Causeway Chronicle

Op Encompass: Over 23,000 referrals made by Police to support children affected by domestic abuse

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

In May 2023, Operation Encompass was officially rolled out across all 1,162 schools and EOTAS (Education Other Than at School) centres in Northern Ireland. Now one year on, the scheme is being hailed by Police and partners for its success in supporting children affected by domestic abuse.

The scheme is a partnership between the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Education Authority, and education providers. It means if Police attend a domestic abuse call, and children are present, Operation Encompass allows the officers to pass on relevant information to the safeguarding team at the child’s school the following morning, so the right support can be put in place.

Since start of the 2021 school year, which coincided with the pilot launch of the scheme in Downpatrick, Police have received on average 2,750 reports of domestic incidents per month across Northern Ireland, resulting in an average of 740 referrals each month. This has resulted in 23,448 referrals being made by Police to the designated teacher at the relevant school.

Incidents of domestic violence can be traumatising for children. Operation Encompass helps get children access to emotional support in a school environment where they have trusted adults around them. The information shared by the police is treated in strict confidence.

Detective Chief Superintendent, Lindsay Fisher, from the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Public Protection Branch said: “We respond to an incident of domestic abuse, on average, every 17 minutes, and unfortunately children are often present.

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

“To think before this scheme, those same children were going to school the next day, often exhausted, feeling like they had no one to speak to who would understand is heart-breaking.

“This is why we are incredibly proud to have rolled out this important scheme across Northern Ireland. Operation Encompass allows us to share information with schools in quick time so that no child is left unsupported through times that are incredibly difficult for them.

“Domestic abuse, in all its forms, has no place in our society and tackling these crimes remains one of Police Service of Northern Ireland’s top priorities.”

Michael Kelly, Head of Service for the Child Protection Support Service, at the Education Authority, said: “The continuing development and implementation of Operation Encompass is a demonstration of our commitment, to ensuring that all of our schools are equipped to support the most vulnerable children. 

“We know that domestic abuse is a common feature in the lives of many of our children. Feedback from schools during the rollout has indicated that Operation Encompass has been transformational in terms of a teacher’s ability to provide timely and informed support to child victims of domestic violence. We are delighted with the success of the regional rollout and look forward to continued work with our partners in this area.

“I would once again like to pay tribute to school based staff who have worked very hard in a challenging environment to get us to our current position.”

Dunluce School, Bushmills became part of the scheme in February 2023. Since then a number of children have received help and support. Principal Philip Smith said: “The information passed through Operation Encompass allows the school to understand our children better and to have a greater appreciation of the context within which they find themselves. 

“The telephone call from Police allows us to respond and understand what the day ahead may look like for a child.  Not all calls dictate action, with some merely only a watching brief, but each call allows our safeguarding team to build a better picture around each child within our care.”

Co-founders of Operation Encompass, Elisabeth and David Carney-Haworth OBE’s said: “We know that the financial cost of information sharing through Operation Encompass is minimal but the value to our society but most importantly to the child victims of domestic abuse is immeasurable. 

“When a child experiences domestic abuse in their home who can they turn to, who can enable that instant nurturing and support? The Key Adult in their school is perfectly placed to undertake this role and the knowledge that they have through Operation Encompass enables them to ensure each child victim of domestic abuse is fully and appropriately supported.

“As the creators of Operation Encompass it is rewarding for us to see the progress since our first presentation in Queen’s University, Belfast all those years ago in 2016 and it is heart-warming to see that, working together, the agencies in Northern Ireland have embraced Operation Encompass with such honesty, integrity and enthusiasm. They were the first country to ensure that Operation Encompass was enshrined in legislation and this first anniversary is enabling them to recognise the positive impact that this has had for the children of Northern Ireland.

“We applaud the dedication of each agency.”

Dr Emma Corrigan Consultant and Educational Psychologist said:“Operation Encompass is an essential safeguarding partnership that sets a template for effective communication and information sharing. I don’t think we can overstate the positive difference this makes and the impact it has on literally thousands of children across the UK and beyond.

“We know that the familiarity and safety of school and the everyday relationships with staff can be a significant protective factor in children’s lives. The vital information sharing between the police and education enables those staff that know a child well to have the understanding that is needed at the very earliest opportunity.

“By having information shared before the start of the school day, staff can ensure the most suitable adjustments are in place for when the child arrives and that those who know the child well can provide attuned trauma-informed support. Often this may involve small things that signal safety and provide opportunities for experiencing connection and security to more significant adjustments and changes within a child’s school day. The response can be nuanced and tailored based on the knowledge and understanding school snow have through Operation Encompass”

Figures include up until 31st March 2024.

Causeway Chronicle

Causeway Chronicle