Policy and Legal Framework for Health Professionals Regarding Domestic Abuse

Policy and Legal Framework for Health Professionals Regarding Domestic Abuse

The following are just some of the laws that are relevant to domestic abuse;

The Children Act 1989 and the Children Act 2004

This law establishes the legal framework for child protection and the key principle that the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration. It affirms that children should usually be cared for within their own home, but that children should also be safe and protected if they are at risk of significant harm. Section 17 makes provision for local authorities to provide support, care and services to safeguard and promote the welfare and development of the child and can be used, even if the mother has no recourse to public funds to support mothers and their children.

Adoption and Children Act 2002

Section 120 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 extends the legal definition of ‘significant harm' to children to include the harm caused by witnessing or overhearing abuse of another, especially in a context of domestic violence. It is important to remember that the responsibility for the harm lies with the abuser.

Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 as amended by the Serious Crime Act 2015

This Act came into force on 3 March 2004. It replaces the 1985 Act and makes it an offence for the first time for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to carry out FGM abroad, or to aid, abet, counsel or procure the carrying out of FGM abroad, even in countries where the practice is legal.

The Female Genital Mutilation Act was amended by section 73 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 to include FGM Protection Orders. An FGM Protection Order is a civil measure which can be applied for through the family court. In addition, the Act introduced the legal duty for regulated health and social care professionals and teachers to make a report to the police if:

  • they are informed by a girl under the age of 18 that she has undergone the act of FGM


  • they observe physical signs that an act of FGM may have been carried out on a girl under 18.


Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act 2004

The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004, introduces new powers for the police and courts to tackle offenders whilst ensuring that victims get the support and protection they need. The new Act creates a number of important provisions for example: there are new procedures to deal with multiple offending; breach of non-molestation orders becomes a criminal offence; and causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult becomes a new offence.

The Gender Equality Duty 2007

The Gender Equality Duty requires all public bodies to respond to the needs of women and men fairly and tailor their services accordingly. Domestic violence disproportionately affects women and their children. Apart from the physical injuries sustained by victims and their children, those experiencing domestic violence are twice as likely to experience high levels of depression. They are also more likely to self harm and attempt suicide. The PCT is committed to ensuring that we deliver on this programme of work.

The government has produced several key documents which underpin the policy framework within which health professionals should operate:

Messages from Research 1995

This document concluded that services were focusing their efforts on child protection investigations rather than on supporting mothers. It called for resources to be used to provide proactive services for mothers and children in need, so that the need for child protection procedures might be reduced.

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2006

This document recognises the frequent co-existence of domestic violence and child abuse and recognises the significance of the impact of witnessing domestic violence on children. It also gives advice about protecting the mother. Framework for The Assessment of Children in Need and Their Families 2000

This document builds on previous policy by adopting a holistic approach to assessing risk to children using three dimensions: the child's developmental needs, the parenting capacity and the family and environmental factors. An initial information record, which can be completed by health professionals and is shared between agencies, gathers together this information.

‘Responding to domestic abuse: A handbook for health professionals' 2005.

This document gives specific guidance on key issues for health professionals in caring for families experiencing domestic violence. It emphasises the need to provide local information and support and encourages inter-agency working.

In 2000, the Department of Health endorsed routine antenatal enquiry for domestic violence: this was also endorsed by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Midwives, and NICE who in 2001 recommended that all pregnant women should be asked routinely about domestic violence as part of their social history

Guidelines for domestic abuse have also been produced by the following medical groups and organisation: Department of Health, Royal College of General Practitioners; Royal College of Midwives, and the British Association of A&E Medicine. The Royal College of Nursing has produced a position paper and the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association, and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist have all produced publications highlighting domestic violence.

In 2012, the NHS published Protecting people: Promoting health which provided a framework for violence prevention in health settings to reduce repeat presentations in health settings. Health providers are recommended to work closely with Community Safety Partnerships to provide mult- agency responses to victims of violence.