicate the potential risk of harm to the child/ren is assessed as serious:

  • Incidents of serious and/or persistent physical violence increasing in severity, frequency and duration;
  • Victim and/or children indicate that they are frightened of the abuser;
  • Victim required medical attention or explanation for injuries implausible;
  • Requests for police intervention;
  • Incidents of violence occur in presence of children;
  • Threat of harm to children/and or adult victim;
  • Physical assault on a pregnant woman;
  • Abuser has history of domestic abuse in previous relationships;
  • Mental health issues for victim or abuser;
  • Substance misuse by victim and/or abuser;
  • Strong likelihood of emotional abuse of children e.g. may display behaviour problems/ self-harm;
  • Abuser suspected of physically abusing child/ren;
  • Minimisation by abuser, lack of remorse/guilt;
  • The police identify the level of risk as High using assessment tools and there are children in the household.

Protection factors in these circumstances are limited and the children may have suffered, or are likely to suffer, Significant Harm. Professionals should make a record of their assessment and the information which underpins it, inform their line manager and refer to Children's social care.

In all cases where a referral is made for a Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) to plan intervention in relation to a high risk domestic abuse situation if there are children in the family, a referral must be made to Children's social care.

In situations when the adult victim has left the perpetrator taking the child/ren, professionals need to be alert to the on-going potential for risk. The dynamics of domestic abuse are based on the perpetrator maintaining power and control over their partner. Challenges to that power and control, for example, by separation may increase the likelihood of escalating abuse. Statistically the period following separation is the most dangerous time for serious injury and death. Professionals in contact with children and their families in these cases would need to consider:

  • The previous level of physical danger to the adult victim and in particular the presence of the child during violent episodes;
  • The previous pattern of power, control and intimidation in addition to the physical violence;
  • The level of coercive or manipulative behaviour of the parent who was violent;
  • Any threats to hurt or kill family members or abduct the child/ren;
  • Any information about parental drug or alcohol misuse, or poor mental health;
  • Any reported stalking or obsession about the separated partner or the family;
  • The motivation of the parent in seeking/ maintaining contact with the child/ren - is it a desire to promote the child's best interest or as a means of continuing intimidation, harassment or violence to the other parent;
  • The child/ren's views about contact and whether they have any worries about the contact taking place;
  • Has there been a shared decision regarding the arrangements for contact including location;
  • The likely or reported behaviour of the parent during contact and its effect on the child;
  • The partner's level of care and supervision of the child/ren in the past;
  • The attitude of the parent to their past violence and capacity to appreciate its effect, and whether they are motivated and have the capacity to change;
  • Be alert to cultural issues when dealing with ethnic minority victims and that, in leaving a partner, they may be ostracised by family, friends and the wider community increasing the risks to their safety.

The Serious Crime Act 2015 created an offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships. Controlling or coercive behaviour does not relate to a single incident, it is a purposeful pattern of behaviour which takes place over time in order for one individual to exert power, control or coercion over another. Such behaviours might include:

  • Isolating a person from their friends and family;
  • 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;
  • Financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance;
  • 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.

Note:- The Government is updating the statutory guidance Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship as section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 will be amended by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

5. Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme ('Clare's Law')

Domestic Violence Protection Orders

NOTE: Domestic Violence Protection Orders will be replaced by Domestic Abuse Protection Orders and Domestic Abuse Protection Notices in 2023 under Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

They provide protection to victims by enabling the police and magistrates to put in place protection in the immediate aftermath of a domestic abuse incident.

With DVPOs, a child that bullies 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 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 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.

6. Issues

There are many risk assessment models and 'tools' available. Practitioners need to be confident that the use of a particular tool has been adopted and supported by the agencies in their area. Any risk assessment tool being used should be both culturally sensitive and explicitly consider the risks to the children. It should not be exclusively adult focused. The use of any risk assessment tool should be underpinned by a thorough analysis of the information otherwise available such as past history of offending. The risks should be interpreted to also determine the potential dangerousness of the alleged child that bullies.

The full extent of the impact on children of exposure to domestic abuse is often not fully understood until a child feels safe; they will need several opportunities over a period of time to talk about their experiences.

Children can also experience domestic abuse within their own relationships. Girls are more likely than boys to report experiencing abuse in their intimate relationships, and younger adolescents are just as likely as older adolescents to experience it. Most children do not tell an adult about this abuse.

The issue of domestic abuse should only ever be raised with a child or mother when they are safely on their own and in a private place; and separation does not ensure safety, it often at least temporarily increases the risk to the child/ren or mother.

Information from the public, family or community members must be taken sufficiently seriously by professionals in statutory and voluntary agencies. Recent research evidence indicates that failure to do so has been a contributory factor in a significant number of cases where a child has been seriously harmed or died.

Risk of violence towards professionals should be considered by all agencies who work in the area of domestic abuse and assessments of risk should be undertaken when necessary. It is acknowledged that intimidatory or threatening behaviour towards professionals may inhibit the professional's ability to work effectively. The importance of effective supervision and management is highlighted and agencies should take account of the impact or potential impact on professionals in planning their involvement in situations of domestic abuse.

Further Information

Domestic Abuse: Specialist Sources of Support (GOV.UK) – Nationalist Specialist Support Services contact details

Domestic Abuse help for children and young people

Domestic abuse: how to get help – range of resources including, specialist services, guidance on Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme and court orders, translated guidance and how to summon help and find a safe space.

Safe Lives - resources library for professionals working with victims of domestic abuse and their families including MARAC

Operation Encompass Resources - police and education partnership enabling schools to offer immediate support to children experiencing domestic abuse.

Statutory Guidance Framework: controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship

Royal College of Nursing - Domestic Abuse: Professional Resources

Domestic Abuse Act 2021

Domestic Abuse Bill 2020: factsheets - provide more information about each of the provisions in the Act.

Delivery of support to victims of domestic abuse in domestic abuse safe accommodation services - statutory guidance including Terms of Reference for Local Domestic Abuse Partnership Boards

Homelessness code of guidance for local authorities - guidance on providing homelessness services to people who have experienced or are at risk of domestic abuse or abuse.

Domestic Abuse Commissioner Website

Tackling Violence against Women and Girls Strategy