L-R; Jennifer McCann (Education Authority); James Draper (Education Authority); Detective Constable Rachel Glenn; Sergeant Ryan Duffy; Detective Superintendent Lindsay Fisher
L-R; Jennifer McCann (Education Authority); James Draper (Education Authority); Detective Constable Rachel Glenn; Sergeant Ryan Duffy; Detective Superintendent Lindsay Fisher

Schools across the Southern and South Eastern Trust areas are to join Operation Encompass.

The programme which is already operational across the Downpatrick, Newry and South Armagh areas, sees Police sharing 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 Safeguarding Board of Northern Ireland, the Police Service of 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.

Across the pilot areas of Downpatrick, Newry and South Armagh, during the school year 2021-22, Police attended 306 domestic incidents with 586 children exposed to an adverse childhood experience. Consent was provided by parents of 450 of the 586 children, resulting in 450 referrals being made by Police to the Designated Teacher at these children’s 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.

Across North Down and Ards, Lisburn, Armagh, Craigavon, Banbridge and Dungannon, a further 325 schools are joining the programme before it is rolled out across all of Northern Ireland. This includes schools of all types – Nursery, Primary, Post Primary, Special, EOTAS, Irish Medium and Independent Christian.

Detective Chief Superintendent Anthony McNally from the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s Public Protection Branch said:

“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. I am delighted that we are now in a position to roll this very important initiative out to even more schools.”

Colin Reid, Head of Safeguarding, Pupil Welfare and Inclusion for the Education Authority, said:

“With Operation Encompass, safeguarding staff in schools are well placed to meet the immediate needs of children who have witnessed an incident of domestic violence. Operation Encompass allows our schools to do what they do best – provide caring and compassionate support to the children in the school. This initiative is supported by the Education Authority’s Child Protection Support Service and we are delighted to continue to work with our colleagues in Schools, the Police and the Safeguarding Board.”

Mrs Stewart from Newcastle Primary School, recently talked about the success of Operation Encompass so far in the Downpatrick area. When asked how things have changed since the commencement of the programme in the school, she said:

“Previously, we would have been informed a few weeks later. By this time the child would’ve been struggling to process what had happened alone in school and without the reassurance that they so desperately need. The police contacting the school saved the parent and the child of having to disclose something very personal and private to them. This allowed us in school to offer support without them having to go through the pain of disclosing.”

When asked if she would recommend Operation Encompass to other schools, Mrs Stewart said:

“Without any hesitation. It’s allowed us to provide immediate support without any delay. It is paramount that schools are kept informed of any changes to children’s lives so that they can be prepared to deal with situations such as this.