(POP0091)

Written evidence submitted by Operation Encompass (POP0091)

The Home Affairs Committee Inquiry into Policing priorities

 

This submission by Operation Encompass is informed by the experience and expertise gained by both founders of Operation Encompass in their professional roles, through working with all police forces in England and Wales, military police, domestic abuse professionals and thousands of UK schools participating in the Operation Encompass Information Sharing Platform

 

  1. Operation Encompass shares the view of the then Policing Minister Kit Malthouse MP as outlined to the House of Commons:

 

“Falling short of national standards for the handling of emergency and non-emergency calls, there are too many instances of failure to assess vulnerability and repeated victimisation, and victims are not getting enough information or support. Other concerns were thought to include disjointed public protection governance arrangements, insufficient capacity to meet demand in several functions, persistently large backlog of online child abuse referrals and insufficient understanding of the force’s training requirements.”

  1. Of particular concern to Operation Encompass are the comments around ‘too many instances of failure to assess vulnerability and repeated victimisation, and victims are not getting enough information or support’.

 

Mindful of the comments of MP Malthouse and the views sought on the ‘topics’ highlighted by Home Affairs Committee Operation Encompass submits the following for consideration and deliberation.

 

  1. In the interest of Child Victims:
  1. Operation Encompass is the unique information sharing protocol between police forces and schools through which a schools trained Designated Safeguarding Lead will be notified about ALL police attended domestic abuse incidents where there are children in the household related to either adult involved. This contact takes place before the child or children arrive at school the following day. This ensures that the school has up to date relevant information about the child’s circumstances and can enable immediate support to be put in place, according to the child’s needs.

The Operation Encompass notification relates to ALL domestic incidents. Whereas children’s social services only intervene in the most serious cases, Operation Encompass enables every child to receive support, regardless of whether the incident has been recorded as a crime or not.

Impact of Operation Encompass

  1. Operation Encompass is now established in all 43 police forces in England and Wales, Gibraltar, Northern Ireland and MOD schools in Germany and Cyprus. Thousands of schools have now embedded Operation Encompass into their safeguarding practices.

 

  1. As a direct consequence of Operation Encompass, the governments in Northern Ireland and Gibraltar have introduced specific legislation to enable the sharing of information to schools when children have experienced domestic abuse.

 

 

  1. Operation Encompass allows police forces to share the often raw, sensitive and dynamic information in a safe, secure and timely manner to enable the immediate support for child victims of domestic abuse.

 

  1. The Operation Encompass free on-line ‘Key Adult Training has now been completed by over 15,500 school staff since February 2020. To address the possible lack of understanding about the impact of children living with domestic abuse within school staff, the training covers the prevalence of domestic abuse in our society, the impact upon the unborn child and children, the role of the Key Adult in school and how to appropriately support children experiencing domestic abuse.

 

  1. Operation Encompass has been cited as having changed the landscape of information sharing.

 

  1. The Children’s Commissioner (England) recently reported:

When the Children’s Commissioner’s Office has discussed (Operation Encompass) this programme with schools, their reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. It gives them three benefits:

      Having this information in real-time enables the school to respond immediately

      Often children notified to the school are those about whom the school already has some concerns, but below the threshold for a statutory referral. This added information will often lead them to re-assess and make a referral to the local authority. 

      Schools have also reported that they have been surprised to discover at how many of their children are being exposed to domestic abuse, including children about whom they would otherwise not have had concerns. 

Operation Encompass continued throughout Covid-19 and helped ensure that       schools continued to reach out to the pupils who most need their support. 

  1. Ofsted recently recorded: A good example of agencies sharing information readily and efficiently is Operation Encompass, which has been well designed and implemented. Under Operation Encompass police contact a school’s ‘Key Adult’ by 9am if a child has been involved in an incident of domestic abuse. Key adults are given training on how to respond effectively. Effective implementation ensures that all professionals are clear about their roles and responsibilities, including information sharing and support to children. Schools ensure that appropriate information is given to parents about the school’s involvement with Operation Encompass.

 

  1. In a FOI made by the BBC which was responded to by 27 police forces, they reported that in a 145-school day period the police made 143,000 Operation Encompass notifications to schools. This meant that at least 143,000 children experienced domestic abuse AND received some form of support in school the following day.

 

  1. This example demonstrates how Operation Encompass is Early Intervention at its most profound and effective:

Jane, an adult victim of domestic abuse whose child was the subject of an Operation Encompass notification, reported to us; ‘I didn't want to send my baby into school that day.’

She reported that her son had started to hit her and to swear at her, imitating her abusive partner.

She continued, ‘And that's so out of character. He's always been such a lovely little boy. I could see it with my own eyes him changing with what was going on in the home. But as soon as he became part of Operation Encompass the bad behaviour stopped, he stopped the spitting, stopped the swearing; he was getting back to that lovely little boy. I was very lucky to be part of that school. Alex was able to be loved and nurtured and helped in every way he should be. If he hadn't had that help when he was five it makes me feel sick to the stomach to think what he might be now’.

 

A case for Operation Encompass to be a statutory obligation for police forces.

 

  1. The Government’s Domestic Abuse Statutory Guidance, July 2022 states; Agencies have a responsibility to work together effectively to provide support and protection to victims of domestic abuse... It is vital to appropriately safeguard victims, including children, regardless of the level of risk.  It continues; Develop links and information sharing protocols that place the safety of the victims, including children, at the centre...Operation Encompass...

 

  1. Children experiencing domestic abuse are negatively impacted by this exposure; domestic abuse has been identified as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) and can lead to emotional, physical and psychological harm. Early intervention within the school environment through Operation Encompass mitigates the short, medium and long-term negative effects of domestic abuse – making a child’s day better, giving them a better tomorrow and a better future.

 

  1. It is the responsibility of the police officers attending domestic abuse incidents to collect the information necessary to safeguard child victims. The minimum recording requirements of information collected should include the child’s name; date of birth; sex; normal address; General Practitioner; primary carer; school; full details of child’s circumstances personal welfare including any injuries, cleanliness etc; details of anything said by the child; details of all children present or ordinarily resident at the address.

17.In the Policing section of the ‘The Domestic Abuse Statutory Guidance, the police are asked to take into account and: ‘Recognise the impact ‘first responders may have on children who see, hear or experience the abuse in a domestic abuse incident, ensuring premises are consistently checked for the presence of children (whether or not in the room during an incident) and children are actively listened to. Responders should also be trained to recognise vulnerability and signs of abuse during a call for service for domestic abuse. See the section on ‘Education’ for more information on Operation Encompass;’

18.Domestic abuse is the most frequently police attended incident and police    officers are dealing with some of the most vulnerable repeat adult and child victims.

19.And whilst police attended domestic incidents are recorded as ‘crime or non-    crime, the distinction of risk level for children is an adult-manufactured interpretation of supposed risk and does not reflect the harm done to children experiencing Domestic Abuse at every level.

 

20.Operation Encompass addresses the issue of officers possibly becoming inured to the impact of domestic abuse on children and those in education having a lack of understanding of the impact of domestic abuse on children.

 

21.Operation Encompass acknowledge the fact that many police officers attending at a domestic abuse incident, when no offences have or can be identified, feel as if they have ‘let down’ the non-abusing adult and child victims.

They also recognise the impact of domestic abuse on those attending officers     (some of whom may themselves be victims of domestic abuse).

 

“Attending domestics is often the most traumatic in the long term. It is the attendance of these over and over that I find very hard.” Front Line Police Officer.

 

22.Operation Encompass briefing content also challenges police officers bias by giving the officers the knowledge that support which is not within their gift or skill set, is available at school the following day.

Officers report leaving such incidents in a more positive spirit and a sense that they have    achieved something.

 

At least when I leave that house, I know that the information shared through Operation Encompass will get to the school and they can help those children.

That’s a game changer for me” Front Line Police Officer

 

 

The importance of Operation Encompass

23. Whilst the majority of police forces are fully committed to Operation Encompass, the lack of a statutory obligation means that any police force could choose to minimise, suspend or cease this information sharing with schools.

24. Sadly, such a suspension occurred during the Coronavirus Pandemic when a police force suspended Operation Encompass when schools entered their first partial closure.

25.The following paragraph is cited in the Child Protection- England National review into two child murders;

­­Operation Encompass (the system in which the police notify schools after a recorded domestic abuse incident where a child on the school’s roll was present) was not in operation in Solihull in the weeks immediately following lockdown so the domestic abuse incident on 15th April 2020 was not notified to Arthur’s school. The school has reflected that if it had been notified about the incident it would have offered a place to Arthur because of his increased vulnerability.

26.The Metropolitan Police (MPS) have run Operation Encompass since April 2018. However, the decision has been taken to limit the scope and service of Operation Encompass to all schools citing ‘capacity issues’

27.The information sent from the MPS to schools consists of ‘one sentence’ as detailed in their ‘MPS Operation Encompass Protocol’.

28.MPS has excluded independent schools and Early Years settings from their Operation Encompass procedures, again citing ‘capacity issues’.

29.Whilst we can evidence that the MPS has the highest number of recorded Domestic Abuse incidents it also has the highest number of staff. Using published data and a basic crude calculation MPS officers attends approximately 7.75 incidents annually, whereas in a different force officers attend 13.75 incidents annually.

30.In our many contacts with schools in the MPS area and beyond we have encountered and share in the frustration when a police force does not share the necessary Operation Encompass information which would enable a school to appropriately support a child experiencing domestic abuse.

31.The effect of not sharing or limited sharing of information can place both the child and adult victim at risk. Staff may also accidentally retraumatise the victims. Schools are often tempted to make contact with the adult they think is the victim and, in some instances, have approached the child for more information.

32.Sharing information that is limited to; ‘The child was present during an incident of DVA’ is akin to instructing a police officer over the personal radio to ‘Attend the High Street with no other information forthcoming lives can be put at risk.

HM Government document Information Sharing advice for Practitioners 2018’ states:

‘Sharing information is an intrinsic part of any frontline practitioners’ job when working with children and young people. The decisions about how much information to share, with whom and when, can have a profound impact on individuals’ lives. Information sharing helps to ensure that an individual receives the right services at the right time and prevents a need from becoming more acute and difficult to meet. Poor or non-existent information sharing is a factor repeatedly identified as an issue in Serious Case Reviews (SCRs) carried out following the death of or serious injury to, a child. In some situations, sharing information can be the difference between life and death.

33.Operation Encompass is promoted in several key government documents and there is a general understanding and expectance that all police forces and schools will embed the scheme as part of their safeguarding measures and their trauma responsive culture.

34.A Police force fit for the 2020s must put victims at the forefront of their work. To build trust and confidence with partner agencies all police forces must recognise this, act upon it, show an absolute commitment and allow its partners to better safeguard children by sharing information effectively and efficiently.

 

35.Safeguarding children must be a policing priority and sharing information about children experiencing domestic abuse is key to this. It is widely known that children who experience domestic abuse, if not appropriately supported, will have a higher chance of difficulties across all aspects of their life now, and as they grow into adulthood. The notion of Operation Encompass is demonstrated in the wisdom of the quote;

“There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in.”

36.Supporting children now and sharing information so that others (the child’s school) can support these children will assist the development of better outcomes in the future and children less likely to participate in risk taking activities which will then bring them to the notice of the police.

 

37.There are many positive aspects to the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 but one which should herald truly ground breaking changes is that children are now recognised as victims of domestic violence and abuse in their own right. But this will only be ground breaking and change making if police forces (and other professionals) can demonstrate the ways in which this recognition has transformed and improved the day to day lives of children and the support that is available for them. 

 

38.There is a fundamental requirement for police to listen to the voice of children throughout the life course of the domestic abuse and beyond, recognising that the damage created by domestic abuse continues long after the abuse has ceased. Children’s voices must be heard at every stage; by the police who attend the home and by schools who support the child.  Children must know that their views, fears, concerns and opinions will be heard and responded to.

 

 

39.In a recent communication with HMICFRS the following was shared with us:

 

“Partnership working is central to effective child protection and this includes the use of Operation Encompass by forces to understand the adverse effect on children and young people who experience domestic abuse within the family environment. Inspection activity undertaken by HMICFRS includes consideration of the effectiveness of Operation Encompass as it is an indicator of good working between schools and police forces. It assists schools in understanding a child’s behaviour and the opportunity to provide timely support in a way that is best for them”

 

In summary

40.For police forces to be in the best position to protect and enable immediate support for children experiencing domestic abuse there needs to be a consistency in approach and delivery; the principles of Operation Encompass should be fully adhered to by all police forces.

41.The investment made by the police forces into our children’s futures is crucial. As Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer recently said when talking of Operation Encompass: “Protecting the vulnerable is the nucleus of policing”

42.We can mitigate the prevalence of domestic abuse and the harm caused to the vulnerable children who experience such abuse by introducing a Statutory Obligation for police forces to ensure they cannot suspend or cease the Operation Encompass information sharing practice with schools.

 

43.I end this submission with the words of Professor David Gadd from Manchester University:

Operation Encompass is such a cleverly simple intervention that inverts the common assumption that the solution is to get information to the police, rather than get it back to those in a position to make a difference to young people’s lives, their schools’

 

 

 

December 2023