Children Witnessing and Experiencing Domestic Violence and Abuse

Growing up in a household with domestic violence and abuse can have devastating consequences for children and young people.  Domestic abuse is an Adverse Childhood Experience that has been evidenced to have lifelong impacts on children’s mental health and physical health and behaviour into adulthood[1].  Research demonstrates that specialist support services for children reduces the impact of domestic abuse and improves children’s safety and health outcomes[2].

This report examines how effectively children witnessing and experiencing domestic violence and abuse are supported and protected by agencies across the city of Leeds.

Key Findings and Recommendations

DASH Risk Assessment and Child Safeguarding Concerns

83% of contacts made to duty and advice relating to domestic violence were made by the police. When police respond to a household due to a reported incident of domestic abuse, the attending officer completes a DASH (Domestic Abuse, Stalking & Honour Based Violence) risk assessment. The recording of children being present and child safeguarding concerns within the DASH risk assessment is an area for improvement. Anecdotal evidence from the Front Door Safeguarding Hub demonstrates that around 30% of cases are missed where children are recorded as not present in a household when they are e.g. upstairs in bed asleep. Patrol officers have identified that more guidance is need within the DASH around recording of child safeguarding concerns.

These findings have contributed to the following recommendations.

  • Review the DASH risk assessment with policing and MARAC (Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference) partners to improve the documentation of information related to children and young people.
  • Develop more effective and efficient ways of sharing information to inform police officers of any information related to children in repeat cases.
  • To further ensure police officers understand the importance of seeing and recording all children present. Even if they are in another room or asleep.
  • The need to raise awareness about the impact of domestic abuse on children to front line response officers. This will support improved notifications to schools and further education settings, on-going support plans and risk assessments to MARAC and CSWS.

Schools and Further Education Settings Role in Tackling Domestic Abuse

Where children are present at a domestic violence incident attended by the police a notification is made to the school that the child attends so that appropriate support and provisions can be made for the child in school.  The current school notification system used in Leeds is based on the National Operation Encompass model but does not draw on all its aspects.

32% of Designated Safeguarding Leads in schools and further education settings and further education settings stated that they sometimes did not receive notifications and/or they did not get them early enough. Notifications are not made to schools and further education settings and further education settings during school holidays, all schools and further education settings and further education settings stated that they have an on-call system through school holidays, so it is possible to receive notifications during holidays.   The notification form received by the Elective Home Education team, when a child is educated at home does not request any information related to past or present domestic abuse.

There is currently no education representation on the MARAC, 45% of DSL’s completing the service mapping questionnaire had not had the opportunity to provide information to the MARAC or contribute to any safety plans developed.  40% of DSLs had not been notified about the outcome of the MARAC for children and young people that they supported.  All DSLs in the discussions stated that they would attend a MARAC if they were invited and felt this information was critical to informing a support plan for children and young people in their school.

Relationships Education is now compulsory for all pupils receiving primary education and Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) compulsory for all pupils receiving secondary education. All DSLs stated that this would be a good opportunity to ensure that there is a consistent approach to healthy relationships education across all schools and further education settings in Leeds. Furthermore, that they would be willing to engage and have resources to achieve this outcome.  24% of children and young people aged 13-18 years completing the My Health My School Survey in Leeds stated that they needed better information and learning to help them understand domestic violence and abusive relationships. 28% said they did not know where to go to get help or advice for domestic violence and abusive relationships. 

These findings have contributed to the following recommendations:

  • Implementing the full model of Operation Encompass model to improve domestic violence notifications and support to schools and further education settings. This will further improve the development of risk assessments and support plans for children beyond the notification, especially those not referred to CSWS.
  • The development of a system whereby domestic abuse notifications are inputted directly onto the CPOMS system currently used by some schools and further education settings.  This will ensure that schools and further education settings are automatically notified about domestic abuse incidents and reduces instances where the notification may be missed through the current telephone call system.
  • Devise and develop a system for notifications to be made during school holidays. This will alert schools and further education settings before the return to school and all DSL’s favoured this as an option, as they have an identified safeguarding lead on call during the holiday who will take this responsibility. This will improve the preparation of planning and support for the child upon returning to school.
  • Review the notification form for Elective Home Education (EHE) with a view to include a question related to DVA incidents reported to the school over the past 5 years.  This will ensure EHE Officers receive all information on DVA history in the family prior to the initial and annual visits and that there is clear plan for any follow up together with Early Help agencies.
  • To develop a further dialogue with MARAC, Education and Front Door to ensure schools and further education settings are part of the process and kept informed of children and young people being assessed. To further explore the commissioning of an experienced education representative to be part of the Front Door Safeguarding Hub Domestic Violence and Abuse processes/arrangements.
  • Develop a citywide whole school approach, with leadership support to Healthy Relationships Education, which this review has identified all schools and further education settings are now committed to delivering. The Leeds approach needs to be informed by DfE guidance to support schools meet their statutory curriculum requirements.  The content should be informed and developed by domestic abuse specialist with the engagement of survivors and consideration for their involvement in the delivery. This approach will ensure consistency in what is delivered, and local pathways are understood by practitioners.
  • Schools and further education settings to consider how they respond to the My Health My School (MHMS) survey where DVA is identified by children as an area where they need more information, understanding and support.

Services for Children and Young People

This review has identified that there are no specialist services (services that specifically support children affected by domestic abuse. As a result, there is a big reliance on schools and further education settings to provide this support.  Practitioners have highlighted that domestic abuse is so prevalent that it needs specialist services to do specific work with children and young people.

The Caring Dads team in Leeds works with men with children, who have been abusive to their partners.  Support for the female partner is offered through the Leeds Domestic Violence Service. The team reported that interventions for children is missing within the programme and could be included while the Caring Dads group is running. 

These findings have contributed to the following recommendations:

  • To consider how the city can develop its offer of specific services to support children and young people that have witnessed and/or experienced domestic abuse. This review has highlighted no specific services to support children and young people after or during the abuse and there is a need for further work in this area.
  • Identify partners to develop an up to date Resource Directory which details local and national services and interventions available that support children and young people across Leeds. This will seek to improve the knowledge of local agencies to improve referrals and multi-agency working in the interest of affected groups. 
  • Develop an education toolkit for frontline practitioners that will act as a valuable resource when supporting children witnessing or experiencing domestic abuse. This resource will clearly detail referral pathways for children including concerns for those from minority groups that may face challenges. This resource will be advocated to use in all cases to guide practitioners in cases of domestic abuse to improve professional confidence, curiosity and responses.
  • Develop a parallel group work programme or more content for the current Caring Dads Programme that includes the impact on children and identify how children could feed into this so that their fathers were aware of this impact.
  • Develop a targeted youth work programme for young people witnessing or experiencing DVA, practitioner dialogues identified the potential of this being delivered through the Locality Youth Work Service. They will also contribute to supporting young people aged between 16-18 years that are currently under-reported and represented across services.

Routine Enquiry in General Practice

A recent Evaluation Report of the routine enquiry model which identifies DVA through routine enquiries demonstrated this route was positive as it provided early intervention for DVA assessments and support.   The report and evaluation of this service was presented to Leeds Domestic Abuse Partnership and makes a recommendation that each Primary Care Network (PCN) in Leeds funds and appoints its own DVA Specialist Support Worker to ensure that all women over the age of 16 have equitable access to specialist DVA support. 

These findings have contributed to the following recommendations:

  • The LSCP seek opportunities to support the recommendations from the Health Evaluation Report of the Routine Enquiry Model to maintain the support of Specialist Domestic Abuse Workers in General Practice.
  • To support the planned vision for each Primary Care Network (PCN) in Leeds to identify funds to appoint its own DV&A support worker. This service supports women with children and our further recommendation is to explore opportunities for this service to further develop to assess and support younger people affected by domestic abuse.

Coordination of Early Help

60% of contacts made to duty and advice relating to domestic violence and abuse did not require a social work response.  Practitioners working in early help have reported that there can be some delay in getting information from Duty and Advice about DVA incidents that have occurred that require an early help response. This can make it difficult to raise a safeguarding concern to a family when the incident happened some time ago. The feedback from parents is they don’t always understand what they are consenting to when the DASH is completed by the police. 

The Early Action Together Programme has been identified as a model of best practice that would reduce the number of contacts made to duty and advice by the police that do not require a CSWS as referrals can be made directly to early help provision.

These findings have contributed to the following recommendations:

  • Seek further assurances regarding how the needs of children and young people experiencing domestic abuse are met within Early Help.   Explore any delay between information about a DVA incident being shared with Clusters and Early Help Hubs and support being put in place for a family.  
  • Explore having a Specialist Domestic Violence Coordinator for children within Early Help Hubs.  Currently the Domestic Violence Coordinators in Early Help Hubs do not work with children and only offer support to adult victims.
  • To further explore the merits of implementing the Early Action Together Programme whole systems approach to address issues around vulnerabilities such as DVA. 
  • Review the questions in the DASH asking for consent for information to be shared with agencies.  These questions need to be reframed to inform the victim that there will be a multi-agency discussion as a result of the domestic violence incident.
  • Ensure that parents understand what the multi-agency offer of support looks like following a domestic abuse incident.

[1] Home Office (2020) Domestic Abuse Draft Statutory Guidance Framework

[2] Safelives (2014) In plain sight: Effective help for children exposed to domestic abuse

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