7.4 Domestic Violence and Abuse


Definition of domestic violence and abuse: guide for local areas (2013)

NICE Guidance Domestic violence and abuse

Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme Guidance


This chapter was updated September 2014 to reflect Domestic Violence Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (‘Clare’s Law’) which came into force March 2014 and in 2023 to reflect the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

1. Introduction

The DA Act made the statutory definition of domestic abuse.   This is: 

Behaviour of a person (“A”) towards another person (“B”) is “domestic abuse” if—

(a) A and B are each aged 16 or over and are personally connected to each other, and

(b)the behaviour is abusive.

Behaviour is “abusive” if it consists of any of the following—

(a)physical or sexual abuse;

(b)violent or threatening behaviour;

(c)controlling or coercive behaviour;

(d)economic abuse (see subsection (4));

(e)psychological, emotional or other abuse;

and it does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident or a course of conduct.

“Economic abuse” means any behaviour that has a substantial adverse effect on B’s ability to—

(a)acquire, use or maintain money or other property, or

(b)obtain goods or services.

For the purposes of this Act A’s behaviour may be behaviour “towards” B despite the fact that it consists of conduct directed at another person (for example, B’s child).

If the child experiences the impact of the domestic abuse and they are related to either the victim or the perpetrator of the abuse, they are a victim within their own right.

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 Domestic Abuse Act 2021 extended the powers and protections around Coercive Control.  Prior to the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, a person could only be guilty of coercive control if they were still in a relationship/or living with the person they were abusing.  A person can now be convicted of coercive control to ex-intimate partners.  Relatives who live in separate homes can also be convicted of coercive control

The majority (67%) of domestic abuse is committed by men towards women (Home Office 2022). It can also involve men being abused by their female partners, abuse in same sex relationships, and by young people towards other family members, as well as the abuse of older people in families. Domestic abuse occurs irrespective of social class, racial, ethnic, cultural, religious or sexual relationships or identity and roughly equate to 10% of all crime (Home Office 2022).

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

No one agency can address all the needs of people affected by, or perpetrating, domestic violence and abuse.

By having a statutory definition enables it Domestic abuse is properly understood and gives Everybody a better understanding of what is considered unacceptable – including non-physical abuse.  This mean Domestic Abuse can be actively challenged across statutory agencies and in public attitudes.

For intervention to be effective the agencies and partner organisations of the Safeguarding Children Board need to work together, and be prepared to take on the challenges that domestic violence and abuse creates.

2. Domestic Violence Protection Notice (DAPN)

The DA Act 2021 introduced civil Domestic Abuse Protection Notice (DAPN) to provide immediate protection following a domestic abuse incident.  This follows the same the same rules as a DVPN (which are no longer be available).

The Aim of DAPN/O's is to put conditions in place to protect victims and allow them to make longer term safety changes – link this to Cycle of Abuse and how change is more likely to occur after and incident and before excuses and apologies are able to take place.

They provide protection to victims by enabling the police and magistrates to put in place protection in the immediate aftermath of a domestic violence incident.  THE DAPN needs to be signed by a senior police officer (inspector or higher) and it offers protection for up to 48 hours.  The police can issue these without consent of victims if they feel it is their best interest. 

3. Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO)

A Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO) provide flexibles, longer-term protection for victims.  It replaces the DVPO.

DAPOs can be changed to reflect changes to risk and it:

  • Can impose conditions such as electronic tagging
  • A breach of the order carries a 5 year sentence and/or fine
  • A domestic abuse protection order has effect:
    • (a)for a specified period,
    • (b)until the occurrence of a specified event, or
    • (c)until further order.

4. 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 8th March 2014 and was made statue in the DA act 2021. 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 violence and 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.

The DA 2021 did not not change the legal basis under which the police can make a disclosure but it will make sure that the scheme is used and applied consistently across all police forces and will help increase the number of applications by creating greater guidance.

5. The Child

Prolonged or regular exposure to domestic violence and 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 violence and abuse has an impact in a number of ways. The impact will be exacerbated when violence is combined with any form of substance misuse.

See also Children of Parents who Misuse Substances Procedure.

Domestic violence and abuse may have a long term psychological and emotional impact in a number of ways:

  • Children may be greatly distressed by witnessing (seeing or hearing) the physical and emotional suffering of a parent, or witnessing the outcome of any assault;
  • Children may be pressurised into concealing assaults, and experience the fear and anxiety of living in an environment where abuse occurs;
  • The domestic violence and abuse may impact negatively on an adult victims parenting capacity;
  • Children may be drawn into the violence and themselves become victims of physical abuse.

For children living in situations of domestic violence and abuse the effects may result in behavioural issues, absence from school, difficulties concentrating, lower school achievement, ill health, bullying, substance misuse, self-harm, running away, anti-social behaviour and physical injury.

During pregnancy domestic violence and abuse can pose a threat to an unborn child as assaults on pregnant women often involve punches or kicks directed at the abdomen, risking injury to both the mother and the foetus. In almost a third of cases domestic violence and abuse begins or escalates during pregnancy and it is associated with increased rates of miscarriage, premature birth, foetal injury and foetal death. The mother may be prevented from seeking or receiving anti-natal care or post-natal care. In addition if the mother is being abused this can effect her attachment to her child, more so if the pregnancy is a result of rape by her partner.

Young people themselves can be subjected to domestic abuse perpetrated in order to force them into marriage or to punish him/her for ‘bringing dishonour on the family’. This abuse may be carried out by several members of a family increasing the young person’s sense of isolation and powerlessness. See Forced Marriages Procedure.

Young women in the 16 to 24 age group are most at risk of being victims of domestic violence and abuse, some of which may be teenage mothers. Research by the University of Bristol and the NSPCC has also found that young people in the 13 to 16 age group are also vulnerable to abuse within relationships.

Whilst young people are under the age of 18 years they should receive support and safeguarding in line with the Children Act 1989 and Children Act 2004.

Children who are experiencing domestic violence and abuse or conflict may benefit from a range of support and services; some may be suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm.

The three key imperatives of any intervention for children living with domestic violence and abuse are:

  1. To protect the child/ren, including unborn child/ren;
  2. To empower the adult victim to protect themselves and their children;
  3. To hold the abusive partner accountable for the violence and provide opportunities for change.

6. Confidentiality

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

Professionals must ensure that their efforts do not trigger an escalation of violence by only raising the issue with the child or adult victim when they are safely on their own. It is essential in contact with children and parents to be realistic and honest about the limits of confidentiality. In some cases a child may be in need of immediate protection and a referral will need to be made to Children’s Social Care Services.

When a referral is made to Children’s Social Care Services, there must be clarity about who in the family is aware that a referral is to be made. Any response by Children’s Social Care Services to such referrals should be discreet, in terms of making contact with the adult victim in ways which will not further endanger them or their children.

7. Assessing Concerns of Domestic Abuse

Professionals in all agencies are in a position to identify or receive a disclosure from a child, victim or abuser about domestic violence and abuse. Professionals should be alert to the signs that a child or adult may be experiencing domestic violence and abuse, or that a partner may be perpetrating domestic abuse. A disclosure may be prompted during routine questioning or be unprompted. Professionals should never assume that somebody else is addressing the issue of domestic violence and abuse. This may be the child, adult victim, or perpetrators first or only disclosure which enables an assessment of the risks of harm to be initiated.

Professionals will work with many adults who are experiencing domestic violence and abuse and have not disclosed. Research suggests that women experience on average 35 incidents before reporting it to the police. Professionals should therefore, in conducting assessments, consider the need to offer children and adults the opportunity of being seen alone and ask whether they are experiencing, or have previously experienced, domestic violence and abuse.

Concerns about domestic violence and abuse may also be reported to a professional by a third party such as extended family member, neighbour or community member. Information from the public, family or community members must be taken sufficiently seriously by professionals in statutory and voluntary agencies and responded to in accordance with these procedures.

Professionals who are in contact with adults who are threatening or abusive to them need to be alert to the potential that these individuals may be abusive in their personal relationships and assess whether domestic violence and abuse is occurring within the family.

Considerations in assessments where domestic violence and abuse may be present include:

  • Asking direct questions about domestic violence and abuse;
  • Checking whether domestic violence and abuse has occurred whenever child abuse is suspected and considering the impact of this at all stages of assessment, enquiries and intervention;
  • Identifying those who are responsible for domestic violence and abuse, in order that relevant family law or criminal justice responses may be made;
  • Providing victims with full information about their legal rights, and about the extent and limits of statutory duties and powers;
  • Helping victims and children to get protection from violence and abuse, by providing relevant practical and other assistance;
  • Supporting non-abusing parents in making safe choices for themselves and their children;
  • Taking into account that there may be continued or increased risk of domestic violence and abuse towards the abused parent and/or child after separation especially in connection with post-separation child contact arrangements;
  • Working separately with each parent where domestic violence and abuse prevents non-abusing parents from speaking freely and participating without fear of retribution;
  • Working with parents to help them understand the impact of the domestic violence and abuse on their children.

Professionals in contact with children and families who identify that there are, or have been, domestic abuse incidents or issues, need to consider these in relation to the behaviours, severity, frequency and duration. This will indicate the length of time that children may have been exposed to a traumatic and abusive event. The adult experiencing the abuse will usually, but not always, be well placed to predict the risks faced and the likelihood of further abuse. The adult victim should be encouraged and supported to complete a personal risk assessment. Practitioners should be aware that there can be an underestimation of the risk of harm to themselves and their children.

The Family Support Process can be used to explore and assess any concerns that practitioners may have about children or young people. The Family Support Process can be used to assess the degree of exposure of each child in the family to the domestic abuse, the impact on them, the risks involved, and the protective factors bearing in mind the ages of the children. This should include physical and emotional impact, and the effect on parenting capacity, as well as any other risks posed by the perpetrator. A separate assessment form should be used for each child.

7.1 Assessing the Needs of Children and Young People Living with Domestic Abuse

When assessing harm and the needs of children or young people living with domestic violence and abuse, the following questions should be considered:

  • Frequency and severity of the abuse, how recent and where it took place;
  • Whether the child was present or has ever been present when abuse has occurred;
  • The age and vulnerability of the child;
  • What does the child do when the abuse is happening?
  • Has the child ever intervened, or are they likely to in future?
  • Has the child been physically threatened or sustained any injury?
  • The child’s description of the effects upon them, their siblings, and upon their parent/carer;
  • Is the child being made to participate in or witness acts of abuse against their parent?
  • Is the child used physically or emotionally to exert control over their parent?
  • Is the non-abusing parent able to meet the child/ren’s immediate and longer term needs?
  • Has the adult victim and/or child/ren been locked in the house or prevented from leaving it?
  • Is the abuse connected with any other factors that undermine parenting capacity (such as alcohol or substance misuse or mental health)?
  • Have any weapons been used or has there ever been a threat to use a weapon?
  • Is actual or threatened ill treatment of animals used to control the child/ren and or other parent / carer?
  • Has physical abuse or threats been directed towards a pregnant woman and her unborn child?

Determine whether there is a safety threat present. If a threat to the child’s safety is identified at any stage refer to Children’s Social Care Services.  Throughout the assessment process and within any services being provided the needs of the child must not become overshadowed by the focus on the adults and the range of services being provided must include support and services for the children in the family.  The assessment should include contact with a range of support services such as refuge projects and the voluntary sector.

The Police are often the first point of contact with families in which domestic violence and abuse takes place although the Ambulance Service and Accident and Emergency Departments can also often be involved as a first point of contact.  When responding to incidents of abuse, the agency in question should always find out if there are any children in the household or any children who would normally live in the household. The Police or other agencies should always physically check other children present unless impracticable.

Professionals will undertake an assessment and if they have specific concerns about the safety and welfare of a child will always make a referral to Children’s Social Care Services. A referral will always be made where:

  • The child made the original call (usually to the Police);
  • The child has been injured;
  • The child has been used as a shield;
  • A pregnant woman is involved in a violent incident;
  • The victim is assessed as High Risk using the DASHH assessment by the Police and there is a child in the household;
  • A multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC) is convened and there are children in the household;
  • Any other circumstances, which are judged by a professional to warrant a referral.

In addition, in situations where adults in a household where children live display intimidating or threatening behaviour towards professionals the possible impact of this type of behaviour should always be considered within the assessment of risk to the children.

7.2 Assessing the Needs of Children and Young People in Contact with a Parent who Perpetrated Domestic Violence and Abuse

In situations when the adult victim has left the perpetrator taking the child/ren, professionals need to be alert to the ongoing potential for risk. The dynamics of domestic violence and abuse are based on the perpetrator maintaining power and control over their partner. Challenges to that power and control, for example, by separation may increase the likelihood of escalating violence. Statistically the period following separation is the most dangerous time for serious injury and death. Professionals in contact with children and their families in these circumstances may decide that the Family Support Process is indicated and in all cases would need to consider:

  • The previous level of physical danger to the adult victim and in particular the presence of the child during violent episodes;
  • The previous pattern of power, control and intimidation in addition to the physical violence;
  • The level of coercive or manipulative behaviour of the parent who was violent;
  • Any threats to hurt or kill family members or abduct the child/ren;
  • Any information about parental drug or alcohol misuse, or poor mental health;
  • Any reported stalking or obsession about the separated partner or the family;
  • The motivation of the parent in seeking/ maintaining contact with the child/ren – is it a desire to promote the child’s best interest or as a means of continuing intimidation, harassment or violence to the other parent;
  • The child/ren’s views about contact and whether they have any worries about the contact taking place;
  • Has there been a shared decision regarding the arrangements for contact including location;
  • The likely or reported behaviour of the parent during contact and its effect on the child;
  • The partners level of care and supervision of the child/ren in the past;
  • The attitude of the parent to their past violence and capacity to appreciate its effect and whether they are motivated and have the capacity to change;
  • Be alert to cultural issues when dealing with ethnic minority victims and that in leaving a partner they may be ostracised by family, friends and the wider community increasing the risks to their safety.

8. Managing Risk and Levels of Intervention

The Police currently use the Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment developed by the College of Policing to assess Domestic Abuse, however all other agencies are encouraged by SafeLives to use the Domestic Abuse Stalking and Harassment and Honour Abuse (DASHH) Identification and Risk Model. This is a 27 question preventative model which identifies the risk to the victim as Standard, Medium or High. It ensures that a risk management plan aimed at specific risk factors is put into place.

Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service have created their own domestic abuse assessment framework available on their website. Barnardo’s have also provided a useful model ‘Assessing the risks to children from domestic violence’. The model highlights nine areas for assessment. The areas to consider are the risk to the children posed by the perpetrator; risks of lethality; perpetrator’s pattern of assault and coercive behaviours; impact of the abuse on the adult victim; impact of the abuse on the children; impact of the abuse on parenting roles; protective factors; and the outcomes of past help-seeking.

The following guidance is taken from a number of sources but predominantly from the London LSCB Risk Matrix, which explores areas of risk and protective factors in relation to perpetrators, victims and children and suggests levels of intervention. The younger the children in the family, or the presence of special needs, the higher the risk to their safety.

Babies under 12 months old are particularly vulnerable to violence. Professionals who become aware of an incident of domestic violence and abuse in a family with a child under 12 months old (even if the child was not present) or in families where a woman is pregnant, should always complete a risk assessment to determine what action is required including consideration of whether a referral to Children’s Social Care Services is indicted.

The following indicators are provided to aid professional judgement when assessing risk and the appropriate level of intervention in response to reported incidents or domestic abuse.

Level 1: Factors which may indicate the potential risk of harm to the child/ren to be moderate:

  • Single or up to 3 minor incidents of physical violence and abuse which were short in duration and the victim did not require medical treatment;
  • Occasional intense verbal abuse;
  • Children were not present or not drawn into the incident;
  • Victim’s relationship to the child is nurturing, protective and stable;
  • Abuser accepts responsibility for the abuse/violence indicting remorse and willingness to engage in services to address abusive behaviour.

The police identity the level of risk as Standard/Medium based on the Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment (DARA) and there are children in the household.  The professional should consult with the manager/child protection adviser within the agency and check if the Family Support Process has been completed by another agency. With the parents’ consent complete the Family Support Process if one has not been completed in relation to the domestic abuse, or refer under local arrangements for the Family Support Process to be completed.

A child in this situation will have additional needs as defined within the Family Support Process. The child/ren and their parents are likely to need targeted family support interventions which can be offered by the agency itself, by another single agency. The professional needs to consider what their own agency can contribute as part of any interventions and/or make a referral to another agency to offer interventions. Family Support Process planning will need to include Signs of Safety, safety planning for the child/ren and victim, and consideration of a referral to an appropriate resource for the perpetrator if there is a willingness to engage with services to address abusive behaviour.

If consent to the Family Support Process is not obtained review with the manager/child protection adviser the potential level of risk to the child. A reluctance to engage in an assessment of the needs of the child may give cause to raise the level of concern and a referral to Children’s Social Care Services may be indicated.

Level 2: Factors which may indicate the potential risk of harm to the child/ren to be moderate to serious:

  • History of minor/moderate incidents of physical violence of short duration;
  • Victim received minor injury that did not lead to medical attention being sort;
  • Evidence of intimidation/bullying behaviour to victim but not towards the child/ren;
  • Destruction of property;
  • Family, relatives, neighbours report concerns regarding the victim and children;
  • Intense verbal abuse;
  • Abuser attempts to control victim’s activities or movements;
  • Children were present in the home during the incident but did not directly witness it;
  • Mental health issues for victim or abuser;
  • Substance misuse for victim or abuser;
  • Victim’s relationship to the child is nurturing, protective and stable and despite abuse was not prevented from attending to the child/ren’s needs;
  • Significant other nurturing adults in the child’s life provides protective factor;
  • Older children able to identify coping/ protective strategies.

The police identify the level of risk as Standard/Medium on the DARA and there are children in the household. At Level 2 the professional should consult with the manager/child protection adviser within their agency and check if the Family Support Process has been completed by another agency; if not, with the parents’ consent, complete the Family Support Process, or refer under local arrangements for the Family Support Process to be completed. If the parent does not consent to the completion of the Family Support Process make a notification or referral to Children’s Social Care Services.

The professional should share information with relevant multi-agency professionals, convene or attend a multi-agency Family Support Process meeting and consider what their own agency can contribute as part of any multi-agency Family Support Process interventions. A child in this situation will have additional needs, as defined within Family Support Process. The child/ren and their parents are likely to need family support interventions offered by more than one agency, which are co-ordinated by a Lead Professional. The intervention and support may also include Children’s Social Care Services planning via a Section 17 Children in Need Assessment.

Planning at Level 2 must also include Signs of Safety, safety planning for the child/ren and victim and consideration of referral to an appropriate resource for the perpetrator if there is willingness to engage with services to address abusive behaviour.

Level 3: Factors which may indicate the potential risk of harm to the child/ren is assessed as serious:

  • Incidents of serious and/or persistent physical violence increasing in severity, frequency and duration;
  • Victim and/or children indicate that they are frightened of the abuser;
  • Victim required medical attention or explanation for injuries implausible;
  • Requests for police intervention;
  • Incidence of violence occur in presence of children;
  • Threat of harm to children/and or adult victim;
  • Physical assault on a pregnant woman;
  • Abuser has history of domestic abuse in previous relationships;
  • Mental health issues for victim or abuser;
  • Substance misuse by victim and/or abuser;
  • Strong likelihood of emotional abuse of children e.g. may display behaviour problems/ self harm;
  • Abuser suspected of physically abusing child/ren;
  • Minimisation by abuser, lack of remorse/guilt;
  • The police identify the level of risk as Medium/High on a DARA assessment and there are children in the household.

Protection factors in these circumstances are limited and the children may be suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm. Intervention and support for the child/ren and the adult victim will require Local Authority Children’s Social Care Services planning via Social Work Assessment and may require Section 47 Enquiries. Professionals should make a record of their assessment and the information which underpins it and inform their line manager and contact Children’s Social Care Services to make a referral.

In all cases where a referral is made for a Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) to plan intervention in relation to a high risk domestic violence and abuse situation if there are children in the family a referral must be made to Children’s Social Care Services.

9. Referral to Children’s Social Care

Whenever a professional becomes concerned that a child is, or may be suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, a referral must be made to Children’s Social Care Services in accordance with the Referrals Procedure.

Normally, one serious or several lesser incidents of domestic violence and abuse where there is a child in the household means that Children’s Social Care Services should carry out an Assessment of the child and family, including consulting existing records.

Children’s Social Care Services may assess the child/ren to be child/ren in need, and offer services under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. However, child protection intervention (i.e. under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989) may be necessary if the threshold of Significant Harm is reached. Children’s Social Care Services will convene a multi-agency meeting following the appropriate level of assessment and initiate Signs of Safety, safety planning for the child/ren and adult victim.

10. Managing Risks in Child Protection Conferences

Where a Child Protection Conference is held, the Conference Chair, in consultation with the professionals, must assess the risks carefully in relation to the participation of the violent or oppressive parent/carer, the non-violent parent/carer and the child/ren. See Initial Child Protection Conferences Procedure, Criteria for Excluding Parents or Restricting their Participation.

It is not only issues of safety at the Conference itself but any travel arrangements before and after as well as the contents and addresses (including schools) on the minutes of the meeting which may pose a risk if disclosed. The same careful approach to disclosure of information should be adopted with the records of all meetings, i.e. Core Group, Planning meetings etc.

All arrangements to contact family members that are made as part of any plan for the child, whether person to person directly or via letters, emails, telephone including mobile phone calls and text messages, must be carefully assessed bearing in mind the safety of the children and the non-abusing parent/carer.

11. Safety of Professionals Working with Domestic Violence and Abuse

Care must be taken to assess any potential risks to professionals, carers, foster carers or other staff who are involved in providing services to a family where domestic violence and abuse is, or has occurred. This includes support services offered to a victim or child following separation.

If someone intends to visit or collect the child’s belongings from the family home where the abusive parent / partner resides or has access, it should never be the case that one person does so on their own. A risk assessment should be undertaken and the assistance of the Police may be required. Professional should speak with their manager and follow their own agencies guidance for staff safety.