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4.14 Domestic Abuse


  1. Introduction
  2. Indicators of Domestic Abuse
  3. Additional Issues to Consider in the Child Protection Process
  4. Interventions and Domestic Abuse

1. Introduction


For the purpose of these procedures Domestic Abuse is defined as

"Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality"


An intimate relationship can refer to relationships involving:

  • Partners;
  • Siblings;
  • Parents in law;
  • Other adult relatives;
  • Parents and child(ren).
1.3 Most reported cases of Domestic Abuse involve the abuse of women by men, although violence does occur in same sex relationships and men can also be victims.  Information currently shows that 81% of victims are women and 19% are men (British Crime Survey 2002).
1.4 Children experiencing, including witnessing, Domestic Abuse are seen as Children in Need who may be at risk of Significant Harm and a referral to Social Services must be made – see Referral to Social Services Procedure for more information.
1.5 Prolonged and/or regular exposure to Domestic Abuse can have a serious impact on a child(ren)’s development and emotional well-being, despite the best efforts of the non-abusing parent to protect the child(ren). This can include witnessing or overhearing incidents of Domestic Abuse.
1.6 Domestic Abuse episodes can begin or escalate during pregnancy. Domestic Abuse can pose a threat to an unborn child(ren), because assaults on pregnant women frequently involve punches or kicks directed to the abdomen, risking injury to both mother and unborn child(ren).
1.7 Violence and/or threats of violence may continue after separation.  Research suggests that victims may be at greater risk when preparing or attempting to leave, or through contact arrangements.
1.8 Everyone working with women and children should be alert to the possible inter-relationship between Domestic Abuse and the abuse and neglect of children. Where there is evidence of Domestic Abuse, the implications for any children in the household should be considered, including the possibility that the children may themselves be subject to violence or other harm. Conversely, where it is believed that a child(ren) is/are being abused, workers should be alert to the possibility of Domestic Abuse within the family.

2. Indicators of Domestic Abuse


Children’s behaviours may indicate that they live with Domestic Abuse. Such indicators may include:

  • Refusal or reluctance to discuss own or parents’ injuries;
  • Withdrawal from physical contact;
  • Child(ren) show/s fear of returning home or leaving home;
  • School refusal or a reluctance to leave school;
  • Self-destructive tendencies in children;
  • Aggression towards others;
  • Running away from home;
  • Excessive tiredness;
  • Frequent accidental injuries;
  • Lack of social relationships;
  • Physical, mental and emotional developmental delay;
  • Over reaction to mistakes;
  • Sudden speech disorders;
  • Sudden changes of demeanour;
  • Neurotic behaviour (e.g. rocking, hair twisting, thumb sucking);
  • Extremes of passivity or aggression;
  • Drug/solvent abuse;
  • Eating disorders.
2.2 This list is not exhaustive. It should also be noted that these might also be indicators of other forms of abuse or situations in the family, not only Domestic Abuse.

Behaviours in adults may indicate that they live with Domestic Abuse.  Such indicators may include:

  • Failure to keep appointments;
  • Alleged abuse of children in the household;
  • Poor health, disability, drug and alcohol abuse;
  • Anxiety over timekeeping;
  • Lack of eye contact;
  • Inconsistent injuries;
  • Untreated injuries;
  • Low self-esteem;
  • Living with a known abuser;
  • Always accompanied by partner;
  • Isolation;
  • Constantly deferring to partner;
  • Abuse of pets in household.
2.4 This is not exhaustive and some of these indicators could also relate to depression, stress, mental illness and being a victim of abuse when younger.

The Significant Harm Threshold is likely to have been reached when there is evidence that any of the following are present:

  • Parental Domestic Abuse is adversely impacting on a child’s health and development;
  • The child has witnessed Domestic Abuse;
  • The non-abusing parent is not able to provide a safe and secure environment for the child.

3. Additional Issues to Consider in the Child Protection Process


Where there are concerns about Domestic Abuse and it is decided to commence a Section 46 Enquiry, the Strategy Meeting should be aware of:

  • The power and control of the perpetrator affecting the assessment process;
  • The potential increase in risk to the victim and child(ren) as a result of the child protection enquiry;
  • The psychological impact of living with Domestic Abuse which can lead to the abuse of drugs, alcohol and the development of mental ill health;
  • The Strategy Meeting should agree what information can be shared; however the victim’s safety could be compromised if their whereabouts are discussed;
  • The safety of the family must be paramount;
  • Consideration must always be given to the safety of professionals involved in the enquiries.

4. Interventions and Domestic Abuse

4.1 Interventions, in situations of Domestic Abuse, need to take account of the evidence that children can suffer serious long term damage through living in a household where Domestic Abuse and abuse is taking place, even though they have never themselves been directly harmed. This evidence is reflected in the extension of the legal definition of harm within the proposed Children’s Bill 2010 to include impairment through seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another, particularly in the home, even though they themselves have not been directly assaulted or abused.

The most effective intervention for ensuring safe and positive outcomes for children living with Domestic Abuse is usually to plan a package of support that incorporates:

4.3 When planning interventions, account should be taken of a study of twenty-nine child homicides occurring in England and Wales as a result of contact arrangements with a violent parent. This found that, despite the involvement of statutory services with most of the families, children were often not spoken to or assessed and Domestic Abuse was viewed as an ‘adult problem,’ rather than a child protection issue. With regard to three out of thirteen families, contact orders had been granted to very violent fathers either against professional advice, without waiting for professional advice or without requesting professional advice. See Twenty-nine Child Homicides: Lessons Still to be Learnt on Domestic Abuse and Child Protection (Women's Aid 2004).