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PSNI begins domestic violence pilot to protect school kids

Northern Ireland officers are set to work with schools to support children impacted by domestic violence incidents.

A partnership between the PSNI and child safeguarding leads has been created to improve information sharing after domestic violence incidents.

PSNI said it wanted to roll out the programme created by a retired police sergeant and former headteacher to ensure children were not the forgotten victims.

Operation Encompass is a partnership between the force, Safeguarding Board Northern Ireland, the Education Authority and schools aimed at supporting children who witness domestic violence or abuse in the home.

PSNI said the scheme had been created in response to an increase in the risk of domestic violence incidents due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

The 60-school pilot includes Nursery, Primary, Secondary, Special, EOTAS, Irish Medium and Independent Christian. It will begin at the start of the new school term next month.

When officers attend a domestic abuse call where children are present, they will contact the child’s school before 9am the next morning to share this information with their safeguarding team.

The aim is to reduce the impact of trauma which can trigger depression and alter child development. Witnessing violence in the home, according to experts, leads to inappropriate responses to conflict resolution and disrupts education outcomes.

There are also physical impacts such as eating and sleeping which can impact on health outcomes.

The programme ensures children get access to emotional support in a school environment where they are already familiar and have trusted adults around them. The information shared by the force is treated in strict confidence.

The wide range of schools and geographic area has been created to ensure data helps inform the wider regional roll out.

Similar programmes have been pioneered by other forces including Merseyside which has improved training for officers and multi-agency working.

By raising incidents early, other agencies are able to allocate resources and instigate safeguarding procedures plus other forms of family support. And the case can then be monitored.

Detective Chief Superintendent Anthony McNally of the PSNI Public Protection Branch said: “The lasting effects on children who are exposed to domestic abuse can sometimes be left out of the narrative and we want to work in partnership to change this and ensure they are properly safeguarded.

“A child who is experiencing and/or witnessing physical, emotional and psychological abuse at home will go to school the next day often requiring emotional help and support, so it is important that our education colleagues are made aware in quick time when a child has suffered or witnessed domestic abuse.”

David and Elisabeth Carney-Haworth, the retired former police sergeant and former headteacher who created Operation Encompass, said police and education leads are increasingly taking seriously the impact adult violence has on children.

“We know just how much teachers both need and want this information, schools have shared with us the difference that this can make to the children in their care, it enables teachers to understand a child’s behaviour, to offer them the support and nurture that they need,” they said.

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