Schools across the Downpatrick area are to take part in a pilot programme, Operation Encompass, which will see police share information with schools where there have been instances of domestic abuse involving a child. This will allow officers to pass on relevant information to the school the child attends so that the right support can be put in place.

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

Children are highly traumatised when they are present during an incident of domestic abuse. Operation Encompass helps get these children access to emotional support in a school environment where they are already familiar and have trusted adults around them. The information shared by the police is treated in strict confidence.

Downpatrick Police station has been selected as the site of the pilot of Operation Encompass (to officially launch on 6 September), prior to a planned regional roll out.

This pilot area covers from Downpatrick up to Killyleagh, across to Saintfield and down to Newcastle. This includes around 60 schools of all types – Nursery, Primary, Secondary, Special, EOTAS, Irish Medium and Independent Christian.

These schools represent a significant number of pupils and will provide sufficient experience to help inform the wider regional roll out of Operation Encompass.

Detective Chief Superintendent Anthony McNally from the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Public Protection Branch said: “Domestic abuse across Northern Ireland has risen over the last year with Covid restrictions creating an environment for more abuse to occur in the home.

“The lasting effects on children who are exposed to domestic abuse can sometimes be left out of the narrative and we want to work in partnership to change this and ensure they are properly safeguarded.

“A child who is experiencing and/or witnessing physical, emotional and psychological abuse at home will go to school the next day often requiring emotional help and support, so it is important that our Education colleagues are made aware in quick time when a child has suffered or witnessed domestic abuse.

“Operation Encompass is therefore another way the Police Service of Northern Ireland is cementing our commitment to tackling and breaking the cycle of domestic abuse and I am delighted that we are now in a position after an extensive development phase to commence with this pilot on the 6th of September after our schools have re-opened.”

Quote from founders of Operation Encompass, David Carney-Haworth OBE and Elisabeth Carney-Haworth OBE: “We are delighted that Operation Encompass is being implemented in Northern Ireland (NI) so that schools are better able to support children who are living with domestic violence and abuse. The use of Operation Encompass reveals just how seriously the police and education leads are taking Domestic violence and abuse and that they understand how damaging it is to the children who are growing up in these homes.

“In NI, the new Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (2021) recognises children as victims of domestic abuse in their own right, something that Operation Encompass has worked tirelessly to achieve. This reinforces not only the need to support these children but also the NI Assembly’s recognition of the need for Operation Encompass.

“We know just how much teachers both need and want this information, schools have shared with us the difference that this can make to the children in their care, it enables teachers to understand a child’s behaviour, to offer them the support and nurture that they need.

“Operation Encompass should be in every force, in every school, for every child, no matter where they live, it is simply every child’s right.”

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