16 April 2021

What Are Our Children Worth?

What Are Our Children Worth?

By Elisabeth Carney-Haworth OBE (Co-Creator Operation Encompass)

That might seem like a very strange question but I mean it, I mean it seriously.

There are so many children who are struggling in school, struggling in life and those of us who come into contact with children in whatever way in our professional lives have a responsibility to help these children, to support them in whatever way we can.

Most of you who have heard my name will automatically link it to Operation Encompass, the early intervention safeguarding scheme that sees police forces sharing all police attended domestic abuse incidents (where there are children linked to the adults involved in the incident or it is adolescent DVA) with schools prior to the start of the next school day. This means that children can then receive support from the school staff in ways that are appropriate for that child. [1]

So today I am going to focus upon supporting children who are experiencing[2] DVA[3] ; as a child[4] who is living with adults who are abusive, as a child in an adolescent abusive relationship or as a child who is themselves being abusive to their parent. All of these children need our support and we have an obligation to provide that support.

But what might this support look like and for school staff, we need to reassure then that we are certainly not asking that they become therapists or counsellors.

When the Domestic Abuse Bill is finally enshrined in law children will be recognised as victims of domestic abuse in their own right, something that we have been seeking to achieve since the creation of Operation Encompass some 11 years ago. But this will only be the ground breaking and change making event that we all hope it will be if we can all demonstrate the ways in which this recognition has transformed and improved the day to day lives of children and the support that is available for them.

We believe that the key overarching principle is the fundamental requirement for us all to listen to the voice of children throughout the life course of the domestic violence and abuse and beyond, recognising that the damage created by the domestic violence and abuse continues long after the abuse has ceased.

Children’s voices must be heard at every stage; by the police who attend the home, by schools who support the child, by other agencies who may be supporting the child and the family and by the courts.

Children must know that their views, fears, concerns and opinions will be heard and responded to.

To express what this support could look like we have created a ‘Continuum of Support’ image which will no doubt look familiar to schools from considering SEN provision. Hopefully this means that it will feel accessible to all staff and can form a multidisciplinary response to considering how we best support a range of children who are experiencing DVA.


Our schools must provide the first level of universal support as every child has the right to thrive and grow, experiencing safe, secure and nurturing relationships within a safe, secure and nurturing school environment. This provision entails a consideration of the whole school ethos and culture; an examination of how all staff interact with children and an examination of all policies and practices, crucially involving a comprehensive consideration of the school’s behaviour [5]policy. This work must build upon staff having a thorough understanding about DVA and its impact upon children. This should enable children’s behaviours to be seen as a communication and an expression of need rather than merely disruptive, deliberately defiant or ‘naughty’.

The targeted support will be provided to either a small group of children or 1-1 and will be facilitated by either a member of school staff who has undergone specific training or by an external agency who specialise in supporting children experiencing DVA.

Specialist support my not be required by all children but there will be some that cannot be supported and helped by universal and targeted alone.

It is currently difficult for schools to access both targeted and specialist support for the children in their care, especially to access the support at no cost to the school. It is also difficult for schools to know which interventions are the most effective at supporting children experiencing DVA and which interventions are aligned with their school ethos and culture.

At this point I would like to introduce Healing Together, a programme created by Dr Asha Patel (Clinical Psychologist, Innovating Minds) & Jane Evans (Trauma Expert) who also facilitates the training course. Innovating Minds very kindly let me participate in the three-day training course so that I could understand what they are trying to achieve.

I suppose the first thing I should say is that I thoroughly enjoyed each of the days and so did the group of 34 who would then be delivering the intervention in their locality and who came from a range of DVA/Behaviour support roles. And we know that if we enjoy taking part then we will learn more and gain more from the experience.

The programme runs over three days, each day has a different focus but is punctuated with delivery from Jane, videos, frequent short breaks and group discussions. Each aspect of the three days has been carefully and purposefully designed to enable participants to get the best out of them and to clearly describe important messages.

And three days isn’t an overburdensome commitment for any organisation wanting to train facilitators for the course, three days such as these that will change them as practitioners. And once the training has been completed the participants have access to all the resources on line and can join and can access online support from Innovating Minds.

The content has been very carefully constructed and uses a range of learning methods which enhance the experience. But don’t expect a ‘painting by numbers’ guide to supporting children, this programme is far more sophisticated than that and relies upon the adults’ willingness to examine their motivations, their understanding of trauma and their ability to develop reflective and responsive practice.

I know that when feeding back to Innovating Minds I used the words ‘beautiful’ and ‘excellent’ more than once to describe what I feel is an innovative and change making programme.

At the end of the last day participants talked about their experience; it had enabled some to learn a great deal, for some they had revisited learning in a different way and some talked about feeling reinvigorated and re-motivated. Most said that they could not wait to get out there and start running the programme. But everyone had gained something from the three days and knew that they would take this into their work supporting vulnerable children.

It put children first, it recognised that the sessions would not ‘fix’ children but showed ways that we can support children, it acknowledges that helping children is just as much about how we are as the adult as it is about the child, we must be in the right place before we can truly support the child.

So, I return to my question…what are our children worth?

Are they worth us ensuring that the universal support is in place? If this was in place then this early intervention would mean less children needing to access targeted support.

Are they worth investing in high quality targeted support?

Perhaps if the targeted support such as Healing Together was readily and freely available as soon as the need arose then even fewer of our children would need specialist support.

And perhaps then we could say that our children, all our children, are worth the very best support that we can offer each and every day.


[1] www.operationencompass.org for Guidance Handbooks on how to support children experiencing DVA and other resources which are all free

[2] Operation Encompass uses the word ‘experiencing’ as this better describes the impact upon a child rather than words such as ‘witnessing’ or ‘exposed to’

[3] Domestic Violence and Abuse

[4] In this blog I will refer to child in the legal meaning 0-18 yrs of age

[5] Schools may have very different titles for this policy

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