6.7 Domestic Abuse


This chapter should be read in conjunction with reference to Domestic Abuse Reduction Strategy.

Home Office, Information for Local areas on the change to the Definition of Domestic Violence and Abuse

NICE, Domestic Violence: how health services, social care and the organisations they work with can respond effectively (Feb 2014)

Operation Encompass

Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy

Royal College of Nursing, Domestic abuse: Professional Resources

GOV.UK, Domestic abuse: a resource for health professionals (2017)

Knowsley Guidance - Working with children affected by domestic abuse


In July 2018, this chapter was updated to add Knowsley - Working with children affected by domestic abuse. This new document provides key information for those working with children and families where there is domestic abuse and violence, including Signs and symptoms; the effect of domestic abuse and coercive control on children; dealing with disclosure and Support and interventions.

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. Definition

Domestic abuse is defined as 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 (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

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 Team Manager and the manager of the Police Vulnerable Persons Unit. 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 for further assessment.

The Police will always make a referral 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.

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:

  • 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.

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. Referral Process

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