1.4.6 Domestic Abuse

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Domestic abuse is a broad description of situations that develop within the home / family environment where power is exercised to the detriment of one party.

Where there is domestic abuse, the wellbeing of the children in the household must be promoted and all assessments must consider the need to safeguard the children.


Female Genital Mutilation Procedure


In April 2016, this chapter has been amended to take into account The Serious Crime Act 2015 which created an offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familial relationships.


1. Introduction

All agencies must ensure their staff, carers and volunteers are fully aware of effects of domestic abuse on children (including unborn babies). Any individual organisations' policies and procedures must provide for the need to share information with others where domestic abuse comes to their attention in their work.

Risk factors for becoming the victim of domestic abuse include age (women in younger age groups, in particular in those aged 16-24 years are at greatest risk) and pregnancy. The greatest risk is for teenage mothers and during the period just after a women has given birth.

Domestic abuse rarely exists in isolation. Everyone working with women and children should be alert to the frequent inter-relationship between domestic abuse and other issues such as mental ill health, drug and/or alcohol misuse, homelessness and housing need, deprivation and social exclusion, or child abuse and/or animal abuse.

A child may also be the victim of domestic abuse through her or his own involvement in an abusive relationship e.g. a young person may be involved in a relationship with an abusive girlfriend/boyfriend.

1.1 Definition

In March 2013, the Government definition of domestic abuse was widened to include those aged 16-17 and the wording changed to reflect coercive control. (Note that this is not a legal definition). The new definition is:

'Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse:

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

'Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour.

Coercive behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim.'

The definition includes 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.

Guidance for local areas on the implications of the changed definition can be found in Section 10, Training and References.

2. The Child

Where there is domestic abuse, the implications for the children and young people in the household must be considered because research indicates a strong link between domestic abuse and all types of child abuse and neglect. Prolonged or regular exposure to domestic abuse can have a serious impact on a child's development and emotional well-being, despite the best efforts of the victim parent to protect the child.

Domestic abuse is associated with an increased risk of child abuse, deaths and serious injury for children and young people and the risk for young babies in environments where there is domestic abuse has been a recurring theme in Serious Case Reviews (Brandon et al 2009).

The potentially unresponsive and neglectful parenting that can be a feature of an abusive relationship between parents presents a risk to babies, children and young people.

Research on effects of abuse and neglect on child development has shown that babies up to 18 months of age are particularly vulnerable to developing damaged and insecure attachments to their parents when the parents are in a volatile relationship with domestic abuse. Later in life, the child’s ability to develop social and emotional capabilities can be at serious risk. An understanding of these risks should assist with identifying the need for prompt action to protect a baby.

Domestic abuse can have a serious impact on a child's development and emotional well-being.Significant Harm to the child as a result of domestic abuse may arise from:

  • Physical injury during an incident, either by accident or because they attempt to intervene;
  • If not directly injured, children are greatly distressed by witnessing the physical and emotional suffering of a parent, which can lead to anxiety and distress often resulting in:
    • Behavioural issues;
    • Low self esteem;
    • Depression;
    • Absenteeism;
    • Ill health;
    • Bullying;
    • Antisocial or criminal behaviour;
    • Drug and alcohol misuse;
    • Self harm.
  • A negative impact on the victim's ability to look after her/his child/ren as a result of physical assaults and/or psychological abuse;
  • Being drawn into the abuse or pressurised into concealing the assaults.

The unborn child is at risk of injury because abuse towards women increases both in severity and frequency during pregnancy, and often involves punches or kicks directed at the women’s abdomen.

In almost one third of cases, domestic abuse begins or escalates during pregnancy, and it is associated with increased rates of miscarriage, premature birth, foetal injury and foetal death. (DH 2009). Staff providing antenatal services need to be alert to and competent in recognising the risks of harm to the unborn child.

A child or young person may also be the victim of domestic abuse through her or his own involvement in a violent relationship e.g. a young person may be involved in a relationship with a violent girlfriend/boyfriend.

3. The Adult

Possible indicators of domestic abuse:

  • Evidence of single or repeated injuries with unlikely explanations;
  • Frequent use of prescribed tranquillisers or pain medication;
  • Injuries to the breast, chest and abdomen especially during pregnancy;
  • Evidence of sexual or frequent gynaecological problems;
  • Frequent visits to GP with vague complaints or symptoms;
  • Stress or anxiety disorders; isolation from friends, family or colleagues; depression, panic attacks or other symptoms; alcohol and/or drug abuse; suicide attempts or child presenting with behavioural difficulties at school;
  • Appearing frightened, ashamed or evasive; a partner who is extremely jealous or possessive; minimisation of abuse accepting blame for 'deserving' the abuse; 
  • Irregular or late attendance for ante-natal care.

When a victim is not being seen alone, staff should also be alert to the following combination of signals:

  • The victim waits for her/his partner to speak first;
  • The victim glances at her/his partner each time s/he speaks, checking her/his reaction;
  • The victim smoothes over any conflict;
  • The partner speaks for most of the time;
  • The partner sends clear signals to the victim, by eye / body movement, facial expression or verbally, to warn them;
  • The partner has a range of complaints about the victim, which s/he does not defend.

Practitioners should be aware that some victims may face additional difficulty in disclosing abuse for instance:

  • Older or disabled victims may be dependent on the abuser for care;
  • Parents may fear the removal of children (it is important to stress that unless there is evidence of serious neglect or abuse this fear is almost certainly unfounded);
  • Victims from black or ethnic minority groups, where the abuse is perpetrated by extended family members or relate to forced marriage issues, may be more isolated due to religious and/or cultural pressures, language barriers, having no recourse to public funds or fear of bringing shame to their 'family honour';
  • Male victims who feel ashamed due to perceived stigma attached to being a man who lets a woman be violent towards him;
  • Victims from same sex relationships who fear stigma and prejudice.

Victims with other problems e.g. mental health or substance misuse issues, may fear that they will not be believed.

Victims will want the abuse to stop, but may want to save the relationship.

Victims are at increased risk at the point of leaving, or having recently left the violent partner and may need support.

Dealing with the abuse is a complex process that will take time to resolve in a way that is effective in the long term, and there may be repeated requests for help. A victim will need continuing support and the full range of services each time, not less. Victims may experience a cycle in response to the abuse and may alternate between engaging and not.

A parent and child/ren fleeing from domestic abuse may require a significant level of support as they may be:

  • Experiencing problems with housing, finance and employment;
  • Isolated from usual family support / community networks - especially if moved / placed outside their home area;
  • Struggling to provide / maintain stability.

Women and men with children fleeing domestic abuse may receive support from the housing department and/or MKAct. Children's Social Care could be included in planning the course of action if relocation is necessary.

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 a person via online communication tools or using spyware;
  • Taking control over aspects of their everyday life, such as where they can go, who they can see, what to wear and when they can sleep;
  • Depriving them of access to support services, such as specialist support or medical services;
  • Repeatedly putting them down such as telling them they are worthless;
  • Enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim;
  • Forcing the victim to take part in criminal activity such as shoplifting, neglect or abuse of children to encourage self-blame and prevent disclosure to authorities;
  • Financial abuse including control of finances, such as only allowing a person a punitive allowance;
  • Threats to hurt or kill;
  • Threats to a child;
  • Threats to reveal or publish private information (e.g. threatening to ‘out’ someone).
  • Assault;
  • Criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods);
  • Rape;
  • Preventing a person from having access to transport or from working.

4. Agency Assessments and Information Sharing

Any agency assessment should consider the possibility of domestic abuse and ensure organisational responses safeguard both the child and non-abusing parent.

Adequately assess the heightened risks for babies that arise from domestic abuse in the home.

Consideration must also be given to young people who may themselves be in violent relationships.

On notification / disclosure / suspicion of domestic abuse within a family, all agencies must immediately consult existing records and consider what else is known of the family and any previous domestic incidents.

When assessing the risk relating to domestic abuse the unborn child must be considered as a victim and as a child who was present.

Health professionals are often the only agency that has involvement with a family, so they have significant opportunities for direct contact and observation of families to enable them to detect potential risks to vulnerable babies. Practitioners should confidently use and share the evidence from their direct observation and knowledge of parents and their babies to inform assessment of risks.

There is a need for coordination between the different aspects of health provision involved with the safeguarding of babies, particularly on the transfer of care between midwifery services, health visitors and GP's. 

Multi-agency work and information sharing (see Agency Roles and Responsibilities Procedure) is crucial in safeguarding children and adults in situations of domestic abuse.

Each case should be judged on its own merits, but there are times when best practice is to share information / make referrals, even when this is initially without the knowledge of the parties involved or contrary to their specific wishes.

The decision to share or not to share information of incidents domestic abuse or concerns must be recorded, with its rationale.

The Early Help Assessment is a simple assessment for use by practitioners in all agencies to clarify concerns they may have about a child and communicate and work more effectively together. It can be used to identify domestic abuse and to provide support to families where this is an issue.

Professionals should refer to the MKSCB Levels of Need  document (revised April 2019) for an understanding of how domestic abuse fits into the Early Help process and when a referral to Children’s Social Care may be necessary.

An Early Help Assessment should be considered for all children who witness or hear domestic abuse when they do not meet the threshold for a referral to Children’s Social Care.

The ‘Windscreen’ and ‘Indicators of possible need’ section will determine the practitioner’s decision about what support should be offered.

5. Children’s Social Care

Practitioners must consider a referral to Children’s Social Care and consult with them where the concerns about a child or unborn baby are at level 3 or 4 of the ‘Windscreen’. 

The decision about where a child’s needs fit within the windscreen will depend on:

  • The age and vulnerability of the child;
  • The number of previous incidents;
  • Whether there have been any previous serious incidents/escalation in frequency and/or severity of incidents;
  • Whether the child themselves is involved in a violent relationship (for example an adolescent relationship).

Consultation with the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) can be undertaken to establish if there is any previous knowledge of the family.

Practitioners must telephone the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) if a child is considered to be at immediate risk of significant harm or if they have suffered harm as a result of domestic abuse

Significant harm can occur where there is a single event, such as a violent assault. However, more often, significant harm is identified when there have been a number of events which have compromised the child’s physical and psychological wellbeing. 

Practitioners will be asked to follow up this call with a written Multi-Agency Referral Form (MARF).

Where there is domestic abuse 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. (Working Together to Safeguard Children 2010, 11.88, now archived).

Any decision (and its rationale) not to refer or consult with Children's Social Care must be recorded.

6. The Police

Police are often the first point of contact with victims and they (or any other agency that becomes aware of domestic abuse) should safeguard the victim and:

  • Ascertain whether there are any children living in the household or if the victim is pregnant;
  • Make a preliminary determination of the degree of exposure of the children to the incidents of abuse and its consequent impact;
  • Provide the victim with information on local support services and refuge details, taking into account any ethnic or cultural issues (i.e. National Helpline, local specialist agencies / help-lines, MKAct, Victim Support - local contacts information).

Where there are children under the age of 18 years in the household, the police officer attending a domestic incident must:

  • Send a copy of the attendance form to the relevant police domestic abuse unit (DAU); and
  • Confirm that they have provided relevant information leaflets on local support services and refuge details (or provide an explanation if this has not been accomplished).

The police should advise parents verbally that a record will be given to other agencies. However, the varied circumstances of police attendance may mean that this does not always happen explicitly. Nevertheless, police will still need to share this information (including outcome of the risk assessment) with other agencies as described below (See Information Sharing and Confidentiality Procedure).

A copy of the police form should be forwarded electronically from the DVU to the local Children's Social Care office within 48 hours of the incident.

A copy of each domestic incident notification involving under 5’s must be sent to health designated professionals.

Victim Support should be notified, using direct data transfer, if the aggrieved person requests that it is informed.

Children’s Social Care response to police notification

Following consultation of agency history, Children's Social Care must decide how to respond to each communication of domestic abuse.

The Children's Social Care duty manager may decide to treat the communication as 'information and advice' only if all the following apply:

  • The report concerns a minor incident; and
  • There are no other indicators of risk and there are no high risk indicators in the police assessment.

Further information from other agencies may be required before a decision can be made about the appropriate threshold of response.

In making the decision about seeking information prior to / after direct contact with the family, consideration should be given to the:

  • Likely impact to the child and the adult victim, including the possibility of increasing the risk of domestic abuse;
  • Need for an approach that takes full account of information available on home circumstances.

The police should have already provided the victim with information leaflets.

Careful consideration should be given to the purpose and method of contacting the family, particularly in relation to the wording of any letters sent out to the family.

Where the threshold criteria for a Children's Social Care Child and Family Single Assessment or aSection 47 Enquiry are not met, consideration should be given to the use of universal services undertaking an Early Help Assessment.

7. Child and Family Single Assessment / Section 47 Enquiries

Normally one serious or several lesser incidents of domestic abuse where there is a child in the household indicate that children’s social care should carry out a Child and Family Single Assessment of the child and family, including consulting existing records. Babies under 12 months old are particularly vulnerable to domestic abuse.

A Child and Family Single Assessment should also be considered, by the Children's Social Care duty manager, for lesser incidents where there are possible concerns about the welfare of the children, where the family is high risk on the police assessment.

Where the family refuse to co-operate with a Child and Family Single Assessment consideration should be given to undertaking a Section 47 Enquiry.

Circumstances where a Section 47 Enquiry should be undertaken include where:

  • A child has experienced harm during any domestic abuse incident (even if inadvertently injured);
  • A child has witnessed another being seriously injured or abused;
  • The victim is pregnant or there is a baby under 12 months in the household;
  • There has been an escalation in frequency and/or severity of incidents;  
  • The violence involved sexual assault or attempted strangulation or the use of weapons or threats to kill;
  • Where a child is known to be involved in a violent relationship, e.g. a young person may be involved in a relationship with a violent girlfriend/boyfriend.

Whenever a Child and Family Single Assessment or Section 47 Enquiry is undertaken there must be liaison with all agencies involved with the family and the child/ren must be seen

Assessment Process

Opportunities should be provided for both partners to be interviewed separately, and in a safe setting.

Many victims of domestic abuse feel unable to disclose its existence or severity. The following issues should be discussed with the alleged victim as part of any assessment:

  • Severity, frequency and history of any abuse, threats etc.;
  • Circumstances of the abuse and if compounded by drugs / alcohol;
  • Extent and nature of the children's experience of the abuse;
  • Perception of risk to the child/ren;
  • Threats used - consider all household member;
  • Available options - immediate and in the future;
  • Factors that prevent the victim taking action to protect self and children;  
  • Whether it is possible to share victim's perceptions with the alleged perpetrator.

The alleged victim of abuse should be advised of the availability of legal advice and the options available through the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Family Law Act 1996 Part IV.

The interview with the alleged perpetrator of the abuse should be planned carefully between the worker and their line manager. Care must be taken not to disclose addresses or make unsafe contact arrangements.

If there is an acknowledgement of abuse, the interview should clarify the points above. Where there is no acknowledgement of abuse and it is not possible to share the victim's account, there should be general discussions about the children's welfare.

The children should be interviewed (if of sufficient age and understanding) and their experiences explored. It is important to consider the possibility that a child may have experienced direct abuse her/himself and /or may be.

Inhibited from disclosing concerns due to fear of (further) domestic abuse.


If a Child Protection Conference is held, consideration will be given to any need to exclude the violent partner for part or all of the meeting.

The local authority may pursue legal options of:

  • Relocation of alleged perpetrators of abuse;
  • Injunctions attached to a Prohibited Steps Order;
  • Exclusion conditions attached to an Emergency Protection Order and Interim Care Order;  
  • An injunction under the Housing Act 1996 (chapter III of Part V) to restrain anti-social behaviour with power of arrest attached, where abuse has occurred or is threatened.

Women and men with children fleeing domestic abuse may receive support from the housing department. Children's Social Care could be included in planning the course of action if relocation is necessary

8. Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Committee (MARAC)

The MARAC is a multi-agency meeting that provides safety planning for high-risk victims and their families, through formulation of a Risk Management Plan, to ensure a joined up approach to intervention to keep them safe. The Committee sits once a month and its purpose is to discuss High Risk domestic abuse cases which have been nominated by any of the attending agencies.

The meeting is chaired by the police Protecting Vulnerable People (PVP) Unit DI and is attended by representatives from Children's Social Care, Adult Social Care, MKAct, Crime Reduction Initiative (CRI), MKC Housing, MKC Reducing Violence Manager, Probation and Health.

The aims of MARAC are as follows:

  • To share information to increase the safety, health and well-being of victims - adults and their children;
  • To determine whether the perpetrator poses a significant risk to any particular individual or to the general community;
  • To construct jointly and implement together a coordinated risk management plan that provides professional support to all those at risk and that reduces the risk of harm;
  • To reduce repeat victimisation;
  • To improve agency accountability;
  • Improve support for staff involved in High Risk Domestic Abuse cases.

Any agency can refer a case which fits the High Risk criteria to MARAC, and its role is to facilitate, monitor and evaluate effective information-sharing to enable appropriate actions to be taken to increase public safety. 

Responsibility for individual actions remains with the individual agency and is not transferred to the MARAC.

9. Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (‘Clare’s Law’)

9.1 Domestic Violence Protection Orders

Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) were implemented across England and Wales from 8 March 2014.

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

With DVPOs, a perpetrator can be banned with immediate effect from returning to a residence and from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days, allowing the victim time to consider their options and get the support they need.

9.2 Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (‘Clare’s Law’)

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) (also known as ‘Clare’s Law’)  commenced in England and Wales on 8 March 2014. The DVDS gives members of the public a formal mechanism to make enquires about an individual who they are in a relationship with, or who is in a relationship with someone they know, where there is a concern that the individual may be violent towards their partner. This scheme adds a further dimension to the information sharing about children where there are concerns that domestic abuse is impacting on the care and welfare of the children in the family.

Members of the public can make an application for a disclosure, known as the ‘right to ask’. Anybody can make an enquiry, but information will only be given to someone at risk or a person in a position to safeguard the victim. The scheme is for anyone in an intimate relationship regardless of gender.

Partner agencies can also request disclosure is made of an offender’s past history where it is believed someone is at risk of harm. This is known as ‘right to know’.

If a potentially violent individual is identified as having convictions for violent offences, or information is held about their behaviour which reasonably leads the police and other agencies to believe they pose a risk of harm to their partner, the police will consider disclosing the information. A disclosure can be made if it is legal, proportionate and necessary to do so.

10. Training and References

Specialist domestic abuse training is provided by the MKSCB for all child protection leads, designated staff and other identified personnel. Specialist domestic abuse training should be accessed by all identified child protection leads. This includes Designated Teachers, nominated key staff within Children's / Young Peoples services. Within health, key staff will include maternity staff, health visitors, school nurses, emergency department staff, GP's, sexual health and Children's Nurses.


Brandon, M et al. (2009) Understanding Serious Case Reviews and their Impact: A Biennial Analysis of Serious Case Reviews 2005-7. London: Department for Children Schools and Families.

Department of Health (2009), Improving safety, reducing harm: children, young people and domestic abuse. A practical toolkit for front-line practitioners. London: Department of Health.

Harrykissoon SD, Vaughn IR, Wiemann CM (2002) Prevalence and patterns of intimate partner violence among adolescent mothers during the post partum period. Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 156: 325-30.

Information for Local Areas on the Change to the Definition of domestic abuse (2013) Home Office.

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