5.11 Domestic Abuse

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See also the SSCP Guidance ‘Safeguarding children and young people affected by domestic abuse’ which can be accessed via the ‘SSCP website’ button on the left hand side of the screen.

Additionally see NICE Guidance - Domestic Violence and Abuse: How Health Services, Social Care and the Organisations They Work With Can Respond Effectively.

Also see: Forced Marriage Protection Orders

This guidance calls for integrated working between primary care, secondary care, social care, the police, local government and the third sector. The guidance is for everyone working in health and social care whose work brings them into contact with people who experience or perpetrate domestic violence and abuse. Those working in the NHS, local authorities, the wider public, voluntary and community sectors and the private sector should take it into account when carrying out their professional, managerial or voluntary duties.


This chapter was significantly updated in May 2016 to include Section 7, Serious Crime Act 2015 - Coercive and Controlling Behaviour.


1. Introduction

Significant Harm resulting from domestic abuse may manifest itself in a variety of ways including physical violence, emotional or psychological abuse, sexual violence and abuse, financial control and abuse and the imposition of social isolation or movement deprivation.

The definition of ‘harm’ in the term Significant Harm as “the ill treatment or impairment of health and development” was extended so that it is made explicit that harm may include "impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another". (This amendment to the Children Act 1989 was made in section 120 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which came into effect on 30 January 2005.)

Where there is domestic abuse, the implications for the children in the household must be considered. Children who are experiencing domestic abuse may benefit from a range of support and services - often supporting the non-abusing parent is the most effective way of promoting the child’s welfare - and some may need safeguarding from harm; research evidence indicates a strong link between domestic abuse and all types of significant harm.

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

The definition of ‘domestic violence and abuse' was updated in March 2013 to include the reality that many young people are experiencing domestic abuse and violence in relationships at a young age. They may therefore be Children in need of Early Help services through a Family Action Plan or in need of protection as they are likely to suffer significant harm.

The definition from the Home Office is as follows:

"Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence and abuse between those aged 16 or over, who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender and 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."

2. Notifications by the Police

The Police are often the first point of contact and they should safeguard the safety of 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;
  • Establish if children are subject of any court orders or subject to a Child Protection Plan;
  • Explain that Surrey Children's Services and relevant health professionals will be informed of every incident of domestic abuse in households with children and may be contacting the family. This explanation should be made at the first available opportunity, with due regard to the potential impact on the situation;
  • Where possible provide the victim with information on local support services and refuge details, taking into account any ethnic or cultural issues (details available from local domestic abuse forums and the Community Safety Partnership).

The Police should then:

  • Notify Surrey Children’s Services whenever they become aware of an incident of domestic Abuse (via Form SCARF) including information as to whether the family have been informed of the Referral at this stage and if not, when the police are likely to inform them;
  • Notify by fax or email the Named Nurse of the relevant locality within NHS Surrey of the information from Form SCARF.


3. Referrals by Other Professionals

Any professionals with concerns about a child’s welfare should make a referral to local authority children’s social care. Professionals should follow up their concerns if they are not satisfied with the local authority children’s social care response.


4. Response to Notifications and Referrals

On notification of an incident of domestic abuse within a family, the minimum response by Surrey Children’s Services must be to consult existing records and consider what else is known of the family.

For referrals and notifications of any serious incidents of domestic abuse where there is a child in the household then in addition to the above, an Assessment must be considered.

Lesser incidents should be considered individually, but no more than three minor incidents should be allowed to occur without the completion of an Assessment.

If at any point it is suspected that a child has or is likely to experience significant harm as a result of domestic abuse, a Section 47 Enquiry must be undertaken.

All Assessments must be undertaken on the basis of the Assessment Framework triangle.

Whenever an Assessment is undertaken, or at any time thereafter, all agencies involved with the family should be informed of any domestic abuse incidents and reminded to manage information sharing bearing in mind the safety of all the family members.

Where the parents are separated, the agreed arrangements for contact between the child and the non-resident parent should be considered as part of the Assessment and any additional risk factors related to the arrangements should be taken in to account.

Where the family refuse to co-operate with an Assessment, serious consideration should be given to determine if the criteria for a Section 47 Enquiry have been met.


5.The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (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, a disclosure will be made.

For further information see ‘Clare’s Law- The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme’.

6. 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 violence 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.

Before the scheme, there was a gap in protection, because the police could not charge the perpetrator if there was a lack of evidence and so provide protection to a victim through bail conditions, and because the process of granting injunctions took time.

7. Serious Crime Act 2015 - Coercive and Controlling Behaviour

A new criminal offence of coercive and controlling behaviour came into force in England and Wales on 29 December 2015.

Why the new law?

There was a gap in the law which meant that repeated patterns of non-physical behaviour were not recognised in a criminal law context as domestic abuse. Emotional abuse and control within relationships was therefore not considered a criminal offence capable of prosecution.  

Historically, police powers were limited to prosecuting for domestic abuse offences where there was evidence of physical injury. The new provision provides legal recognition that the harm caused to an individual by coercion or control from a partner, former partner or family member is a form of abuse and that a repeated pattern of abuse can be more harmful than one incident in isolation.

The offence will carry a maximum prison sentence of five years, a fine or both. The court can also make additional orders, such as compensation or a restraining order.

The Home Office has issued guidance to assist professionals in recognising the signs of this behaviour and how they can take further action to protect potential victims.

See Controlling or Coercive Behaviour - statutory guidance.

What is controlling or coercive behaviour?

Controlling or coercive behaviour is a pattern of behaviour displayed over a period of time, where one person exerts power, control or coercion over another.

Controlling behaviour is defined as behaviour "designed to make a person subordinate/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 everyday behaviour".

Coercive behaviour is "a continuing act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten the victim".

Recognising types of behaviour 

Behaviours associated with a coercive or controlling relationship include:

  • Isolating a person from their friends and family; 
  • Depriving them of their basic needs and taking control of everyday life (e.g. where a person can go, who they can spend time with, where they can work, travel); 
  • Repeatedly putting a person down, e.g. telling them that they are worthless; 
  • Enforcing rules and activity which humiliate, degrade or dehumanise the victim; 
  • Monitoring a person via online communication tools or using spyware; 
  • Depriving access to support services, e.g. GP/medical services; 
  • Financial abuse including control of finances;
  • Threats to hurt or kill; 
  • Threats to a child; 
  • Assault; 
  • Criminal damage (such as destruction of household goods); and
  • Rape.

It is important to note that some of the above may constitute criminal offences in their own right.

What is the offence?

For the offence to apply, the following criteria must be met:

  • The coercive or controlling behaviour must take place “repeatedly or continuously” (although the timeframes are not yet defined in law);
  • The individuals must have been personally connected when the incidents took place (i.e. they were in a relationship, were cohabiting after a relationship or were family members living together);
  • The behaviour must have a serious effect on the victim (for example it has caused the victim to fear that violence will be used against them more than once, or it has had a substantial adverse effect on the victim’s day to day activities); and
  • The perpetrator must have known (or ought to have known) that the behaviour would have a serious effect on the victim.

This page is correct as printed on Monday 8th of August 2022 04:49:16 AM please refer back to this website ( for updates.