domestic abuse schools
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Operation Encompass: Over 23,000 Domestic Abuse Incidents Reported to Schools in Three Years

In an effort to safeguard children exposed to domestic abuse, schools across Northern Ireland have been notified of more than 23,000 incidents since the inception of Operation Encompass. The scheme, which began as a pilot in Downpatrick in 2021, enables the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) to collaborate closely with schools by sharing crucial incident information within 24 hours of occurrence.

Detective Chief Superintendent Lindsay Fisher of the PSNI’s Public Protection Branch highlighted the significance of the initiative: “(After attending a report), the police get information about all children of school age and share that with a designated teacher in a school. It provides an opportunity for the staff to check in on that child, to make sure they’re okay and understand if they’re feeling a bit unsettled or if they haven’t got everything that they need for the school day.”

Since the launch of the initiative, the PSNI has handled an average of 2,750 domestic abuse reports monthly, leading to approximately 740 referrals to schools each month over the last three years. DCI Fisher noted, “We respond to an incident of domestic abuse, on average, every 17 minutes, and children are often present.

Lindsay Fisher, Philip Smith and Michael Kelly,
(Detective Chief Superintendent, Lindsay Fisher, from the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Public Protection Branch, Philip Smith, Principal of Dunluce School, Bushmills and Michael Kelly, Head of Service for the Child Protection Support Service, at the Education Authority) Photo by PSNI

The effects on children who are exposed to abuse cannot be underestimated. We see first-hand every day the impact of the trauma children experience from seeing, overhearing, or coming back into a house where there has been domestic abuse.”

While acknowledging the challenges of implementing such a comprehensive program, DCI Fisher expressed optimism about its positive impact. Efforts are underway to enhance the efficiency of the scheme, including potential automation of reporting and expanding its scope beyond educational settings.

The backdrop of these efforts is a concerning landscape of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland, with over 33,000 incidents reported last year alone, many involving children. Despite criticism of low prosecution rates in these cases, DCI Fisher pointed to victim attrition as a significant challenge, emphasizing the combined fear of perpetrators and the daunting court process.

The initiative has received praise from educational professionals as well. Vice-principal and safeguarding officer Darren Parker commented on the value of the scheme: “After a report from the police), you might not do anything with that information, but you’re watching to see if that young person is presenting as normal, that they’re not anxious or worried or upset. A lot of the time it is just a watching brief to make sure they’re having a safe and sensible school day.”

Operation Encompass represents a critical step in addressing the hidden impacts of domestic violence, providing educators with the tools to offer support discreetly and effectively, ultimately aiming to create a safer environment for vulnerable children.

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