Protecting child victims of domestic abuse

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A pioneering new scheme to ensure that the child victims of domestic abuse are better cared for is being introduced across Merseyside.

Operation Encompass will see Merseyside Police pledge to inform schools the very next day if one of their pupils has experienced a domestic incident in their home the night before.

The aim is to give schools the information they need in order to look after that child’s needs in the aftermath of what may be one of the most distressing things they will ever witness.Merseyside Police attends 34,000 domestic incidents every year and around 74 per cent of those involve children being in the home at the time. 

By sharing information between the police and the schools, the authorities hope to provide greater emotional support to children aged 4 to 18 years who live and attend school in Merseyside.

Every local authority in the county has signed up to the scheme alongside Merseyside Police and key people in each school have been trained by officers from the force’s family crime unit in how to record the police information and act on it. 

Support to an affected child can include:

  • a teacher giving them some leeway if their behaviour is out of the ordinary
  • making sure they are given a proper lunch and any spare uniform
  • they need if the events at home have meant they have forgotten anything that day
  • Allowing the child to keep a comforting toy with them even if usual school rules are against toys being brought into classrooms
  • giving them time to talk to someone they can trust such as a particular teacher or a learning mentor
  • giving them time out to study in a quieter part of the classroom or try a different activity if they are getting angry or upset while joining in with the rest of the class

The initiative is the brainchild of a police sergeant in Plymouth who is married to a head teacher and who felt that the silent victims of domestic abuse – the children – were being forgotten about by the authorities. After being successfully introduced in Plymouth in 2011, more schools in Devon adopted the early reporting system with great success. In the first 18 months of the scheme, more than a thousand child victims of domestic abuse were helped in subtle ways by their school who otherwise may not have been helped at all.

Officers and council officials in Knowsley heard about the success of the scheme and in September 2012 started train up 100 key adults in local schools to implement the scheme. All 63 local authority schools in Knowsley signed up to the protocol and a six month trial began.

Between December 2012 and June 2013 there were 239 domestic incidents involving 375 children being present in the family home at the time. Around 70 per cent of affected children were of primary school age and 30 per cent were secondary and the majority. The trial concluded that Operation Encompass had enabled many more children to be identified as living with domestic abuse that had previously been known to the authorities, and subsequently given more help and support.

The scheme was openly advertised to all parents and it also had the effect of de-stigmatising domestic abuse and de-basing some of the myths around

it. One parent told a school that they were relieved that someone else knew to look out for their child that day  because of what had occurred in the family home the night before.

After a six month trial in Knowsley, schools in Liverpool, Sefton, Wirral and St Helens have also pledged to sign up to the agreement, which comes into effect on Monday 6th October 2014.

Detective Superintendent Tim Keelan who heads up Merseyside Police’s public protection unit, said: “Domestic abuse is a complex issue which affects

every strand of society. It exists across all ages groups and social classes and damages the lives of everyone involved.

“A great deal of effort goes into encouraging the adult victims of domestic abuse to come forward and tell someone, and to rehabilitating the offenders who want help in changing.

“However the silent victims in all of this are children. The children of the parents who argue aggressively or violently in the family home or who see their mum or dad upset or hurt the following day. These children carry that experience into school the next day yet no-one else may know and they continue to suffer in silence.

“Our pledge is to change that so that someone does know what that child has seen or heard. Our pledge is to ensure that every frontline police officer in Merseyside who attends a domestic incident knows how to make our specialist family crime unit officers aware of what has gone on so that they in turn can alert the right people in that child’s school and a caring arm can be put around their shoulders the very next morning.

“It may seem like a small or simple step but that is the beauty of it. It has made a huge difference to young people already in Knowsley and our hope is that this positive difference can be made to every child in Merseyside who witnesses domestic abuse in the family home.”

Councillor Jane Corbett, Cabinet member for children’s services, said: “The welfare and safety of the city’s children is our top priority and this is a simple idea that will be effective in giving our young people the support they need.

“It is vital that schools are aware of issues that are taking place in the home that may affect a child so they are best placed to respond.”