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5.12 Domestic Violence and Abuse


  1. Definition
  2. Impact on Children and Young People
  3. Action to Safeguard
  4. Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

1. Definition

With effect from March 2013, the Government definition of domestic violence and abuse has been widened to include those aged 16-17 and the wording changed to reflect coercive control. (Note that this is not a legal definition). There is a new Home Office Definition which is included in the new DA Bill.

The new definition is:

Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, 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 sexual orientation. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to: psychological, physical, sexual, economic and emotional forms of abuse. 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 a person.
Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse Consultation Response and Draft Bill (January 2019)

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:

  • Psychological;
  • Physical;
  • Sexual;
  • Financial;
  • Emotional.

'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.

The definition includes 'honour' based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage (see Merseyside Forced Marriage & Honour Based Violence and Pan Merseyside Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Protocol), and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.

While the cross-government definition above applies to those aged 16 or above, 'Adolescent to parent violence and abuse' (APVA) can involve children under 16 as well as over 16. See: Information guide: adolescent to parent violence and abuse (APVA) Home Office.

See also Working With People Who Have Experienced or May Be Experiencing Domestic Violence/Abuse.

For more details of the national plans to tackle domestic violence and abuse - see: Ending Violence against Women and Girls Strategy 2016 – 2020 (refreshed 2019) which sets out a life course approach to ensure that all victims – and their families - have access to the right support at the right time to help them live free from violence and abuse.

2. Impact on Children and Young People

Prolonged and/or regular exposure to domestic violence/abuse is likely to have a serious impact on a child's health, development and emotional well-being, despite the best efforts of the adult victim to protect the child. It will often be appropriate for such children to be regarded as children in need, and in some cases as children suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.

As the LA is adopting an ACE model and trauma informed response, I think this needs to be included as DA is one of the ACE's identified.

The amendment made in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 to the Children Act 1989 clarifies the meaning of “harm” and makes it clear that “harm” includes impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another.

Domestic violence/abuse can have an impact on the safety and welfare of children in a number of ways, including:

  • Children receiving blows or sustaining injuries 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;
  • The experience of violence/abuse having a negative impact on the ability of the adult victim to look after the children.

The impact of domestic violence/abuse on children is exacerbated when:

  • The abuse is combined with substance misuse;
  • Children witness the violence/abuse;
  • Children are drawn into the violence/abuse;
  • Children are pressurised into concealing the violence/abuse.

Even so, children's exposure to parental conflict, with or without exposure to violence, can lead to serious anxiety and distress among children.

3. Action to Safeguard

Where there is evidence of domestic violence/abuse, the implications for any children in the household should be considered, including the possibility of the children being physically or emotionally harmed themselves.

Everyone working with children and families should be alert to the frequent inter-relationship between domestic violence/abuse and the Abuse and Neglect of children.

The police are often the first point of contact with families in which domestic violence/abuse takes place. When responding to incidents of domestic violence/abuse, police officers should find out whether there are any children living in the household. They should see any children present in the house to assess their immediate safety. Police officers should refer to Children's Social Care to enquire whether any of the children in the household are already subject of a Child Protection Plan and should make enquiries to establish whether there are any court orders or injunctions in force in respect of members of the household.

Where there is immediate concern about the safety of the child in relation to an incident of domestic violence/abuse, 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/abuse and a child is a member of the household, the police should refer the matter to Children's Social Care, using the Referral, Investigation and Assessment Procedure.

One serious incident or several lesser incidents of domestic violence/abuse where a child is living in the household should result in Children's Social Care undertaking an Initial Assessment. The assessment should focus on the ability of the non-abusing parent to protect the child from Significant Harm, and the support and services she might need to do so.

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/abuse may be present, professionals should:

  • Ask direct questions about domestic violence/abuse;
  • Check whether domestic violence/abuse has occurred whenever child abuse is suspected and consider this at all stages of assessment, enquiries and intervention;
  • Identify who is responsible for the abuse;
  • Take into account the possibility of an increased risk of Abuse towards the abused parent or child following intervention;
  • Ensure that both parents are provided with information about their legal rights and the extent of and limits of statutory powers;
  • Assist abused parents and children to get protection from the abuse 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/abuse prevents abused parents from participating fully;
  • Offer tauma informed responses to DA to adults and children.

The Serious Crime Act 2015 created a new 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.

4. Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

4.1 Domestic Violence Protection Orders

Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) are implemented across England and Wales in March 2014.

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

With DVPOs, a perpetrator 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.

4.2 Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme ('Clare's Law')

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) (also known as 'Clare's Law') commenced in England and Wales in March 2014. The DVDS 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 violence and 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.

For further information, see Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme.