Under Operation Encompass specialist safeguarding teams within Northumbria Police have visited more than 400 schools in the area to help raise awareness around domestic abuse and to provide support for children and parents affected by abuse.
Specialist officers from the Force's Safeguarding department have delivered sessions in 416 schools across Northumberland, North Tyneside, Newcastle, Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland to deliver healthy relationships sessions to children. The sessions, which are co-delivered with the children’s teacher, explain what abuse is, how it can affect children and what to do if you are a victim or have witnessed abuse.
The sessions are age appropriate and are delivered by safeguarding experts. They are designed to help children understand and manage their feelings and emotions, and highlight what behaviours are healthy or unhealthy in a friendship or relationship.
The deliveries have been designed by experts including Barnardo’s and are tailored for age specific audiences ranging from four years to 16 year-olds. Four year olds talk about their feelings and what makes them happy or sad, while older children learn about coercive and controlling behaviour and other issues appropriate to their age.
Since visiting the schools in the first six weeks of the programme delivery, more than 14,000 children have benefited from the inputs with 55 children receiving enhanced support and early help.
Tracy Bell from Barnardo’s led on the creation of a PSHE resource for school staff to deliver to children and young people. “We brought together expertise from education, the police and the third sector to create an easy to use, comprehensive resource to meet the government’s Relationship and Sex Education requirements. The materials are interactive and flexible and are designed so that teaching staff can tailor the session to the needs of the class. The resources can be adapted for children and young people with additional needs and when used as a spiral curriculum form a comprehensive, well rounded teaching aid. Feedback from children, young people and teaching staff has been overwhelmingly positive with many schools booking sessions with the delivery team well in advance.”
As well as scheduled delivery sessions, the team also host drop in sessions which allow children, school staff and parents to come and speak to the skilled safeguarding specialists in a more confidential and closed session. If you are a parent suffering domestic abuse, speak to your child’s school and ask about when the sessions are held and come along and speak to one of the specialists who can offer you advice, referrals for help or to help keep you and your children safe.
Detective Inspector Tim Douglass, who leads the programme for Northumbria Police, is aiming to have the programme adopted in all 626 schools in the force area by March next year.
Det Insp Douglass said: "It is important we get out into schools and communities to talk to children about domestic abuse and what this may look like in the home. Some children often don't realise that their lives can be very different to the lives of other children and abuse can become not only normalised, but learned behaviour. This can become an issue for them growing up and can also lead to problems in later life.
"We have made excellent progress in integrating ourselves within local schools and it is an absolutely vital partnership we must continue to develop and encourage.
"This is all about early intervention and it fits alongside the government’s requirement to deliver healthy relationships training to children throughout their education. We are talking to children about emotions and relationships and the emphasis is on their safety and welfare.
"I think what is really important is that each session is delivered with the age of the children in mind; to ensure they best understand the important message we aim to deliver. So for example the younger children are taught about feelings - what makes them happy or sad - whereas with the older ones we talk about more complex and emotive issues such as consent and coercive behaviour.
"The packages we deliver have been very well-researched and created together with Barnardo’s, Operation Encompass and other professionals and specialists including child psychologists.
"This work is a national pilot and it very much focuses on early intervention and how we prevent children becoming not only perpetrators or victims themselves but it helps us identify other victims they may be living with.
"Our aim is to get into every school in the force area to deliver something that we believe is vital in taking down barriers around abuse in the home and helping to break the cycle of abuse."
Like the majority of the schools in the area, West Jesmond Primary School have been fully involved with Operation Encompass and training for staff from the very beginning of the project. Executive Head Teacher, Gary Wallis-Clarke, said: “This information and training for staff is critical in helping us to keep our children and parents safe and enables us as a school community to provide a much needed level of support and place of safety. The sessions have been really well received by the children and the information we receive as a school can help us provide swift intervention and counselling for children in very vulnerable circumstances. In these situations this information can often be the ‘missing piece of the jigsaw’ that can help us to understand what one of our children or parents may be experiencing and be a life-line to getting this resolved”.
Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness, said: “I’m delighted that through The Next Steps project Northumbria Police is reaching out to all schools within the force area seeking to break the cycle of domestic abuse and limit the damage caused. We know that if we want to change attitudes we need to engage with children at the earliest opportunity and The Next Steps project does just that. Through the right education and support I believe we can equip our young people with the foundations for healthy and respectful relationships.”
As well as delivering sessions to children, the work focuses on upskilling school staff and raising awareness around domestic abuse issues so that they are better equipped to support children and parents who are suffering domestic abuse.
If you have been a victim of abuse or have concerns, please come forward and contact police on 101, or 999 in an emergency.
Victims can also contact Victims First Northumbria on 0800 011 3116 who will give independent advice and support.
For more information about domestic abuse advice search Northumbria Police online, search Operation Encompass or visit the DAWSA website at dawsa.org.uk
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