3.3.2 Domestic Abuse

1. Introduction

'Domestic abuse is persistent and widespread. It is the most common factor in situations where children are at risk of serious harm in this country. It can have a detrimental and long-lasting impact on a child's health, development, ability to learn and well-being. There are 6.5 million adults estimated to have directly experienced domestic abuse from the age of 16. If estimates included experience of domestic abuse in childhood, this number would be considerably higher. Women are more likely to be abused, to report abuse and to be killed by their partners. If we were to pick a random group of 16 mothers, there is likely to be one who experienced domestic abuse last year. For single mothers, it is much higher: one in four will have experienced domestic abuse. For fathers, it is one man out of 24…. The prevalence of domestic abuse means that there are many children who are also affected. We don't know exactly how many children this is, because the official source of self-reported data (the Office for National Statistics' Crime Survey) only gathers information about the experiences of adults. Domestic abuse has been estimated to affect around one in five children in some studies. However, the experience of children in relation to domestic abuse may go unrecorded unless they come to the attention of formal agencies, such as those in health, children's social care, the police or schools'[1]. The Sheffield Domestic and Sexual Abuse Needs Assessment estimates that around 12,000 children and young people a year in Sheffield are living with an adult experiencing domestic abuse.

It should be noted that that while women are most likely to be the victims of incidents of domestic abuse within heterosexual relationships, other possibilities also exist. Professionals should be aware of such possibilities and be careful not to make assumptions. The Domestic Abuse definition includes abuse by family members as well as between partners or ex-partners and applies to people of all genders and sexualities. It also includes Forced Marriage, so called 'Honour' Based Abuse and Female Genital Mutilation.

When one household member is abusing another, children within the home are highly likely to suffer emotionally and/or physically as a result. The abuse is happening within their world and in their home. It is happening between people they feel love and loyalty towards, who have control over their lives and who may be their role models. Children and young people are at risk of suffering long-term psychological and emotional damage from domestic abuse as a result of:

  • Witnessing the abuse perpetrated against a parent or carer, usually their mother;
  • Living with the impact of coercive control and experiencing the fear and anxiety of living in an environment where abuse occurs;
  • Becoming actual victims of abuse and neglect;
  • Attempting to intervene to prevent harm to the non-abusive parent;
  • Taking on the role of the abuser, against a parent or other sibling/s, or in their own intimate relationships;
  • Witnessing physical abuse against their pets.

This practice guidance aims to promote a multi-agency approach to early, effective intervention and safeguarding of children and young people affected by domestic abuse. It emphasises risk assessment and safety planning, as a continuous, interlinked process.

It should be read in conjunction with the following local procedures and protocols:

These can all be accessed via Sheffield Children Safeguarding Partnership website.

[1] The multi-agency response to children living with domestic abuse JTAI report August 2017.

2. Aims and Principles


  • To identify and protect children, young people and their non-abusing parents from domestic abuse and its effects;
  • To provide a focus on risk assessment and safety planning with those affected by domestic abuse, as interlinked processes;
  • To provide clarity about the multi-agency assessment process, to help remove obstacles to protective strategies, and to effectively challenge perpetrators;
  • To contribute to Sheffield's strategic response to tackling domestic and sexual abuse, led by the Domestic and Sexual Abuse Strategic Board.


  • Abuse, violence and coercive and controlling behaviour are unacceptable;
  • The child's safety is paramount;
  • Professionals should be alert to signs of domestic abuse and child abuse, and to be aware of the connection between them;
  • Domestic abuse can be present in all forms of child abuse: physical, emotional, sexual and neglect;
  • Often the most effective way to protect children involves protecting the non-abusing parent / carer; and working with them in partnership to protect the children. This may mean that the couple separate but this is not always the safest option at least in the first instance;
  • On the rare occasions where the separation of children from their mother is necessary, this must be because it is assessed to be in the immediate interest of the child(ren);
  • Build trust with the woman / non-abusing parent, recognise the steps she has taken to protect her children and mitigate the impact on them; and support her strategies to make safe choices for herself and her children;
  • Leaving an abusive partner is a process, not a single event. Professionals should be aware that separation can increase risk so support should be offered to separate safely and to stay safe;
  • There are many reasons why it is not easy to leave an abusive relationship and professionals should work sensitively with victims and remember that it is the perpetrator of the abuse that is causing the harm and hold them accountable;
  • It is crucial to engage those affected by domestic abuse, and agency partners, in continuous risk assessment and safety planning, as interlinked processes;
  • There may be an overlap with drug or alcohol misuse, learning difficulties, mental ill health, trauma as a result of childhood abuse, but this should not be accepted as an excuse for the abuse, or for the perpetrator or anyone else minimising its seriousness;
  • Some aspects of domestic abuse particularly affect black, Asian minority ethnic communities and refugees, such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and so-called 'honour' based abuse and killings;
  • The impact of domestic abuse can be greater on black, Asian, refugee and minority ethnic women and children, as there may be additional barriers to disclosing and seeking help;
  • Responsibility for domestic abuse rests solely with the perpetrator/s, who should be held to account. This means engaging with them if they are parents / carers, reporting abusive behaviour if appropriate and referring to support services;
  • All agencies should have a nominated lead/champion for Domestic Abuse, who is responsible for ensuring that domestic abuse risk assessments are being undertaken, and referrals into the MARAC process when appropriate. Click here for local MARAC information.

The core principles outlined above should be adhered to regardless of the cultural or social background of the people involved. For further information please refer to the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: Sources of Information.

3. Confidentiality and Information Sharing

See: Information Sharing Procedure.

Whilst co-operation between agencies is vital, it is very important that client confidentiality is maintained, and information sharing takes account of potential risks to the safety of both family members and practitioners. The dangers associated with breaches of confidentiality in domestic abuse cases can be extreme. Perpetrators from all walks of life have been known to go to great lengths to obtain information on the whereabouts and movements of ex-partners and children, including impersonating social workers and police officers.

No information about a client should be passed to any agency or individual without the client's explicit, informed agreement, unless there is a statutory duty to do so, or the victim (where they are aged 16 years or over) has been assessed as being at high risk of serious harm or homicide (this is the criteria for referral to MARAC). It should not be recorded in client held records. All discussions and actions should be recorded on the child, young person, adult's file, as per the agency's internal procedures.

Recording of Information

Any information from the abused adult, children, other family, friends or agencies should be placed in the confidential section of agency files where this exists, and be considered as a confidential agency file. This is to avoid the perpetrator of the abuse gaining access to the whereabouts of the non-abusing parent or the children, or gaining information that enables them to continue harassing / controlling the family.

Sharing Information

Relevant information can be shared when it is necessary to prevent crime, protect health and/or safety of the victim and/or the rights and freedoms of those who are victims of violence and/or their children. It must be relevant and proportionate to the level of risk of harm to a named individual, or to known households. See: Information Sharing Procedure.

4. Definitions

Domestic Abuse

In 2013, the Home Office agreed the following 'core' definition of domestic abuse, to be used by all agencies:

The definition of domestic abuse is the cross-government definition of domestic violence and abuse:

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 sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to:

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

Controlling behaviour

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

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 Home Office expands on the definition as follows 'The Government definition, which is not a legal definition, includes so called 'honour' based violence, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage, and is clear that victims are not confined to one gender or ethnic group.

It has been widely understood for some time that coercive control is a core part of domestic violence. As such the extension does not represent a fundamental change in the definition. However it does highlight the importance of recognising coercive control as a complex pattern of overlapping and repeated abuse perpetrated within a context of power and control.

Without the inclusion of coercive control in the definition of domestic violence and abuse, there may be occasions where domestic violence and abuse could be regarded as an isolated incident. As a result, it may be unclear to victims what counts as domestic violence and abuse - for example, it may be thought to include physical violence only. We know that the first incident reported to the police or other agencies is rarely the first incident to occur; often people have been subject to violence and abuse on multiple occasions before they seek help.'

The Serious Crime Act 2015 creates 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 or surveillance of a person via social media, tracking devices, apps 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;
  • 'Gaslighting': this is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity;
  • 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.

The government has published a draft Domestic Abuse Bill in early 2019 and if this is passed at statutory definition will become law that reflects the existing definition plus minor changes e.g. to replace the term financial abuse with economic abuse – in order to emphasise that this form of abuse can include stopping someone from working, reinforces dependence and limits choices and ability to leave an abusive situation.

For further and more detailed information, see: GOV.UK website - Domestic Violence and Abuse.

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.

For more details of the national plans to tackle domestic violence and abuse see: Ending Violence against Women and Girls Strategy 2016 – 2020 March 2016. 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.

Family members are defined as: mother; father; son; daughter; brother; sister; and grandparents - whether directly related, in-laws or step-family. However, in some cases it may be necessary to consider specific circumstances to determine if the specific family relationship fits the definition e.g. in so called 'Honour' Based Abuse cases wider family members such as cousins can be perpetrators.

Police definition of Domestic Abuse

South Yorkshire Police are required to work to the Home Office definition outlined above, which refers specifically to 'adults'.

Any abuse of those under the age of 18 is classed as child abuse. Adoption of the above definition of domestic abuse means that 16 and 17 year olds involved in such incidents are dealt with in accordance with Part 1 of the Manual, Managing Individual Cases where there are Concerns about a Child's Safety and Welfare. However, this in no way affects the police response to calls for assistance, or the support and services needed to protect such individuals from further harm.

Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC)

A MARAC is a multi-agency meeting which focuses on the highest risk victims of domestic abuse at that point of time. The identification of high risk victims has been made possible by the adoption of the national DASH Risk Assessment Tool, for use across a wide range of agencies. This has permitted practitioners, both within and outside of the criminal justice system, to use an evidence based tool to identify high risk victims of domestic abuse. See Section 7.5, Undertaking a DASH Risk Assessment for more information.

The MARAC is a process involving the participation of all the key statutory and voluntary agencies who might be involved in supporting a victim of domestic abuse. This includes the criminal justice system, those supporting children, representatives from health services, the local authority, housing, substance misuse and, critically, specialist domestic abuse services, including the Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy Service (IDVAS). An IDVA is a specialist caseworker who receives accredited training to work with high risk victims of Domestic Abuse. See Local Contacts.

In Sheffield, the MARAC meetings are held three times a month and focus on up to 30 high risk victims at a time. Relevant information is shared about the victim, any children, any other adults at risk and the perpetrator in each case, and multi-agency action plans are developed. The aim is to increase the safety and well-being of the adults and children involved and address the risks posed by the perpetrator, to prevent repeat victimisation, and potential domestic homicides. See Section 7.5, Undertaking a DASH Risk Assessment and Section 7.6, Referring to the High Risk Cases to the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference Process (MARAC). More information can be found on the Sheffield DACT website.

Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme ('Clare's Law') 2014

Domestic Violence Protection Orders provide protection to victims by enabling the police and magistrates to put in place protection in the immediate aftermath of a domestic violence incident. A perpetrator can be banned with immediate effect from returning to a residence (regardless of the type of tenancy/ ownership) and from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days. This is intended to provide respite to the victim and the opportunity for agencies to offer support.

Under the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, an individual can ask police to check whether a new or existing partner has a violent past (the 'right to ask'). The 'right to know' enables an agency to apply for a disclosure if the agency believes that an individual is at risk of Domestic Violence and Abuse from their partner. In both cases, the police can release information if it is lawful, necessary and proportionate to do so.

5. Features of Domestic Abuse

While any incident of domestic abuse will be frightening for children, whether they witness it or experience it themselves directly, there are more likely to be concerns about Significant Harm to children where the abuse is chronic and serious.

'Everyone working with women and children should be alert to the frequent inter-relationship between domestic violence and the abuse and neglect of children' (Working Together to Safeguard Children, HMSO, 2010, s11.80, now archived).

There may be serious effects on children who witness domestic violence, which often result in behavioural issues, low self esteem, depression, absenteeism, ill health, bullying, antisocial or criminal.

Agencies in Sheffield are working together to make services accessible to hard to reach groups, for example lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and trans people however we know that disclosure and seeking help can be more difficult where families are isolated or where there is specific stigma about disclosing domestic abuse.

Domestic Abuse often occurs alongside other issues, such as:

  • Drugs and / or alcohol misuse;
  • Deprivation, isolation and social exclusion;
  • Homelessness and housing needs;
  • Mental health difficulties;
  • Child abuse;
  • Animal abuse.

This can make responding appropriately even more complex, and adds to the need for careful assessment to unpick the power dynamics of domestic abuse to establish:

  • Who is systematically using abusive behaviour to control and dominate others within a family or relationship?
  • Who is reacting to it, and who is affected by it?

Nationally, the shared language of Every Child Matters, and the Common Assessment Framework are proving useful to aid consistency and communication.

This guidance is intended to complement these child protection procedures and other practice guidance on integrated working, early intervention and the Family Common Assessment Framework (FCAF). It takes into account the extension to the definition of 'harm' to children which came into effect through legislation in 2005. This now includes the harm that children suffer by seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another, particularly in the home. Locally these approaches have been incorporated into the Thresholds of Need guidance.

However, this broader definition of harm does not mean that practitioners should start referring every child living with domestic abuse to the Children's social care. Careful assessments and multi-agency responses are still required, in the context of a good understanding of the impact of domestic abuse on children and young people. No single agency can address all the needs of children, young people and adults affected by, or perpetrating, domestic abuse. For any intervention to be effective agencies must work together, and be prepared to take on the challenges this can create.

An area of concern from some professionals has been that abusive behaviour towards a child's mother is not necessarily the focus for child protection workers, who feel the child's needs should be paramount. Women living with domestic abuse risk being seen as 'failing to protect' their child. Equally, reducing the needs of children to those of their non-abusing parent can also be criticised. What is important is to recognise that where there is domestic abuse, the best way to protect children is usually to support their non-abusing parent and to hold the abusive parent accountable, while acknowledging where they also have separate needs. Assessments must consider the protective role the non-abusing parent may have been undertaking up to that point, at what point living with violence and abuse can be associated with poor parenting, and how to confront these issues with sensitivity.

6. Recognising and Assessing the Impact of Domestic Abuse on Children and Young People

'Focusing on the needs and experiences of children is critical. A failure to adequately focus on the experiences and needs of children means there is a high risk that the emotional and mental impact of domestic abuse will go unaddressed. Children and young people who have lived with domestic violence for several years frequently experience intense feelings of responsibility, guilt, anger and a sense of despair and powerlessness over their lives.

'Children may experience high levels of anxiety and depression in response to living with domestic abuse. They may try to escape their difficult circumstances in different ways. Some focus on their education and do well at school. Others might be affected negatively because there may be a harmful impact on educational outcomes. The intensity of children's difficulties and their behavioural responses may find them in confrontational situations in schools. If underlying contributory factors are not obvious or understood, those children are likely to be labelled as problematic. In the words of a survivor:

'For kids it is daunting. They come into refuge, move schools and move again, and move schools again.'

Children affected by domestic abuse are more likely to be excluded from school or become homeless at a young age. They are at higher risk of offending.

Children who witness domestic abuse can occasionally model their behaviour on their experiences. We found examples where children were taking on a 'parental role' and, in some cases, themselves becoming violent. However, it should be noted that children generally do not go on to abuse as a result of witnessing domestic violence.' [2]

Domestic abuse cuts across all five of the key outcomes for children and young people set out by Government. Under the Stay Safe outcome, the specific 'evidence' that inspectorates will use to judge the contribution of services to improving outcomes is: 'children affected by repeat domestic violence are identified, protected and supported'.

This section sets out very broad descriptions of potential indicators and impacts of domestic abuse for children and young people.

[2] The multi-agency response to children living with domestic abuse JTAI report August 2017.

6.1 How Children experience Domestic Abuse

The following are some ways that children and young people can be affected by domestic abuse. They may experience one or a number of the following. This is not an exhaustive list.

  • Being physically harmed or threatened with harm;
  • Being injured while trying to intervene;
  • Witnessing or overhearing the abuse of others;
  • Witnessing the outcomes of any assault;
  • Intimidation of the mother by making threats against the children;
  • Being threatened to remain silent;
  • Seeing ill treatment of pets;
  • Seeing damage in the home or to toys / belongings;
  • Domestic abuse occurring at or during contact sessions / periods or at the handover point;
  • Children being encouraged to take part in the abuse of the mother;
  • Taking on the role of the abuser e.g. to the non-abusing parent;
  • They may be more vulnerable to experiencing domestic abuse in their own intimate relationships;
  • Loss of / reduction in contact with one of the parents, other family members, and friends;
  • Unhappiness and fear at home can lead them to spend more time on the streets or with peer groups that engage in risky behaviour. Young men in particular can be more vulnerable to gang affiliation;
  • Young people affected are more likely to misuse substances or be involved with anti-social behaviour;
  • In the case of homicide, the loss of the non-abusing parent.

6.2 Young People and Domestic Abuse or Peer on Peer Abuse

Young people can be affected by domestic abuse if they have grown up witnessing it or they can experience abuse in their own relationships. Research undertaken by the charity SafeLives found that:

  • 67% of teenagers engaged with IDVA services experience strangulation, rape, broken bones and stalking;
  • 88% of young people are in some form of an intimate partner relationship;
  • 25% of girls experience physical partner violence, 11% of which is categorised as severe;
  • 33% of girls experience sexual partner violence;
  • 75% of girls and 50% of boys report some form of emotional partner abuse.

The definition of domestic abuse starts at age 16 for both victims and young people causing harm. The Sheffield Young People and Domestic Abuse pathway can be found at the Sheffield DACT website:

  • Young people's relationships can be hidden, less visible, and change rapidly. Abuse can escalate quickly and the violence can be serious;
  • Don't assume domestic abuse is the only issue – they may be vulnerable to Child Sexual Exploitation or other forms of sexually harmful behaviour, gang affiliation or be at risk from a peer or peer group;
  • They may be coping with the impact of parental domestic abuse which may affect their attitude to relationships and what they think is normal behaviour;
  • If they are under 18 they are still a child legally and a referral to Social Care should be considered whether the young person is a victim or a young person causing harm (young perpetrator);
  • If they are under 16 they must always be referred to Social Care;
  • If they are 16 years or over a DASH should be completed and a referral to MARAC and IDVAs made if they are deemed to be at high risk of serious harm or homicide;
  • There may be cultural factors that make it more difficult to disclose abuse or seek help due to shame or fear of repercussions in the family or community;
  • If a young person discloses abuse always take them seriously;
  • They may change their story and retract due to pressure from the abuser, peers or family but it does not mean necessarily mean the incident did not happen;
  • With regard to sexual activity - think about the ages of the young people, the legal age of consent and their level of maturity and understanding when thinking about whether the behaviour engaged in is appropriate;
  • They may be at risk from abuse outside of the home e.g. at school, in the neighbourhood, within a peer group;
  • Experience of living with parental domestic abuse can make young people more vulnerable because abusive behaviour is normalised, they may not want to be at home and therefore they may become reliant on peer groups that engage in risky behaviour and, particularly for young men, there is an increased risk of gang affiliation.

A Domestic Abuse Traffic Light Tool has been developed locally to help professionals consider the risks to young people from domestic abuse. If the young person is 16 years or over this should be used in conjunction with the DASH. Young people aged 16 or over can be referred for support to local domestic abuse services - see the Sheffield Young People and Domestic Abuse Pathway.

6.3 Indicators of Domestic Abuse

Indicators of domestic abuse from children and young people can include:

  • Child / young person makes direct disclosure;
  • Child / young person has evidence of injuries;
  • Running away from home;
  • Anxiety or fear-related behaviour or unexplained illness;
  • Difficulties with sleeping or eating - failure to thrive;
  • Absence from school and / or lower achievement at school; difficulty concentrating; or over-achievement at school can be indicative of living in fear of failure or being noticed;
  • Injuries could lead to withdrawal from school activities that involve revealing parts of the body, for example sports;
  • Substance misuse;
  • Depression or distracted behaviour;
  • Withdrawal, aggression; behavioural difficulties or holding breath;
  • Missed health or developmental checks;
  • Involvement in anti-social behaviour.

N.B: The child or young person may be unlikely to inform a statutory agency worker, and is more likely to talk to other children, or extended family members.

6.4 Effects of Domestic Abuse on Children and Young People

The effects on a child or young person of living with domestic abuse could be one or a combination of physical, sexual, and psychological impacts, and / or more general experiences of neglect. They constitute Adverse Childhood Experiences and can include:

  • Physical injury, either directly or in trying to protect their non-abusing parent;
  • Living in a constant state of fear, and wanting protection from threats;
  • Sleep disturbance, bed wetting, nightmares;
  • Failure to thrive;
  • Distress, anxiety and fear at witnessing the physical and emotional suffering of a parent;
  • Recurrent, non-specific physical complaints, with no obvious cause;
  • Lack of self-esteem, and feelings of guilt or self-blame;
  • Secretiveness, pressure to conceal the abuse;
  • Alcohol and substance misuse and offending behaviour;
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder;
  • Fear / rejection of non-threatening touch;
  • Sadness, depression, self-harm, attempted and actual suicide;
  • Trauma associated with sexual abuse;
  • Impact of domestic abuse on adults' parenting capacity and ability to meet the child's needs;
  • Difficulty in relating to other people and social isolation/exclusion;
  • Child's sense of responsibility and desire to end the abuse;
  • Anger, aggression, desire for revenge on the perpetrator;
  • Advanced maturity and sense of responsibility, 'caring' for parent or siblings;
  • Lack of respect, or aggression towards their mother, or abused parent/carer and / or siblings;
  • Identifying with the abusive parent as they are the most powerful person in the household / family;
  • Disruption caused by leaving home, school, friends, community to escape the abuse;
  • Poor concentration, difficulties in school;
  • Overachieving at school, over-willingness to please and to avoid conflict;
  • At risk of offending;
  • Being accommodated by the local authority;
  • Leaving home prematurely without sufficient resources, planning and support;
  • Impact on future relationships; abusive behaviour is expected and normalised;
  • Death of child or young person.

6.5 Factors that may Impact on Severity of Abuse for a Child or Young Person

  • Age, gender, developmental stage;
  • Economic and social disadvantage;
  • Special needs irrespective of the abuse;
  • Stability of parent / carer's mental health;
  • Extent and frequency of abuse;
  • Repeated separations and moves;
  • Racism and discrimination;
  • Cultural factors including attitudes in relation to gender and roles in the family;
  • Isolation;
  • Cultural barriers to disclosure and seeking help.

6.6 Protective Factors for the Child or Young Person may Include

  • Ending of the abuse, and increasing safety, including safety of mother / non-abusing parent;
  • Their own personal resources;
  • Developmentally supportive routines;
  • Protective and supportive network outside immediate family;
  • Open communication about the domestic abuse, and opportunities to rebuild family relationships;
  • A positive relationship with the non-abusing parent;
  • Counselling / group work with other children / young people who understand their experiences;
  • The perpetrator accepting responsibility for the abuse, and making reparations / seeking support to help them change their behaviour;
  • Non abusive parent / carer receiving support to recover including in relation to their parenting capacity.

It is important to remember that many children can and do recover from the long-term effects, once they are no longer living with domestic abuse, but they may need help from others to do this. In some cases specialist therapeutic and / or group work may be useful to help them make sense of their experiences, and reduce their isolation and sense of difference. Support for non-abusing parents to think about the impact domestic abuse has had on their children and their parenting can also be helpful, and professionals offering support with finding ways of talking about the situation with their children especially after separation.

7. Responding to Concerns about Domestic Abuse and Child Safety

Any professional who becomes aware of domestic abuse should take steps to ensure the safety of those involved. The following guidance should be considered. Always take allegations or disclosure about domestic abuse seriously.

Be non-judgemental, and treat people with respect.

  • Listen to and document disclosures. Assess the risks and report your concerns;
  • If a professional is concerned that there may be domestic abuse ongoing in a case, they should always make an assessment of this and cross check with any other areas that impact on parenting capacity, for example, mental health concerns, learning difficulties and drug and alcohol misuse;
  • In gathering information from adults, direct questions should be used to find out whether domestic abuse might be an issue, for example: "How do you deal with conflict / disagreements in your family?", "Are you frightened of your partner/carer?" or "Have you ever been hurt by them?". Be aware that asking if they are experiencing domestic abuse may not be the best approach especially if their first language is not English as the term does not translate directly; you may need to approach the question more carefully - click here for further guidance;
  • Be careful to find opportunities to ask safely, without being overheard by anyone else;
  • Any discussion with children should be kept to a minimum, and should aim to clarify what has happened, without using leading questions;
  • Be aware that victims of domestic abuse may minimise the abuse or withhold information. They may be scared of the possible consequences of disclosure e.g. because the perpetrator may find out, because of the shame that they perceive will be brought on other family members; or because they are scared that agencies will assume they are at fault or 'will take the children away'. Think about how to build trust with the victim while remaining clear about when you may have to share information;
  • Follow the seven golden rules of information sharing. See Information Sharing Procedure;
  • Do not make assumptions about perpetrators, including their age, gender, sexuality, physical appearance etc. and be aware that it is rare for domestic abuse to be perpetrated equally by both parties – there is likely to be a primary victim (who may retaliate on occasion) and a primary perpetrator. Seek support from local domestic abuse services if you feel you cannot decide who is the perpetrator;
  • The safety of adult and child victims is paramount; and so is your own;
  • Record all observations and discussions in line with your agency procedures;
  • Consider whether a domestic abuse risk assessment (DASH) should be undertaken - always use DASH Risk Assessment Tool where the abuse is recent (an incident has taken place within the three months) and/or ongoing, even if the perpetrator has left the family home or did not live with the victim - see Section 7.5, Undertaking a DASH Risk Assessment for more information;
  • Consider if a Section 7.4, Undertaking a Family Common Assessment Framework (FCAF) should be undertaken;
  • Families living with domestic abuse where children are at risk of being taken into care may be referred by Social Care to the Strengthening Families Domestic Abuse team who work with the whole family (including the perpetrator) to reduce the impact on the victim and their children;
  • Haven are commissioned as part of the Strengthening Families Domestic Abuse programme to provide support to children and young people affected by domestic abuse and can also offer support to other children and young people via one to one and group work.

When assessing harm to children or young people experiencing domestic abuse, the following questions should be considered (these will form key elements of the DASH Risk Assessment outlined in Section 7.5, Undertaking a DASH Risk Assessment).

  • Frequency and severity of the abuse, how recent and where it takes place;
  • Children's description of the effects upon them and their siblings, and upon their parent/carer, including their level of fear about the situation;
  • Are the children present or have they ever been present when abuse has occurred?
  • What do the children do when the abuse is happening, for example, have they ever intervened? Are they likely to in future?
  • Is the mother/ non abusing parent able to meet the children's immediate and longer term needs?
  • Have the woman and/or children been locked in the home or prevented from leaving it?
  • Is the abuser using coercive control to limit the activities and choices of the other adult (and the rest of the household)?
  • Is the abuse connected with any other factors that undermine parenting capacity (such as alcohol or substance misuse or mental health)?
  • Have the children been physically threatened, for example, physical harm, or sustained any injury?
  • Are children being made to participate in or witness acts of abuse against their mother/ non abusing parent?
  • Are children used physically or emotionally to exert control over their mother/ non abusing parent?
  • Has physical abuse or threats been directed towards a pregnant woman and her unborn child?
  • Were any weapons used or was there a threat to use a weapon? Have any weapons been used in the past? N.B. many household objects can be used as a weapon;
  • Is actual or threatened ill treatment of animals used to control the children and/or the other carer?
  • Is the perpetrator a parent or step parent to any of the children or young people within the home or children living elsewhere?
  • What is the impact of any contact arrangements with a non-resident parent or parental partner?
  • Is the former partner (who may or may not be the other parent) harassing the adult? Is this obsessive? If so it should be considered stalking.

Consent of a parent to notify the Children's Social Care and / or South Yorkshire Police is not required in situations where seeking it may compromise the safety of the child or others, or any Section 47 Enquiry (see Making a Referral following the Identification of Child Safety and Welfare Concerns Procedure).

7.1 Support for Perpetrators to Change their Behaviours

If convicted of an offence a court can require a perpetrator to undertake the Building Better Relationships programme delivered by South Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC). CRC also offer a shorter Respectful Relationships course for lower risk offenders that can be added to court order. Sheffield has recently invested in a voluntary perpetrator programme Inspire to Change that is available to men, women and young people which is designed to help participants learn new skills and find ways to manage and control their abusive behaviour. It encourages participants to think and behave more positively to prevent harm to their partner, children and family in the future.

A parenting programme Caring Dads, is also available to men who have used abuse in their relationship with the mother of their children. Referrals to this programme must be made via Children's Social Care.

Support is offered to the current or ex partners of the perpetrators on these programmes by CRC Partner Link Workers or by local domestic abuse services - it is crucial such support is in place as participating in such programmes can initially increase risk.

7.2 Alcohol or Substance Misuse Issues, Learning Difficulties and/or Mental Health Concerns

Domestic abuse should never be excused or minimised. Sometimes these factors may be used by the perpetrator, or others, to deny or minimise their behaviour. Responsibility has to be placed with the perpetrator, as the effects are still the same for the victim and any children.

However, the existence of such factors may mean that agencies need to take action, such as making appropriate referral/s, so that the perpetrator can access treatment / support for their identified needs, which can also help to better protect the woman and her children, or a future partner or family members in the future. Agencies working in these areas have a role to play in identifying abusive behaviour and holding perpetrators to account.

Communication is essential between agencies working with all members of the family, in order to share information about treatment take-up / progress etc. and to provide clear and consistent messages to the family.

7.3 Follow up action after a Disclosure of Domestic Abuse

  • Check whether there are any children living in the household or if the woman is pregnant;
  • Check if the alleged perpetrator has other children living elsewhere or is in contact with other children living elsewhere e.g. the children of a new or former partner;
  • If the children are in immediate danger please do not wait and contact the police;
  • Speak to your manager about your concerns;
  • Liaise with any identified agency lead for domestic abuse;
  • Establish if children are the subject of any court orders or if they have a Child Protection Plan - contact the Sheffield Safeguarding Hub to ask about background and/or historical information about adults and children, including People Presenting a Risk (PPR's) and linked adults not living in the household who have care of, or regular contact with, the children - see also Persons, Volunteers/Carers Identified as Posing a Risk to Children Procedure;
  • Check if a Family Common Assessment Framework (FCAF) has been carried out and if any other professionals are involved via speaking to the local MAST;
  • If you would like further advice about what to do you can speak to the Sheffield Safeguarding Hub or the duty social work team in the relevant area Children's Social Care office (see Local Contacts);
  • You may be able to check whether the family is known to Sheffield Domestic Abuse Services (0114 296 4994 or email help@sheffielddact.org.uk);
  • If the DASH Domestic Abuse risk assessment process establishes a high level of risk, refer to the MARAC process (see Section 7.6, Referring to the High Risk Cases to the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference Process (MARAC) below).

Whether the Children's Social Care are directly involved or not, practitioners involved with the family should:

  • Undertake a Family Common Assessment if a child does not have one - see Section 7.4, Undertaking a Family Common Assessment Framework (FCAF) below;
  • Undertake a, DASH risk assessment (see Section 7.5, Undertaking a DASH Risk Assessment, below) to establish the level of risk posed by the perpetrator - see guidance below;
  • Support the mother, or non-abusing parent/carer, to plan for the safety of themselves and their children, while monitoring levels of risk to all those involved - the DASH risk assessment should be repeated after every new episode of abuse, or if significant new information is provided;
  • Provide information on local Domestic Abuse support services, for example the city's Domestic Abuse helpline, and refuge details, taking into account any cultural and / or other equalities issues, and support to access those services. The current pathways to support can be accessed at the Sheffield DACT website;
  • A safety plan should be developed with the woman and her children, to include strategies for keeping themselves as safe as possible, and what to do in an emergency (see Section 8.1, Safety Planning);
  • If the family move to a refuge or take up other specialist Domestic Abuse services, practitioners from other agencies should not 'back off' but see this as a crucial time to engage in effective multi-agency working, to maximise the opportunities to increase safety and support recovery from the impact of abuse.

7.4 Undertaking a Family Common Assessment Framework (FCAF)

When undertaking any exploration of whether a child is in need of services, the possibility of domestic abuse should always be considered.

Unless there are concerns that the child / young person is at risk of, or experiencing Significant Harm (in which case there should be an immediate referral to Children's Social Care - see Making a Referral following the Identification of Child Safety and Welfare Concerns Procedure), a FCAF should be completed for each child in the family. The FCAF can be used to explore and assess any concerns that practitioners may have about children or young people.

The FCAF should be used to assess the degree of exposure of each child to the domestic abuse, the impact that the abuse is having, and the risks involved, bearing in mind the ages / abilities of the children. This should include physical and emotional impact, and the effect on parenting capacity, as well as the risks posed by the perpetrator. For teenagers the FCAF should also consider the risk of abuse from or to peers e.g. the relationships the young person is having outside of the home – in their peer group, at school or in the local neighbourhood.

If your assessment raises concerns for the welfare of a child / young person you should notify the Children's Social Care. This should be explained to the mother / carer, and preferably done with her consent.

Consent of a parent to notify the Children's Social Care and / or South Yorkshire Police is not required in situations where seeking it may compromise the safety of the child or others, or any Section 47 Enquiry.

If a child has experienced, or is likely to experience, significant harm as a result of domestic abuse, a telephone referral should be made to Children and Families Service, followed up by a written referral within 24 hours - see Making a Referral following the Identification of Child Safety and Welfare Concerns Procedure.

7.5 Undertaking a DASH Risk Assessment

The DASH Risk Assessment Tool is used to identify high risk cases for referral into the MARAC process for victims of abuse aged 16 years or over. Training in the use of DASH is highly recommended, and available from IDAS who offer training on this in partnership with the Sheffield Children Safeguarding Partnership and who are also the providers some of the specialist domestic abuse services and can be contacted via the IDAS website. All agency leads for domestic abuse should have undertaken this training and be able to advise on the use of the tool. There is also practice guidance available on the practitioner's area of Sheffield DACT website.

The tool is based on research into domestic homicides and repeat offenders. It should be used to avoid assumptions being made and to assist practitioners to ask all relevant questions associated with domestic abuse and not just focus on the presenting situation.

However professionals should take care to avoid risk assessment simply becoming an interrogation around a 'checklist', which can close down trust, rather than a dialogue which opens up the discussion about abuse. Issues such as threats to kill, jealous and controlling behaviour, sexual abuse and isolation are not easily assessed without good, open communication. The DASH Tool is not intended to be used like a tick box questionnaire, where a total points score would establish risk level - instead it requires the practitioner undertaking the assessment to review the information gathered and use professional judgement to come to a decision about the level of risk posed to the victim, in consultation with MARAC leads where needed. Line managers must approve or 'sign off' the referral to MARAC before a professional submits it.

It is important to establish what protective strategies have been used to date, which can also flow from risk assessment. In this process, risk assessment, with its focus on safety, can be used to establish a supportive relationship between practitioners and people affected by domestic abuse, while also keeping a focus on issues which are of crucial importance in protecting children.

The assessment is not a one off event, and as the victim's situation changes so the assessment should be reviewed. Examples of events that trigger a review would be:

  • Further incident of domestic abuse - including stalking or harassment;
  • Period of failed appointments or non-engagement;
  • Birth of a baby;
  • New pregnancy;
  • Change of people living within family home;
  • Relationships ending - separation;
  • Family disagreements.

All agencies should have a nominated lead for domestic abuse, who is responsible for ensuring domestic abuse risk assessments are undertaken on adult victims (i.e. usually over 16 years old) and referrals made to MARAC when appropriate.

Where a 16 or 17 year old is involved in a relationship with a peer where domestic abuse is a feature, you should discuss the case with your agency lead for domestic abuse to consider any child protection issues, alongside domestic abuse concerns and use the Peer on Peer domestic abuse traffic light tool to help with your decision making.

Please refer to the Young People and Domestic Abuse pathway.

7.6 Referring High Risk Cases to the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference Process (MARAC)

If a victim is identified as high risk as a result of the DASH Risk Assessment Tool, your agency's MARAC representative can be contacted to assist you to refer the case to the MARAC, using the MARAC Referral section on the DASH form. If your agency does not have a MARAC representative you could contact the Domestic Abuse Helpline for advice.

All agencies should have a nominated lead for Domestic Abuse, who is responsible for ensuring Domestic Abuse risk assessments are undertaken and referrals to MARAC when appropriate. Staff should liaise with the lead practitioner in such cases, or if they are unsure of what action they should take, the agency's safeguarding children lead.

The DASH Risk Assessment Tool and MARAC Referral Form can be downloaded from the resources area of Sheffield DACT website.

7.7 Domestic Homicide Reviews

There is a statutory duty to carry out a Domestic Homicide Review for any death of a person aged 16 years or over which has, or appears to have, resulted from violence, abuse or neglect by:

  1. A person to whom s/he was related or with whom s/he was or had been in an intimate personal relationship; or
  2. A member of the same household as him/herself,in the local authority area.

These are similar to Child Serious Case Reviews following the death of a child or vulnerable adult: a multi-agency, independently-led review that seeks to learn lessons and improve policies and practice at a local and national level.

The Sheffield Community Safety Partnership is responsible for initiating and co-ordinating DHR's, but the review panel acts as an independent body.

This development has implications for all agencies that are working with families where domestic abuse is disclosed. Guidance and protocols can be found on the Sheffield DACT website:

  • Sheffield has conducted several reviews and key findings are that:
    • Separation needs to be acknowledged as a risk factor;
    • Individuals must be spoken to alone about domestic abuse including children;
    • All information should be gathered about home circumstances including people who visit or do not officially live in the home;
    • Professionals need to be aware that domestic abuse can be between non intimate partners e.g. adult child to parent;
    • Where substance misuse and mental health issues are present, professionals should make sure they enquire about possible domestic abuse;
    • Agencies should have domestic abuse policies and procedures for risk assessment;
    • Victims may disclose to any worker that they have built a relationship of trust with therefore all agencies need to have an awareness of risk factors and local pathways;
    • Be alert to a perpetrator keeping the victim away from contact with professionals, be curious if you never see a child's mother;
    • Professionals need to remember that domestic abuse is not condoned by any faith and is unacceptable whatever the background of the family or individuals;
    • Victims may minimise the abuse they are suffering or retract an allegation – this does not necessarily mean abuse is not happening ask about abuse more than once;
    • Professionals should recognise that there may be heightened risk of violence at collection and handover of children for contact;
    • Some people are more vulnerable to being abused e.g. migrant women, and carers.
  • Where risk issues are identified, professionals should use the DASH Risk Assessment Tool to determine how serious the situation is, or seek advice from their own Domestic Abuse lead, or the IDVAS service or the Police.
  • If a domestic homicide occurs and your agency had involvement, managers should take immediate steps to secure and close the file down and inform the DACT (DACT@sheffield.gov.uk) team that the victim is known to your agency.

7.8 Sheffield Joint Response by Police, Children and Families Services and the Domestic Abuse Partnership

South Yorkshire Police

The Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment Team within SY Police Protecting Vulnerable People team quality assure the risk assessment of all new incidents reported to the police. The Police refer high risk cases to the IDVA Service, and into the MARAC process and refer medium/standard risk cases to the Helpline or Domestic Abuse Outreach Service.

South Yorkshire Police encourage all officers who attend incidents to promote the Helpline service, and to ask for consent for the Helpline team to proactively contact the victim to offer support.

A team of officers are based in the Sheffield Safeguarding Hub and assist with MARAC preparation and information sharing around children at risk.

7.9 Response by Children and Families Services to Domestic Abuse

'Any response by Children's Social Care to (police) referrals should be discreet, in terms of making contact with the women in ways that will not further endanger them or their children. In some cases a child may be in need of immediate protection'

(Working Together to Safeguard Children, HMSO, 2010, s11.87, now archived).

'Normally, one serious or several lesser incidents of domestic violence where there is a child in the household would indicate that Children's Social Care should carry out an initial assessment of the child and family, including consulting existing records. Babies under 12 months old are particularly vulnerable to violence. Where there is domestic violence in families with a child under 12 months old (including an unborn child) even if the child was not present, professionals should make a referral to Children's Social Care if there is any single incident of domestic violence.'

(ibid s11.88).

Whenever an Assessment is undertaken, or at any time after, all agencies involved with the assessment should be informed of any ongoing domestic abuse concerns.

Where the family refuses to co-operate with an Assessment, consideration should be given to whether a Section 47 Enquiry is justified.

In any circumstance where a Section 47 investigation is being undertaken, the presence of domestic abuse should always be considered and explored.

8. Working with Families where Domestic Abuse is an Ongoing Issue

8.1 Safety Planning

See guidance for service users at Sheffield DACT website and Appendix 2: Safety Planning.

Where families continue to live with the threat of domestic abuse, ongoing risk assessment should be accompanied by active safety planning with each member of the family, to strengthen their protective strategies. This can be an important way of monitoring risk and continuing to engage in open communication about the domestic abuse, while they are supported to become safer over time.

Safety planning is a very practical process that practitioners can engage in with anyone affected by domestic abuse, and with children or young people who have enough understanding to take part, to help them increase their personal safety.

Local information about safety planning is available on the Sheffield DACT website and the Survivors Handbook is available in many community languages on the national Women's Aid website, designed for victims of domestic abuse and including information on Safety Planning.

Questions in safety planning tools are meant as a guide or prompt, rather than as a form to be filled in, and professionals need to remember that it may not be safe for the woman to have any written safety plan at home with her.

Increasing Safety in the Woman's Relationship

  • Where can she keep important phone numbers so that they are always accessible to her and her children?
  • Ask her to think of the names of two people she can tell about the abuse, and to ask them to listen out for strange or alarming noises from her home, so that they can call the police on her behalf if needed;
  • What code word or phrase could she use in an emergency, to let her children know that she wants them to get to safety immediately, or to phone the police;
  • Ask her to think of three places she could go to if she leaves her home, are these also places that her children could go to if appropriate?
  • Is there someone or somewhere she can leave extra money, car / house keys, clothes, copies of important documents?
  • What will she take with her if she leaves?
  • Where can she keep an emergency bag?
  • What parts of the house should she avoid when the abuse starts e.g. the kitchen where knives are usually kept? Which rooms have only one exit? Where are things that can be used as weapons?

Increasing Safety after Separation

'Attempts to end a relationship are strongly linked to intimate partner homicide… It is therefore important that work is carried out to ensure that the victim can leave as safely as possible… This reinforces the importance of offering your client support beyond the point of separation as this is when victims are particularly at risk of further violence/homicide.' - SafeLives

  • Things that she may need to do straight away:
    • Change or strengthen external locks;
    • Get stronger doors fitted, preferably with metal reinforcement;
    • Get a security system (alarm, door chains, spy-holes, window locks etc.);
    • Get outdoor lighting;
    • Get smoke detectors and a fire proof letterbox;
    • Change land line and mobile telephone numbers;
    • Consider referral to Sanctuary Scheme to assist home security improvements;
    • See a local solicitor (or if ineligible for legal aid the low cost National Centre for Domestic Violence legal team) to enquire about civil legal options such as non-molestation orders.
  • Who does she need to tell that she no longer lives with her ex-partner;
  • Who will she ask to call the police if they see her ex-partner near her home or children;
  • Advise her to tell the people who care for her children who has permission to pick them up, and give their names;
  • If she is working, who can she talk to, and can they screen her calls?
  • What shops, banks and other places does she need to avoid?
  • Who can she call if she's feeling down or isolated and is considering returning to her partner? There are support groups and recovery programmes on offer in Sheffield, see www.idas.org.uk for details.

Important Phone Numbers, Websites and Apps

  • Make a list of important phone numbers and websites including friends and family (even familiar numbers can be forgotten in an emergency situation), the Police emergency and Public Protection Unit numbers, the Domestic Abuse Helpline number and local refuge contact number;
  • Inform her of the Bright Sky and Hollie Guard apps which can be installed on a smartphone;
  • Advise her that she can dial 141 before calling out, (on landlines or mobiles), to withhold her number.

It is important to include children and young people directly in the safety planning process - this can also protect them from injury:

  • The primary aim of any safety plan for children is to escape from dangerous situations and avoid injury;
  • Rehearse escape plans with children and make sure they know their mother does not want them to try to intervene, to protect her;
  • Identify a safe place or person for children to go to if their parent is being attacked, preferably somewhere where it would be possible for them to contact the police;
  • Ensure that children know how to contact the police and provide them with details of useful telephone numbers to use, if it is safe to do so;
  • Ensure that children know their own address and telephone number;
  • Involve schools and nurseries in safety planning.

8.2 Good Practice Points: Working with Children and Young People

  • Be realistic and honest about the limits of confidentiality;
  • Help the child or young person to understand that they are not to blame;
  • Let them know that domestic abuse is never acceptable - it is bullying in the home or in relationships, and no one has the right to bully or abuse another person;
  • Try to obtain permission from the non-abusing parent, in the presence of the child, that they can talk about their experiences of domestic abuse, how it has affected them and the feelings it raises;
  • Talk with the child about their experiences, wishes and feelings - who meets their needs, their coping strategies, behavioural, emotional and social responses, and their attitude to relationships;
  • Meet and communicate with the child separately to the perpetrator;
  • Acknowledge and build on the child's strengths and survival strategies;
  • Be careful to acknowledge their experiences, but not to look shocked or upset by what they tell you;
  • Children and young people can find it hard to talk for many reasons, such as shame, guilt, split loyalties, threats of what would happen if they tell anyone not wanting to leave home or split up the family, or just not having the language to use;
  • They need time to express a confusing range of emotions, and may find it easier to communicate through drawing, or play activities, rather than talking;
  • Remember that young people may experience abuse in their own intimate relationships or be abusive themselves to boyfriends / girlfriends and parents or other relatives;
  • Remember that young people who are using abuse in their relationships with their peers, parents or siblings are still young people needing support and that their own behaviour may be modelled on their experiences of witnessing parental domestic abuse. Community Youth Teams and the Youth Justice Service offer tailored support for young people using abusive behaviour and there are parenting programmes for parents whose children are using aggression towards them.

8.3 Good Practice Points: Working with Adults affected by Domestic Abuse

  • Wherever possible, contact should be made via the health visitor or school or by telephone, and not via a letter that a partner could intercept;
  • Response to any referral should be discreet (i.e. to not alert the perpetrator) to prevent further danger to the women or children;
  • Be clear about what you can and can't keep confidential;
  • Direct questions should be asked although the term 'Domestic Abuse' may not be useful at first, for example "Are you frightened of your partner?" or "Have you ever been hurt by them?";
  • Emphasise that many women experience domestic abuse and it is a good thing that she has disclosed; provide reassurance that she is believed and not to blame;
  • Talk about the impact that living with abuse can have on children;
  • Identify who is responsible for the abuse, and consider who needs to be involved in assessing the levels of risk from, and to, all those involved, including children;
  • Understand that women want the abuse to stop but may not want the relationship to end at that point in time;
  • Suggest where she can seek specialist advice about her legal options, and explain that this could involve a criminal law prosecution, or a civil law application for an injunction against her abuser;
  • Remember that if professionals are aware that the perpetrator has a history of domestic abuse with other partners they can request that the victim has a 'right to know' via the police or if the victim has suspicions themselves they have a 'right to ask';
  • Accept that some negative behaviours, such as angry outbursts, alcohol or substance misuse, may be coping strategies;
  • Accept that children may be participating in the abuse, siding with the perpetrator or copying aspects of their behaviour;
  • Realise that for many the decision to leave an abusive partner will be just be the start of a period of enormous upheaval and loss;
  • Recognise that the most important gain for a woman and her children in leaving (safety for herself and her children) has to be balanced against the possibility that he may carry out his threats to find her and kill her/the children - statistically this is the most high risk time for serious injury and death;
  • Remember that her options may be restricted by cultural or language needs, mental health, learning difficulties and/or chronically low self-esteem;
  • Ensure that she is able to explore her options for changing her situation, is provided with accurate information, and considers ways of maximising her safety whether she leaves or not;
  • Recognise that in some situations, women may not be able to care for their children, and alternative or temporary arrangements may be needed.

8.4 Good Practice Points: Perpetrators of Domestic Abuse

Agency responses to domestic abuse usually centre on those who are affected, rather than on the 'invisible' offenders, who can often effectively avoid direct contact. A sole focus on victims / mothers, and their capacity to parent, or their mental health or substance use, can risk feeding into 'victim-blaming'.

It is recognised that at times, it can be challenging to engage with perpetrators of domestic abuse and that working with fathers as perpetrators of abuse can cause professionals some anxiety.

Common Myths

'Talking about risk to perpetrators will raise risk levels':

  • If it has been identified that domestic abuse is an issue then the risk is already there! Talking about risk enables us to manage it more effectively.

'Workers might be at risk':

  • The biggest risk towards professionals is being manipulated by coercively controlling abusers. The risk of physical harm is more often than not directed towards others (i.e. partners).

'Talking to a perpetrator isn't usual practice':

  • There is no "one size fits all" approach to either engagement or resolution of a case where domestic abuse is identified – all individuals need a package to fit around them.

'It must be a male worker':

  • Although it may present as a solution to take a male worker to meet with a perpetrator of abuse this can add further barriers to meaningful engagement.

'We shouldn't try to engage abusers':

  • It is not helpful to assume that all perpetrators of domestic abuse are monsters! Domestic abuse does not discriminate and affects everyone in the city.

'They won't engage anyway':

  • It is not impossible to engage perpetrators of abuse – it might be more challenging but this is not a reason to give up.

Why is it important to work with perpetrators?

Evidence tells us that if we work with perpetrators and increase their 'visibility' then women and children's safety will improve. Working with perpetrators holds them to account for their abusive behaviour and means that the responsibility to end the abuse does not sit with the victim. Victims will then feel less under scrutiny and not judged so their engagement with services will be more meaningful and honest, thereby avoiding disguised compliance. And when we fully understand risk from both victim's and perpetrator's perspective it is better mitigated.

Although it can be difficult to work with perpetrators if they are not involved in any meetings/processes then this can lead to a real sense of frustration and lack of trust in any professional, thereby raising risk even further to the victim(s) and children. We know that the closest person to the perpetrator is the victim and so any frustration or anger with professionals is most likely to be taken out on them, this often results in further involvement and judgement from services towards the victim and makes them feel at fault for the abuse they are experiencing.

The importance of early engagement with perpetrators cannot be overstated, the earlier they are involved and engaged with processes the better the outcome for any affected victims and children.

Further Good Practice Points

  • It is important that victims of domestic abuse are never asked to pass on messages to perpetrators of abuse. Professionals must not make the assumption that message will be shared. This increases the risk of further incidents occurring and puts the victim in an impossible position – any message will also be filtered through the victim's fear for their safety and their children's safety so is likely to be inaccurate by the time it reaches the perpetrator;
  • It can be easy to be judgemental about a perpetrator based on their behaviour but it is important to get to know them as a person thereby facilitating better engagement and allowing frank and open discussion about their abuse;
  • Prior discussion and risk assessment with the child and non-abusing parent if possible, can best inform the approach.

Techniques to engage with perpetrators

  • LISTEN. Use active listening skills, if you listen to a perpetrator and acknowledge their feelings it doesn't mean that you are colluding with their abusive behaviour;
  • Expect resistance and work with it. Use motivational interviewing techniques to work with resistant perpetrators;
  • Get to know them. Build a strong professional relationship which will then allow more honest and open conversations;
  • Even though it can be tempting, resist challenging abuse directly in the very early stages of engagement, this will put up an immediate barrier which you may not be able to overcome.

Services available in Sheffield for Perpetrators of Domestic Abuse

  • Strengthening Families Team – Domestic abuse key workers across the city working whole family to reduce impact of domestic abuse on victims and their children;
  • Caring Dads Parenting Programme – for more information email Lydia.partington@sheffield.gov.uk;
  • Inspire to Change – county wide voluntary domestic abuse perpetrator programme for those not in the criminal justice system www.inspiretochange.co.uk;
  • Advanced Social Work Practitioners linked to Strengthening Families Domestic Abuse project are located in each Social Care team;
  • Anger management courses are not usually appropriate for domestic abuse perpetrators.

8.5 Assessing Child Contact with an Abusive Parental Partner

"Where there is domestic violence, contact should only happen where it is in the best interests of the child. The following checklist was devised as a means of assessing risk. Without this, we see there being a significant risk to the child's general well being and his or her emotional development." (Sturge and Glaser).

It is important to be aware that there may be a heightened risk of violence at collection and handover of the children at contact and this should be given full consideration by professionals.

Is there evidence that the perpetrator:

  • Acknowledges the abuse;
  • Accepts at least some, responsibility for the abuse;
  • Accepts fully the impact of the abuse on the child and mother, and its inappropriateness;
  • Wishes for contact without making conditions;
  • Wishes to make appropriate reparations to child and mother, and help the child develop appropriate values and attitudes;
  • Expresses regret for the impact on mother;
  • Indicates that s/he can reliably sustain contact in all senses;
  • Respects the child's wishes?
  • Is not using harassment or stalking, or the contact arrangements in order to pressure the mother into resuming the relationship.

Appendix 1: Impact of Domestic Abuse on Adults

This section outlines indicators and impacts of domestic abuse for children and young people and outlines the corresponding indicators and impacts for adults, including men as victims and perpetrators.

Indicators for victims / women

  • Fear or refusal to meet a social worker or other professional separately from her partner;
  • Allowing her partner to speak for her;
  • Alcohol or substance misuse;
  • Frustration taken out on the children;
  • Increasing isolation from friends and family;
  • Decrease in self-care and care of children;
  • Frequent attendance to GP or A&E;
  • Unexplained, or inconsistent explanations for, illnesses and injuries or missed appointments;
  • Depression, self-harm or stress-related illnesses. Low self-esteem;
  • Miscarriages and terminations.

Indicators from men (or women, as perpetrators)

  • Control of finances;
  • Alcohol and substance misuse;
  • Control of partner's movements and social contacts;
  • Answering for his partner and other family members;
  • Indications of a sense of entitlement;
  • Possible intimidating behaviour to other people, including professionals.

Other indicators

  • Abandoned calls to the Police;
  • Repairs requested from housing providers;
  • Arrears or debts;
  • The ill treatment of animals.

Effects on victims

  • Physical injury and sometimes long term disability as a result of injuries;
  • Detrimental effect on the ability to care for child/ren;
  • Lack of financial control, insufficient money for basic needs;
  • Isolation or alienation from family members, and sometimes their own children;
  • Alcohol and substance misuse, and offending behaviour;
  • Loss of confidence, self-esteem and problem solving skills;
  • Loss of identity and withdrawal into themselves;
  • Mental health problems, depression, self-harm, attempted and actual suicide;
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (see above);
  • Trauma as a result of sexual abuse;
  • Death / attempted murder.

Appendix 2: Safety Planning

See also Section 8.1, Safety Planning.

The College of Policing's Authorised professional practice on domestic abuse states that safety planning is a process by which the victim may consult appropriate agencies to discuss increasing personal safety and the safety of any children. It should form part of a partnership approach between professionals, victims and children and may include an assessment of the level of risk, developing a crisis plan and a plan for the future, both short and longer term. See Checklist: Principles of safety planning.

Safety plans should use existing resources and protective factors to establish measures to protect victims and any children and reduce risk. Safety planning provides reassurance to victims and their children, while increasing their awareness of the specific risks associated with domestic abuse. The plan should focus on the individual victim's and children's needs and circumstances, with their safety and protection a priority at every stage.

Many victims will already have safety planning measures in place. These plans can often be supported and developed by professional assistance. Local domestic abuse services and IDVAs have established expertise in carrying out safety planning with victims and others affected by domestic abuse - click here for locally used resources. Police officers should be available to advise on reducing risk and on additional safety measures that can be put in place by the victim, police and others (e.g. housing providers). It is essential to build on the safety measures developed by the victim, rather than insist on dramatic changes or make additional demands upon them.

Safety planning should be formulated to:

  • Assist in reducing the risk of further harm;
  • Reflect and supply information to any risk identification and assessment processes;
  • Build on existing coping strategies;
  • Avoid frustrating existing safety mechanisms, e.g. advice to block the perpetrator's messages would not be appropriate where the victim uses them to know when the perpetrator is angry and coming to their home so that they can prepare and make themselves safe;
  • Recognise the fact that abuse and violence may recur, or the victim may decide to stay with the abuser and increase knowledge of the levels of danger the victim and children may face;
  • Encourage victims and children to think about how they can increase their own safety;
  • Assist victims to focus on their own needs as opposed to the needs of the offender or organisations providing services;
  • Give victims and children a wider range of options, including staying in their own home;
  • Be kept confidential from the offender;
  • Be part of a safety and protection process, and reviewed as necessary rather than a single occurrence;
  • Be appropriate for all domestic abuse victims irrespective of their level of contact with the offender, e.g. whether they are separated or living with the suspect;
  • Involve other agencies or third parties where appropriate and safe to do so, e.g. housing services or employers.
Safety plans need to remain dynamic and should have review periods built into them to coincide with potential trigger points.

Victims are encouraged to report all incidents to the police, or any other agencies that will keep good records, including photographic evidence, body maps of injuries, and details of the psychological effects of the abuse. Police Officers are advised to check how the victim can be contacted safely, obtain their views about the ongoing levels of risk, and inform them about criminal and civil law provisions.

The Domestic Abuse Sanctuary Scheme is a service provided by IDAS for people who are in fear of abuse or harassment from an ex-partner or family member but do not want to leave or have just moved home.

The scheme can offer:

  • Home security including window and door locks;
  • Personal alarms;
  • Letter box covers;
  • Fire-proof letter boxes;
  • External lighting and in some cases, safe rooms.

South Yorkshire Police can also offer special TECSOS phones to help keep high risk victims safe.

There is also acknowledgement that people with insecure immigration status, or from minority ethnic or socially isolated communities, as well as those with some forms of disability, may fear contact with the police and have additional barriers that need to be addressed in safety plans.

Appendix 3: Findings from Research

National Findings

  • Violence against women is major problem in the UK. Almost half of all women in the UK experience domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, and 54% of rapes in the UK are committed by a woman's current or former partner (Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking, Findings from the British Crime Survey, Walby & Allen, 2004);
  • There were 7.9% of women and 4.2% of men (aged 16-59) who reported having experienced any type of domestic abuse in 2017/18, equivalent to an estimated 1.3 million female victims of domestic abuse and 695,000 male victims. (Crime Survey of England and Wales, 2017/18);
  • Overall, 28.9% of women and 13.2% of men had experienced any domestic abuse since the age of 16, equivalent to an estimated 4.7 million female victims of domestic abuse and 2.1 million male victims. (Crime Survey of England and Wales, 2017/18);
  • 32% of female victims of partner abuse who answered the question stated they had been abused more than once in the past year (Crime Survey of England and Wales, 2014/15);
  • 1 in 4 women in the UK experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, and between 6 and 10% during a given year (Council for Europe 2002);
  • In the England and Wales 12% of all offences recorded by the police were domestic abuse related. (Crime Survey of England and Wales, 2017/18);
  • One in 10 emergency calls to police are categorised as domestic violence related, rising in some areas to a fifth of all 999 alerts. Domestic violence conviction rates in the five years to 2011 stood at just 6.5% of incidents reported to police (The Guardian, 2012);
  • 2 women are killed every week in England and Wales by a current or former partner (Office of National Statistics, 2015);
  • 33% of all female victims of homicide in 2017/18 aged 16 and over were killed by a partner or ex-partner;
  • Women are around 4 times as likely as men to have experienced sexual assault by a partner in the last year and nine times as likely to have experienced it since the age of 16;
  • 23% of women who had been a victim of domestic abuse in the last 12 months reported a physical injury. 55% reported psychological side-effects;
  • Women experiencing domestic abuse are up to 15 times more likely to misuse alcohol and 9 times more likely to misuse other drugs than women generally (Stark & Flitcraft 1996);
  • 50 to 60% of women using mental health services have experienced domestic abuse and 20% will be suffering current abuse (Women's Aid 2004);
  • There is a high correlation of homicide and serious injury to women at the point of separating from a violent partner, especially if he believes he 'owns' her. The woman's departure is seen as the ultimate betrayal justifying retaliation (Saunders & Browne 1990);
  • Women with uncertain immigration status (e.g. on spouse visa) have 'no recourse to public funds', so believe they are not eligible for the protection provided by refuges, and are forced to stay with abusive husbands (Southall Black Sisters, 2004).

Local Findings

The Crime Survey estimates that 7.9% of women have experienced domestic abuse in the last year and 28.9% have experienced domestic abuse at some point since the age of 16.

In Sheffield, the adult female population is (16-59) is 165,379 (2017 mid year estimates) so it is likely that:

  • Around 13,000 females have experienced domestic abuse in the last year;
  • At least 5,330 of these females had children in the household which would equate to around 8,000 children;
  • Around 47,800 females in Sheffield have experienced domestic abuse at some point since the age of 16.

In the 2015/16 financial year:

South Yorkshire Police recorded 14,043 domestic abuse incidents in Sheffield

  • 37% of incidents were repeat victims;
  • Children were present in the household at most of the incidents - almost 1,000 in total;
  • 32% of cases at MARAC were repeat victimisation.

Research Findings: Children and Young People

Information from the Supporting Document for Domestic Abuse Commissioning.

Children and Young people are affected in a number of ways by domestic violence; be it living in a household where domestic abuse happens, sometimes witnessing the violence, or as the new National Police Chief's Council definition recognises for 16 and 17 year olds being in an abusive relationship either as a victim or a perpetrator or by being moved physically from the family home to a refuge with their mother (this list is not exclusive). Previously victims aged 16 and 17 years was hidden as it was not classified as domestic abuse.

National Information on Children & Young People

  • Around 1 in 5 children" have been exposed to domestic abuse (Radford L. et al (2011), Child abuse and neglect in the UK today);
  • 12% of under 11s, have been exposed to domestic violence between adults in their homes during childhood. 29.6% of children aged 5 to 11 who have been exposed to domestic abuse have been living with domestic abuse their whole lives. (Insights National Dataset briefing 2017);
  • 130,000 children live in households with high-risk domestic abuse, thousands more live with less serious domestic abuse every day (Safelives.org.uk);
  • 62% of children exposed to domestic abuse are also directly harmed (Safelives.org.uk);
  • Three-quarters of domestic abuse incidents are witnessed by a child (Royal College of Psychiatrists website);
  • There are numerous studies looking at the impact of living with domestic violence as a child: a third of children witnessing domestic violence also experienced another form of abuse (Radford et al (2011));
    • Whitfield et al (2003) as cited in a NSPCC commissioned report by Asmussen 2010 [3] found that persons who had experienced childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse and growing up with a mother who was a victim of domestic abuse the risk of victimisation and perpetration was increased 3.5-fold for women and 3.8-fold for men;
    • Similarly Anda et al, 2005 as cited in Protecting People, Promoting Health, 2012 found individuals suffering an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), (e.g. domestic violence, family breakdown) were more likely to suffer higher levels of violence as an adult and more likely to become a perpetrator of domestic violence. As adolescents they were more likely to perpetrate bullying, fighting and date violence, to carry weapons, to have self-harmed and attempted suicide than those who had not. The more frequent and number of types of ACE incidents experienced, the more likely this could happen;
    • A meta-analysis [4] reviewed 41 studies and found consistency in their findings; a significant relationship between childhood exposure to domestic violence and internalising and externalising problems in children. Such behaviours included violence and aggression but also included hostility, aggression, depression, anxiety, amnesia and low self-esteem.
  • CAADA [5] found that teenage victims of domestic abuse experienced similar levels of abuse to adult victims; of the total victims studied 76% were physically abused, 78% were victims of controlling behaviour and 53% were harassed.

Young Victims (aged 16 to 19 years)

Young People's Prevalence data - where the victim is aged between 16 and 19 years

  • Among both men and women, the prevalence of domestic abuse was higher for younger age groups. Women aged between 16 and 19 and between 20 and 24 were more likely to be victims of any domestic abuse (7.9% and 14.6% of the respective population) compared with those aged between 45 and 54 and between 55 and 59 (6.2% and 7.2% respectively) (Crime Survey of England and Wales, 2017/18);

Based on the CSEW findings and using 2017 mid-year population estimates, an estimated Sheffield prevalence of being a victim of domestic abuse in the last year for 16 – 19 year olds could be as follows:

  Males Females Total 16 - 19 years
No. 16 – 19 year olds (ONS 2017 mid-year estimate) 15,509 15,121 30,630
CSEW 17/18 estimated domestic abuse prevalence 16-19 year olds 6% 7.9%  
Estimated prevalence 931 1,195 2,126

The above table estimates that 2,126 people aged between 16 and 19 years may have been a victim of domestic abuse in Sheffield in the last 12 months, 1,195 females and 931 males. For both males and females, this represents over 10% of the overall estimated prevalence of domestic abuse aged 16 – 59.

Data recorded by commissioned providers shows that 4.3% of people receiving support during 2017/18 were between the ages of 16 and 19. Based on this age group representing 10% of the overall estimated prevalence for victims of domestic abuse aged 16 – 59.

The estimated prevalence of sexual abuse among 16 – 19 year olds is 3% for males and 8.8% for females, based on the findings of the CSEW in 2016/17. Using these estimates we can estimate prevalence in Sheffield of:

  Males Females Total 16 - 19 years
No. 16 – 19 year olds (ONS 2017 mid-year estimate) 15,509 15,121 30.630
CSEW 16/17 estimated sexual abuse prevalence 3% 8.8%  
Estimated prevalence 465 1,331 1,796

The estimates suggest that 1,331 females and 465 males aged 16 -19 could have been a victim of sexual assault in the last year.

Caution should be taken using the above estimates as it uses estimated national prevalence percentage and applies them to the Sheffield census population.

MARAC data for Sheffield tells us that:

  • That 1,142 children were affected within the 783 cases that went to MARAC in 2018;
  • In 2018, 2.2% of the cases discussed were of a victim aged 16 – 17.

Children living in a household where domestic abuse occurs

There is no specific national calculation to estimate locally the number of children affected / living with a female victim of domestic abuse in Sheffield. However efforts have been made using the CSEW data and those accessing support services during 2018 to provide the estimation below:

Prevalence Estimation Based on
Total female victims (16 - 59 years) 13,000 CSEW prevalence and ONS population data
Proportion of clients in support with a child / children 57% Provider data
Number of victims with a child 7,410 Based on 57% of those in support living with a child / children
Average number of children per victim 2 Provider data
Estimated number of children living with a mother that is experiencing domestic abuse 14,820 Based on estimated victims with a child / children and average number of children per victim

The table estimates that there are potentially over 14,000 children living with a female victims of domestic abuse in Sheffield. This is based on 57% of victims recorded by DACT commissioned that received support during 2018 and are recorded as living with a child / children, and the average of 2 children per household. This figure should be used with caution and is provided as an indication.