Police will inform schools when pupils witness domestic abuse at home – with 3,000 exposed to it in one year

Police will inform schools when pupils witness domestic abuse at home – with 3,000 exposed to it in one year

SCHOOLS across Northern Ireland have signed up to an initiative where the police force shares information about domestic abuse in the homes of their students.

The programme, which is already operational across the Southern and South Eastern Trust areas, sees police sharing information with schools where there have been instances of domestic abuse in the presence of a child.

“This will allow officers to pass on relevant information to the school the child attends so the right support can be put in place,” the PSNI explains.

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

Under the scheme, if the police 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 so the correct support can be put in place.

Across the pilot areas within the Southern and South Eastern Trust areas, police have attended 1,659 domestic incidents with 3,111 children exposed to domestic abuse from the start of the 2021 school year, until the end of January 2023,” the PSNI confirm.

“This has resulted in 2,137 referrals being made by Police to the designated teacher at the relevant school,” they state, before adding: “Incidents of domestic violence can be incredibly traumatising for children.

“Operation Encompass helps get them access to emotional support in a school environment where they have trusted adults around them.

“The information shared by Police is treated in strict confidence.”

Across the Northern and Western Trust areas, a further 500 schools are joining the programme, bringing the total number of schools now on board to 960.

The College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) will also be joining the programme, with the final rollout to remaining areas in Northern Ireland due to take place by summer 2023.

This includes schools of all types, including Nursery, Primary, Post Primary, Special, EOTAS, Irish Medium and Independent Christian, the PSNI confirms.

Detective Superintendent Lindsay Fisher, from the PSNI’s Public Protection Branch, said: “A child who is experiencing domestic abuse at home will go to school the next day potentially sleep deprived and frightened.

“They will naturally withdraw themselves and require additional support and understanding from someone who knows what they have had to witness the night before.

“This is why it is so incredibly important that our education colleagues are made aware in quick time when a child has suffered or witnessed domestic abuse and thousands of young people have benefited from this scheme already.”

She added: “Operation Encompass is another way the Police Service of Northern Ireland is cementing our commitment to tackling and breaking the cycle of domestic abuse.

"I am delighted that we are now in a position to roll this very important initiative out to even more schools.

“We remain dedicated in putting the safety and well-being of the children in our communities at the forefront of all we do.”

Women's Aid Federation NI CEO, Sarah Mason has welcomed the scheme.

“Women's Aid NI welcomes the further roll out of Operation Encompass across Northern Ireland,: she said today.

“We know from our extensive experience of supporting children that often the smallest victims of domestic abuse are the biggest...they see it, hear it, feel it and fear it.

“In the aftermath of a domestic abuse incident, children can be extremely upset, frightened, tired and confused and teachers need to know and understand the reasons for this.

“Children often tell us that school is their safe place so it is vital that teachers are aware of and understand the situation at home and the child's support needs, which must be paramount.

“Operation Encompass is a simple yet hugely important initiative that puts the child at the centre, and ensures teachers are informed, enabling them to fulfil their role as a social guardian.”