“If they come in and they haven’t got their school uniform, we can have a school uniform ready so they don’t feel any different.
“If they haven’t had any breakfast we can make sure they have some breakfast.
“We can actually just sit down with them and say that we know something horrible happened at home last night, and if they want to talk to us about it they can.”
Sometimes it is the seemingly small gestures that can count the most, Lis adds, as was the case with Alex.
“When he arrived at school Alex brought with him a teddy bear.
“Normally when a child brings a teddy bear to school we’d say ‘is mummy taking that teddy with her or shall we put it somewhere safe in the classroom’, but because his class teacher knew what had happened we just let him keep it, and he hugged that teddy bear all day long.
“For us, that was absolutely nothing – but to that little boy it was everything.”
Domestic abuse and children
- Around one in five children in the UK have been exposed to domestic abuse
- 62% of children in households where domestic violence is taking place are harmed directly
- Children exposed to the domestic abuse of a parent often have greater behavioural and emotional problems compared to other children, including depression and anxiety, and aggressive or anti-social behaviour
- One in five teenagers has been physically abused by their boyfriends or girlfriends
Source: NSPCC and Department for Education
Jane says that although her son’s behaviour had deteriorated after witnessing violence at home, the school’s early intervention made a difference.
“I could actually see him changing with what was going on in the home. I thought that was really going to damage him.
“But as soon as he became part of Operation Encompass the bad behaviour stopped, the spitting stopped and the swearing. He was getting back to that lovely little boy.”
The initial behavioural changes seen in Alex are not uncommon. Children exposed to domestic violence are more likely than other children to have behavioural and emotional problems including depression and anxiety, and aggressive or anti-social behaviour.
For the founders of Operation Encompass, this reinforces the need for more police forces to work with the scheme. At present, each force decides whether it wishes to take part.
“Lots are doing this already, but lots just isn’t enough,” says David.
“It should be in every force, for every school, for every child – simple as that.”