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Working Together to Safeguard Children defines Domestic Abuse as:

Domestic abuse can encompass a wide range of behaviours and may be a single incident or a pattern of incidents. Domestic abuse is not limited to physical acts of violence or threatening behaviour, and can include emotional, psychological, controlling or coercive behaviour, sexual and/or economic abuse.

Types of domestic abuse include intimate partner violence, abuse by family members, teenage relationship abuse and adolescent to parent violence. Anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexuality or background and domestic abuse can take place inside or outside of the home.

Domestic abuse continues to be a prevalent risk factor identified through children social care assessments for children in need. Domestic abuse has a significant impact on children and young people.

Children may experience domestic abuse directly, as victims in their own right, or indirectly due to the impact the abuse has on others such as the non-abusive parent.

Under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, children are recognised as victims of domestic abuse in their own right, if they see, hear, or experience the effects of the abuse, and are related to the perpetrator of the abuse or the victim of the abuse. Abuse directed towards the child is defined as child abuse.

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 children.

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 says that behaviour is ‘abusive’ if it consists of any of the following:

  1. Physical or sexual abuse;
  2. Violent or threatening behaviour;
  3. Controlling or coercive behaviour;
  4. Economic abuse;
  5. Psychological, emotional or other abuse.

and it does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident or a course of conduct. The perpetrator of the abuse and the victim of the abuse have to be aged 16 or over and are ‘personally connected’ as intimate partners, ex-partners, family members or individuals who share parental responsibility for a child. There is no requirement for the victim and perpetrator to live in the same household.

Domestic abuse in teenage relationships is just as severe and has the potential to be as life threatening as abuse in adult relationships. Victims under 16 should be treated as victims of child abuse and age appropriate consequences should be considered for perpetrators under 16. Abuse involving perpetrators and victims aged between 16 and 18 could be both child and domestic abuse.

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 uses the term ‘victim’ but not everyone who has experienced, or is experiencing, domestic abuse chooses to describe themselves as a ‘victim’ and they may prefer another term, for example, ‘survivor’.

The statutory guidance Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship defines controlling or coercive behaviour as:

  • 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.

Note:- The Government is updating the statutory guidance relating to the controlling or coercive behaviour offence as section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 will be amended by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

Other forms of abuse may be present for example

Abuse by family members which can involve abuse by any relative or multiple relatives. Abuse within a family set-up can encompass a number of different behaviours, including but not limited to violence, coercive or controlling behaviours, and economic abuse. Abuse by family members also encompasses forced marriage, so called ‘honour’-based abuse and female genital mutilation.

Child-to-Parent Abuse which can include physical violence from a child towards a parent or other family members such as siblings and a number of different types of abusive behaviours, including damage to property, emotional abuse, and economic/financial abuse. Violence and abuse can occur together or separately. Abusive behaviours can encompass, but are not limited to, humiliating language and threats, belittling, damage to property and stealing and heightened sexualised behaviours.

Technological abuse using technology and social media as a means of controlling or coercing victims. This happens frequently both during and after relationships with abusers and is particularly common amongst younger people.

Spiritual abuse using religion and faith systems to control and subjugate a victim often characterised by a systemic pattern of coercive or controlling behaviour within a religious context. A form of spiritual abuse may include the withholding of a religious divorce, as a threat to control and intimidate victims.


Exposure to domestic abuse can have a serious, long lasting emotional and psychological impact on children. In some cases, a child may blame themselves for the abuse or may have had to leave the family home as a result.

Domestic abuse affecting young people can also occur within their personal relationships, as well as in the context of their home life.

The emotional responses of children who witness domestic abuse may include fear, guilt, shame, sleep disturbances, sadness, depression, and anger (at both the abuser for the violence and at the other parent for being unable to protect them).

Physical responses may include stress-induced aches and pains, bedwetting, and inability to concentrate. Some children are the direct victims of other types of abuse or injured while trying to intervene on behalf of their parent or sibling.

The behavioural responses of children who witness domestic abuse may include acting out, withdrawal, or anxiousness to please. A change in achievement or behaviour at school can be an indicator of problems at home.

Domestic 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 abuse may impact negatively on an adult victim’s parenting capacity;
  • Children may be drawn into the violence and themselves become victims of physical abuse.

For children living in situations of domestic 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 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 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 affect 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 them 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 also: So-called 'Honour' Based Abuse Procedure.


Professionals must be alert to the signs that a child or adult may be experiencing domestic abuse, or that a partner may be perpetrating domestic abuse. Professionals must always consider during an assessment the need to offer children and adults the opportunity of being seen alone and ask whether they are experiencing, or have previously experienced, domestic abuse.

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 abuse is occurring within the family. 

Considerations in assessments where domestic abuse may be present include:

  • Checking whether domestic abuse has occurred whenever child abuse is suspected and considering the impact of this at all stages of assessment, enquiries and intervention, this should include checks with the Police unit responsible for vulnerable people and any domestic abuse screening process;
  • Identifying those who are responsible for domestic 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, 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 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 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 abuse on their children.

Protection and Action to be Taken

In order to support all professionals working with children and young people the Multi-Agency Threshold Guidance is available so that everyone is clear about:

  • The thresholds for access to services which support the actions needed to improve the outcomes for children;
  • A common language;
  • Regulation and good practice;
  • Individual responsibility when working with children, young people and families;
  • Responsibility of different agencies; and
  • The tools in place to support professionals in their role.

Follow this link to view the Cumbria Multi-Agency Thresholds Guidance and the supporting document Cumbria Understanding The Level of Need and Practice Response which can be used alongside the Threshold Guidance

When responding to incidents of domestic abuse, the practitioner should always find out if there:

  • Are any children in the household; or
  • Any children who would normally live in the household; or
  • Any children that are connected to the parties in the house that live elsewhere; or
  • Who come to visit.

The Police or other agencies must ensure that children present are seen and if awake, must ask they child if they feel safe. The Police officer or other professionals must identify all other children living in that home and all children connected to the parties involved that live elsewhere or who come to visit and record their details. The safety of all these children is paramount and must be established at all incidents of domestic abuse. The Police officer or other professionals must put safeguarding measures in place before leaving the situation if harm is happening or is likely to happen once they leave. They must record what they have put in place and refer to all parties accurately and appropriately.

In order for you to safeguard effectively, you must look at the cumulative picture of past events and future risks. This will assist in identifying patterns of behaviour and who is involved. You have a duty to:

  • Be Vigilant – Notice what is happening by being alert;
  • Understand – What is happening by gathering all information – be professionally curious – Look for patterns of incidents – not just that particular incident;
  • Risk Assess – How likely is it that harm will occur? How serious would the harm be? Assess the whole situation and EVERYONE involved;
  • Take Action – to prevent harm to the victim and others. Happening now? Act now!
  • Record & Refer – Record your safeguarding decisions – what you have put in place and why. Also, you must tell the story of the people you are referring. You must do this accurately and comprehensively;
  • Constant Review – Any safeguarding process must be kept under constant review and safeguarding must form part of any handover process of a case. During the time that any professional has involvement, circumstances change and this may affect your safeguarding decisions, so you must review them when appropriate. Any need to continue any safeguarding after the case is closed may require a further referral to the relevant department or partner agency via the Safeguarding Hub.

At this stage; to identify the level of risk; it would be appropriate to complete a SafeLives DASH Risk Assessment for anyone suffering domestic abuse above the age of 18.

However if there are young people between the ages of 13 – 18 please complete a Young Person’s DASH Risk Assessment.

Where there is children in the household the Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment for Children (DARAC) tool can be used.

This Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment for Children (DARAC) tool can be used by professionals who are undertaking an assessment of risk to children who are living in a home where domestic abuse has already been identified. They should have undertaken the training provided by the CSCP on how to administer and interpret the tool.

DARAC has been developed to assist practitioners to:

  • Identify risks to children from domestic abuse which begins with the risk assessment process;
  • Decide whether a case presents as in need of a safeguarding response or family support;
  • Identify appropriate interventions for the children, the non-abusing parent and the abusive father/ father figure.

If you believe a child or their family is in need of early help then raise an Early Help Assessment. Early Help is the support that can be provided for a child, young person or family who may have additional needs that cannot be met by universal provision and there is perceived to be no risk of significant harm.

If you have serious concern about a child or young person that needs immediate protection contact the Cumbria Safeguarding Hub, you will be asked to complete a single contact form. See: Contacting the Cumbria Safeguarding Hub.

Also see: Single Contact Form.

Where immediate protection is not required you will be expected to complete a single contact form, informed by an Early Help Assessment where possible, in the first instance.

It is important to use good evidence based risk assessment tools in order to guide decision making and begin to understand the risks posed to a person and family. 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 abuse situation if there are children in the family a referral must be made to Children’s social care. Click here for more information on MARAC.

In situations when the adult victim has left the perpetrator taking the child/ren, professionals need to be alert to the on-going potential for risk. The dynamics of domestic 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 abuse. 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 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 partner’s 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, this is essential were there are concerns with language barriers. The Serious Case Review into the death of Daniel Pelka (2013) recommended that all CSCP’s have a protocol of best practise in order to ensure a consistent approach is taken. Daniels family had been involved in 27 separate incidents of domestic abuse prior to his death. The protocol recommends that interpreters are used to interview children alone to enable them to express their wishes and feelings.

The Serious Crime Act 2015 created an 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.
  • FGM now falls under the Serious Crime Act (2015), the Law protects all British Nationals, It is illegal to practice FGM, take British girls or permanent or habitual residents of the UK abroad for FGM;
  • FGM may carry a penalty of 14 years imprisonment;
  • The Serious Crime Act (2015) gives life-long anonymity to victims of FGM victims;
  • It is mandatory for social care, teachers and health professionals/other professionals to report cases of FGM, it can be reported to the Police using the101 number.

Note:- The Government is updating the statutory guidance Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship as section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 will be amended by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

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

Domestic Violence Protection Orders

NOTE: Domestic Violence Protection Orders will be replaced by Domestic Abuse Protection Orders and Domestic Abuse Protection Notices in 2023 under Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

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. 

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

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme (DVDS) (also known as ‘Clare’s Law’)  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.


The full extent of the impact on children of exposure to domestic abuse is often not fully understood until a child feels safe; they will need several opportunities over a period of time to talk about their experiences.

Children can also experience domestic abuse within their own relationships. Girls are more likely than boys to report experiencing abuse in their intimate relationships, and younger adolescents are just as likely as older adolescents to experience it. Most children do not tell an adult about this abuse.

The issue of domestic abuse should only ever be raised with a child or mother when they are safely on their own and in a private place; and separation does not ensure safety, it often at least temporarily increases the risk to the child/ren or mother.

Information from the public, family or community members must be taken sufficiently seriously by professionals in statutory and voluntary agencies. Recent research evidence indicates that failure to do so has been a contributory factor in a significant number of cases where a child has been seriously harmed or died.

Risk of abuse towards professionals should be considered by all agencies who work in the area of domestic abuse and assessments of risk must be undertaken when necessary. It is acknowledged that intimidatory or threatening behaviour towards professionals may inhibit the professional’s ability to work effectively. The importance of effective supervision and management is highlighted and agencies should take account of the impact or potential impact on professionals in planning their involvement in situations of domestic abuse.

Further Information

Cumbria SCP website

Riverside (Impact Housing)

Domestic Abuse: Specialist Sources of Support (GOV.UK)– Nationalist Specialist Support Services contact details 

Domestic Abuse help for children and young people

Domestic abuse: how to get help: range of resources including, specialist services, guidance on Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme and court orders, translated guidance and how to summon help and find a safe space

Safelives:resources library for professionals working with victims of domestic abuse and their families including MARAC

Operation Encompass Resources: police and education partnership enabling schools to offer immediate support to children experiencing domestic abuse

The Respect Phoneline: tel 0808 802 4040 is an anonymous and confidential helpline for men and women who are abusing their partners and families. It is open Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm. The helpline also takes calls from partners or ex-partners, friends and relatives who are concerned about perpetrators

Statutory Guidance Framework: controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship

Equality for All in Cumbria (

Royal College of Nursing - Domestic Abuse: Professional Resources

Domestic Abuse Act 2021

Domestic Abuse Bill 2020: factsheets - provide more information about each of the provisions in the Act.

Delivery of support to victims of domestic abuse in domestic abuse safe accommodation services: statutory guidance including Terms of Reference for Local Domestic Abuse Partnership Boards

Homelessness code of guidance for local authorities: guidance on providing homelessness services to people who have experienced or are at risk of domestic abuse

Domestic Abuse Commissioner Website

Tackling Violence against Women and Girls Strategy

MAPPA guidance

NSPCC - FGM Free phone HELPLINE 0800 028 3550 which is available 24 hours and is anonymous or you can email

Amendments to this chapter

This chapter was updated in August 2022 to reflect the new definition of Domestic Abuse within the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and to update the links within Further Information. The provisions of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 are still being introduced and the statutory guidance is still in draft so there will be a further update to the chapter once the statutory guidance is finalised.