Schools offer new protection for kids who witness domestic violence

South Yorkshire Police
South Yorkshire Police

Schools across most of South Yorkshire are now given warnings when police know pupils have witnessed domestic abuse before attending classes, in a move intended to shield youngsters from as much emotional damage as possible.

Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster have all signed up to the scheme, called Operation Encompass, with talks still going on which could see Barnsley adopt the same procedures.

The scheme works by automatically informing education staff at 7.30am each day of domestic violence incidents where police have attended and found school age children present.

That allows school staff to monitor and support the child involved, because the adverse impact of witnessing such crimes are well known with those who do so more likely to end up on the wrong side of the law themselves.

Details of Operation Encompass, which is launched this month, have been presented to Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner.

Assistant Chief Constable Tim Forber told a meeting of Dr Billings’ Public Accountability Panel: “Children who suffer an early childhood experience (of domestic abuse) are far more likely to have poor outcomes and have an entry at some point into the criminal justice system.

“Encompass is tackling the impact of domestic violence in households.”

Incidents where police were called tended to be serious and were likely not to be the first time offences had been committed in similar circumstances, he said.

“It tends to be serious and generally has happened numerous times. A child who has witnessed that has an ongoing adverse childhood experience.

“It is really important their school know about that,” he said.

The aim is to ensure the authorities take a “whole family” approach to dealing with domestic abuse and the fall-out it creates for extended family members.

Operation Encompass is part of a increasingly sophisticated approach to dealing with domestic abuse, which in previous generations has been overlooked to a large extent by society.

Arrest rates have continued to climb in South Yorkshire for those suspected of committing offences and police now also undertake risk assessments to work out the best support which can be provided for victims.

Pilot projects are being carried out in Sheffield and Barnsley to monitor how best police can deal with medium and high risk offenders.

In circumstances where police lack the evidence to charge a suspect, they can apply to Magistrates for a Domestic Violence Protection Order to prevent them returning to the family home for up to 28 days.

Research suggests those not subject to such restrictions “showed a greater increase in the prevalence, frequency and severity of reported domestic incidents than the group who were given a DVPN,” said a report to Dr Billings.

ACC Forber said: “In terms of managing domestic abuse investigations, it is a high demand activity for us. Demand for domestic abuse prisoners is posing some challenges.

“We are looking, particularly as the force starts to expand, what that might mean for the way we deal with some medium and standard risk domestic abuse prisoners.”

Whatever the outcomes of pilot schemes, they would be applied across the county, he said, to prevent a ‘postcode lottery’ where incidents were treated differently in different areas.

One change may involve streamlining how DVPOs are issued, possibly creating one unit to take on that role force-wide.

“It would not only lead to more professional and slicker applications, it would take away some of the operational demand,” he said.