6.6 Domestic Abuse

1. Diversity

Domestic abuse occurs across society, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnic background, culture, sexuality, class or disability. Professionals, offenders, victim/survivors, children and young people, stakeholders and the public must be confident that provision of services will not be disproportionate or unwittingly influenced by any aspect of diversity. All professionals have a responsibility to ensure equitable, fair and accessible practice.

2. Domestic Abuse Act 2021

Domestic Abuse is a complex issue and as such it is a cross-cutting policy area which impacts on a range of council and partner services. In Knowsley we recognise that an effective response to domestic abuse is reliant on a strong partnership and an aligned approach.

Domestic abuse is an incident or pattern of incidents on the part of the abuser (perpetrator), which is controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent, including sexual violence.

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 aims is to ensure that victims have the confidence to come forward and report their experiences, safe in the knowledge that agencies will do everything possible to support them and their children and pursue the perpetrator through the introduction of new legal tools and powers. (Domestic Abuse Act 2021 (legislation.gov. uk)): (Domestic Abuse Act statutory guidance - GOV.UK)

The Act sets out a statutory definition of domestic abuse and a broad range of behaviours which may constituent domestic abuse and it identifies children impacted upon by domestic abuse as victims.

The Act defines the following behaviours as “abusive”, if it consists of:

  • Physical or sexual abuse;
  • Violent or threatening behaviour;
  • Controlling or coercive behaviour (including when a relationship has ended);
  • Economic abuse;
  • Psychological, emotional, or other abuse.

Domestic abuse can be perpetrated by a partner, an ex-partner, or a family member (when two people are “personally connected” to each other). It is categorised as domestic abuse when both parties are 16 and over.

Coercive Control/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 and regulating their everyday behaviour. Coercive behaviour is a continuing 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.

Domestic abuse can happen at any point in a relationship, including when a relationship has ended.

Anyone forced to change their behaviour because they are frightened of the reaction and behaviours towards them from a partner, an ex-partner or a family member is experiencing domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse is never the fault of the person who is experiencing it, it is a crime.

The prevention of domestic abuse and the protection of all victims lies at the heart of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 (‘the 2021 Act’) and its wider programme of work. The measures in the 2021 Act seek to:

  • Promote awareness - putting domestic abuse at the top of everyone’s agenda, by introducing a statutory definition which includes economic abuse and recognising children as victims in their own right;
  • Protect and support victims - establishing in law the office of Domestic Abuse Commissioner (DAC), introducing a new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice (DAPN) and Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO), and placing a new duty on tier one local authorities to provide support to victims of domestic abuse, in refuges and other safe accommodation;
  • Hold perpetrators to account - extending the controlling or coercive behaviour offence to cover post-separation abuse, extending the offence of disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress to cover threats to disclose such material, creating a new offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation of another person, clarifying by restating in statute the general position that a person may not consent to the infliction of serious harm and, by extension, is unable to consent to their own death;
  • Transform the justice response - helping victims to give their best evidence in the criminal courts through the use of video evidence, screens and other special measures, and ensuring that victims of abuse do not suffer further trauma in family court proceedings by being cross-examined by the perpetrator; and
  • Improve performance - driving consistency and better performance in the response to domestic abuse including by putting the guidance for the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) on a statutory footing and providing for a statutory code of practice relating to the processing of domestic abuse data for immigration purposes.

The definition includes 'honour' based violence (see Honour Based Violence Procedure), female genital mutilation (see Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Protocol) and forced marriage (see Forced Marriage and Honour Based Abuse 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.

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 child/ren.

For more details of the national plans to tackle domestic abuse see: Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy. This is intended to set 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.

3. Effects and Impact on Children

Domestic abuse has a significant impact on children and young people of all ages (up to 18 years old). Section 3 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 (‘the 2021 Act’) recognises children as victims of domestic abuse for the purposes of the Act if the child sees, hears, or experiences the effects of the abuse, and is related to, or falls under “parental responsibility” of, the victim and/or perpetrator of the domestic abuse. A child might therefore be considered a victim of domestic abuse under the 2021 Act where one parent is abusing another parent, or where a parent is abusing, or being abused by, a partner or relative.

Experiencing domestic abuse perpetrated by or directed towards a relative can have devastating consequences for children. Experience of domestic abuse is recognised as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). Other ACEs include physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, or household dysfunction such as having incarcerated relatives or relatives experiencing substance abuse or mental illness. Research suggests that ACEs can often overlap, occurring in clusters. 90 A child’s relationship with a trusted adult who has capacity to support them, wider family networks, friendship groups, and the type and frequency of the abuse are important factors.

Prolonged and/or regular exposure to domestic abuse can have a serious impact on a child's development and emotional wellbeing, despite the best efforts of the adult victim/survivor to protect the child. The definition of "harm" in the term Significant Harm - as in the ill treatment or impairment of health and development - was recently extended so that it is made explicit that harm may include "impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another". (This amendment to the Children Act 1989 was made in section 120 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which came into effect on 30 January 2005).

Anyone working with children and parents/carers should be alert to the frequent inter-relationship between domestic abuse and the abuse and neglect of children.

Domestic 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 abuse;
  • Physical Abuse; Sexual Abuse;
  • Neglect;
  • Children being emotionally harmed by witnessing the physical and emotional suffering of parents/carers;
  • The safety of an unborn child being threatened, where a pregnant woman is assaulted; abuse often starts in pregnancy, escalates and is linked to maternal death;
  • The experience of domestic abuse having a negative impact on the ability of the adult victim/survivor and/or perpetrator to look after the children and form healthy relationships;
  • Children living in poverty where the abusive partner controls family finance;
  • Poor communication between practitioners working across Local Authority boundaries.

See Impact on Children of Domestic Abuse.

The impact of domestic abuse on children is exacerbated when:

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

Where there is evidence of domestic abuse, the implications for any children in the household should be considered, including the possibility of the children being physically harmed or being emotionally harmed by witnessing or overhearing the violence. This can also include witnessing the physical, emotional and psychological consequences for the adult victim/survivor

4. Responding to Domestic Abuse

Clarity about information sharing is essential and all agencies, including all refuge projects and non statutory services, should ensure that in sharing information they do so in line with agreed local protocols.

When the police or other agencies respond to or receive information about an incidence of domestic abuse, efforts should be made to confirm as quickly as possible whether there are children living in the household.

Where there is immediate concern about the safety of the child(ren) in relation to an incident of domestic abuse, the police can exercise their powers to safeguard, either by removing the abusing adult, or indeed removing the child(ren).

Where emergency action is taken to protect a child, the police should inform Children's Social Care immediately, and a Strategy Discussion should take place between the Children's Social Care Assistant/Team Manager and MASH police. Information from other agencies should be shared, where available.

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 abuse and a child is a member of the household, the police should decide whether to refer the matter to Children's Social Care (CSC) for further assessment.

The Police will always make a referral to CSC following MERIT Scoring of Gold and Silver where:

  • The child made the original call to the Police;
  • The child has been injured;
  • The child has been used as a shield;
  • Any incident involves a pregnant woman;
  • The child witnessed an incident.

Bronze Domestic abuse incidents will be reviewed by The Safer Communities Service (Domestic Abuse) and heard at The Domestic Abuse Screening Meeting/BRAG the BRAG team and consideration to support will be given and threshold of need. This is all recorded on EHM

The issue of informing the parent/carers of the referral will need to be handled sensitively in such situations, in order that the process of referral and assessment by Children's Social Care does not put the non-abusing parent and child(ren) at further risk.

In responding to situations where domestic abuse may be present, social workers or other practitioners should always work separately with each parent/carer where domestic abuse prevents non-abusing parent/carers from speaking freely and participating without fear of retribution.

In working with families where domestic abuse is an issue, practitioners should:

  • Refer the victim/survivor and when safe the perpetrator to The Knowsley Domestic Abuse Pathway – for further guidance contact: safercommunities@knowsley.gov.uk;
  • Ask direct questions about domestic abuse;
  • Check whether domestic abuse has occurred whenever child abuse is suspected and consider the impact of this at all stages of assessment, enquiries and intervention;
  • Identify who is responsible for the abuse;
  • Undertake a risk assessment;
  • Ensure non-abusing parent/carers receive information about their legal rights and signposting to a specialist service;
  • Assist non-abusing parent/carers and children to get protection from domestic abuse by providing practical assistance and information as appropriate;
  • Support non-abusing parent/carers in making safe choices for themselves and their children, including providing information on crisis planning /safety planning;
  • Work separately with each parent/carer where domestic abuse prevents non-abusing parents/carers from speaking freely and participating without fear of retribution;
  • Understand that there may be continued or increased risk of domestic abuse towards the abused parent/carer and/or child after separation, especially in connection with post-separation child contact arrangements (Post Separation Abuse).

4.1 Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

4.1.1  Domestic Violence Protection Orders

  • In March 2014 Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) were implemented across England and Wales;
  • 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 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;
  • Before the scheme, there was a gap in protection, because police couldn't charge the perpetrator for lack of evidence and so provide protection to a victim through bail conditions, and because the process of granting injunctions took time.

4.1.2 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 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.

5. The Knowsley Domestic Abuse Victim/Survivor Pathway

Specialist Domestic Abuse Advocacy Support

The Knowsley Domestic Abuse Partnership supports the view that earlier intervention leads to improved outcomes for victims and their families, and that early intervention can reduce revictimisation and re-offending. Knowsley has invested in establishing a victim/survivor pathway (16+) that ensures that when referred, all victims of domestic abuse are offered support, regardless of their risk level (low, medium, and high).

Knowsley Council’s Safer Communities Service Domestic Abuse offer Advocacy Support to low (Bronze) and medium (Silver) risk victim/survivors of domestic abuse who are referred to the service by Police or by other professionals.

The First Step Independent Domestic and Sexual Violence Advocacy (IDSVA) Service provide the offer of support to High-risk victims of Domestic Abuse, (high risk of serious injury or murder). High risk victims are referred to the Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC)

Knowsley Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) meets fortnightly to discuss any new domestic abuse high risk cases, agree actions and review previous cases to ensure appropriate support is in place to reduce risks to individuals referred

The First Step Project and Self-Referral Pathway is the Knowsley area Independent Voluntary Specialist Domestic Abuse Agency who supports victims of domestic abuse through a self-referral pathway. The service which works only with people who self-refer into our service and are assessed at low to medium risk.

For more information on making a referral to The Knowsley Domestic Abuse Pathway please contact: safercommunities@knowsley.gov.uk

6. Perpetrator Behaviour Change

Domestic Abuse Perpetrators Responses Recognising that to address the issue of domestic abuse and those responsible need to be accountable for their behaviour Knowsley have invested in establishing a dedicated perpetrator pathway for non-statutory perpetrators that runs alongside those statutory interventions delivered by The Probation Service.

Both Knowsley Council Choices Pathway and The Probation Service responses to perpetrators provide a parallel support service to the victims. The support workers liaise directly with the victim/partner to ensure that they understand what the interventions are, what the programme entails, continuously review the risk, and keep them updated about the perpetrator’s progress.

Knowsley Council’s Safer Communities Service Choices Pathway work with residents who have been identified as perpetrators of domestic abuse. Based on voluntary engagement, those referred, are supported to change their behaviours to prevent reoffending and re-victimisation

Knowsley Multi-Agency Task and Coordination (MATAC) is a risk assessment conference targeted at serial and repeat perpetrators of Domestic Abuse, it aims to safeguard and protect victims and children by holding perpetrators to account, through multi-agency intervention

The Probation Service -Building Better Relationships (BBR) An accredited groupwork programme designed for adult males convicted of intimate partner abuse. It considers thinking and research in relation to aggression within relationships. It prioritises the safety of women and children.

The Probation Service HELP Programme HELP is a pioneering Healthy Relationships Programme taking a preventative approach to Domestic Abuse. The priority is the development and maintenance of healthy intimate relationships. The Probation Service Skills for Relationships Toolkit A toolkit for use with domestic abuse perpetrators who are unable to participate in a groupwork programme

Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) Probation Service also utilise multiagency frameworks/processes to manage the risk posed by perpetrators and to identify additional interventions for factors linked to offending behaviour

For more information on making a referral to The Knowsley Domestic Abuse Pathway please contact: safercommunities@knowsley.gov.uk

7. Referral Process

Where safeguarding concerns are identified during, or on completion of, a C&F Assessment the practitioner should contact the designated lead for safeguarding in their agency and follow the Referrals Procedure.