19.12.22: Children witnessing domestic abuse at Christmas must receive support to offset harm
AAI and Ombudsman call for support in school for children affected by domestic abuse
With Gardai highlighting the rise in domestic abuse calls ahead of Christmas, support for children must be made available upon their return to school. Since 2020, Alcohol Action Ireland has been calling for the implementation of Operation Encompass to offer immediate support to children and young people experiencing/witnessing domestic violence. This call is supported by the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon.
Operation Encompass is a programme in use in the UK and Northern Ireland that sees police alert schools by the following day when they attend a house with children. It allows children to be met with kindness and support in schools.
The government’s new strategy on domestic abuse recognises children as victims in their own right, yet there are very few supports to help children in these situations. There is a commitment, however, in the Strategy for the Children First Interdepartmental Group to examine by Q3 2022 how Operation Encompass might be introduced in Ireland. Despite many queries to the relevant authorities, there has been no response as to when or if the programme will be introduced.
While alcohol is never an excuse for domestic violence, it is a known aggravating factor in many cases. In Ireland, 1 in 6 children live every day with parental problem alcohol use and in many incidents, alcohol use is the catalyst to significant domestic disruption and abuse.
Dr. Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children said:
“This initiative is a simple and proven mechanism that supports children in school when the Gardaí have been at their home. It operates outside the child welfare system and lets the child know they are not alone and they have a trusted adult they can confide in. The government’s new strategy on domestic abuse recognises children who witness abuse as victims in their own right – action must then be taken to support them.”
Dr. Sheila Gilheany, Alcohol Action Ireland CEO said:
“We have huge concern for the numbers of children who will be returning to school in the new year after a bleaker Christmas with little to no support in place. This is why we must stress the urgency for Operation Encompass to be implemented. Bearing witness to domestic abuse is an adverse childhood experience (ACE) that can cause problems into adulthood. This risk increases when both substance use and violence coexist in the family. It is imperative, therefore, that the impact of domestic abuse, and indeed alcohol use in the home, is recognised and that young people are supported to navigate the chaos that it brings to their lives.”
Operation Encompass is a programme developed and implemented across many local authorities in the UK, designed to support children and young people experiencing domestic abuse. In practice, Operation Encompass would facilitate a Gardaí / Education early information sharing partnership, enabling schools and teachers to offer immediate intervention and support for children and young people experiencing domestic abuse.
More information can be found here.
Details of Third National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence here.
Media language guide here.