A much-praised scheme devised by a former police sergeant from Plymouth is safeguarding children and young people affected by domestic abuse, despite obstacles caused by the government’s academies agenda. Though it received early praise from Ofsted, ‘Operation Encompass’ currently has no support from the secretary of state for education, further evidence following her repeated refusal to put sex and relationships education into the compulsory national curriculum, that she sees little role for her department in combating domestic abuse. Meanwhile devastating local authority cuts threaten the refuges to which such children and their parent victims can currently escape
Encompass, the brainchild of former detective sergeant David Carney-Haworth and his head teacher wife, Elisabeth, ensures that every child who has been involved in a domestic abuse incident at home can have extra support from school the next day. Police notify the incident to a ‘key adult’ on the school staff before 9 o’clock so that the child or young person can be helped and supported with whatever it takes to make them feel safe and included. Very young children have been allowed to keep favourite toys in school as a comfort, children arriving unwashed or without school uniform have been tidied up and cheered rather than told off, as they might otherwise have been. Teachers use their professional skills to try to normalise the school day for the child and to protect their learning opportunities. So far, take up of the scheme has begun in up to fifteen police forces and last week saw it featured on the Victoria Derbyshire programme and likely to go onto the agenda of police and crime commissioners nationwide.
However, the government’s policy to fragment schooling by driving the academies makes the scheme’s implementation harder because each school has to be approached separately. Northumbria police were an early adopter but, despite the full support of Gateshead council, the pilot local authority, it took them more than a year to access and explain Encompass to the 87 schools in the area. Every one bought in to the initiative in the end. In the year since it became established, 1419 children with an average age of nine, have received help and clearly others would have been similarly helped the year before. Over 158 incidents were repeats incidents in the same homes.
An Oftsted inspection of children’s services in Gateshead reported in October 2015, six months after Encompass began, that it had, at that stage ‘ … led to 276 separate incidents of domestic abuse reported to schools that otherwise would not have been known. Although it is too early for an impact evaluation, the feedback from schools is positive as it allows them to consider additional support needs for pupils’.
Local survey work by the police showed that ‘key adults’ and head teachers in Gateshead schools, feel better able to safeguard and support children because of Operation Encompass. Since then individual Gateshead staff have helped to overcome the barriers caused by the plethora of academies and free schools forced onto the area. With the full support of local authorities, they have used their personal and trade union contacts in the schools of five neighbouring north east councils to spread the understanding of Encompass so that similar safeguarding and support can be made available to the children in more of the 500 schools across Northumbria. Children’s services and local authority education departments, essential to the disclosure process, have supported the rollout with all six agreeing in principle to adopting Operation Encompass, three areas now live, one going live within two months and a final area having training and key dates under discussion.
Up to 15 other police forces with local partners have equally promoted the scheme, surmounting the same barriers. Plans are now in place to spread word about Encompass through police and crime commissioner networks to reach the other two thirds of policing areas. Inevitably though, children in those areas will not have this kind of help and support for some time
The huge increase in reports of sexual exploitation post-Savile has thrown into relief the urgent need to spread sex and relationships education in schools. As part of a package of protective learning children can be taught to understand when they are at risk of being groomed and can learn the nature of healthy relationships and the meaning of consent in sex. The government’s apparently immoveable stance on academies means that this essential protection can only be spread painstakingly school by school in the same way as with Operation Encompass. Oh, for a government that put children before privatisation and ideology.
Vera Baird is police and crime commissioner for Northumbria
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