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Operation Encompass and the National Teachers’ Helpline for children experiencing domestic abuse

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The helpline provides free, immediate, accessible and confidential psychology support to staff working in schools.

Teacher’s National Helpline:

  • Number: 0204 513 9990
  • Times: 8am – 11am, Monday – Friday

Domestic abuse and lockdown

As educational and child psychologists, we found the increase in reported incidents of domestic abuse to be one of the most concerning aspects of lock-down.

Calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline rose by a weekly average of 66% and visits to the website (where women can request a safe time to be contacted) saw a 950% rise compared to pre Covid-19 (Refuge, May 2020).  

Operation Encompass has been working to support children experiencing Domestic Abuse for ten years and they too were concerned about the impact of the pandemic and the lockdown. They contacted us with their plan to provide a Teachers’ Helpline for all staff in schools across England and Wales. The Home Office released funding to ensure immediate access to psychological advice for staff supporting their vulnerable children and families during this challenging and unsettling time.

The Teachers’ Helpline launched in Devon and Cornwall on 1st April and within a matter of weeks it was available nationally. We have worked with staff across all corners of England and Wales, working in schools and settings across the age range. It quickly became apparent that lock-down represented a significant threat for many children’s safety and wellbeing and that schools were in unchartered territory when it came to supporting and staying connected with these children.

It has been testament to staff commitment and the immediacy of the helpline advice that much needed support has been provided without the need for referral forms, waiting times or threshold/eligibility criteria. As schools have returned, the impact of lock-down and the ongoing uncertainty we find ourselves in means that all of our children and young people need the safety, security and stability that their school and the relationships therein can provide. We need to do all we can to support the staff that have a daily impact on the children and families they support.

As educational psychologists, we are keen to complement the work that is being carried out by Educational Psychology Services across the country. This helpline is an extra layer of support when services are incredibly stretched. We know that it is likely that schools will already be working closely with their EP services who will know children, families and communities well. At the same time, we know that resources can be limited and it’s about all pulling together to do the best we can for our vulnerable children and families. Providing immediate and free access to support from an EP can be extremely helpful for staff at a difficult time.

Operation Encompass and the Teachers’ Helpline

Operation Encompass is an early intervention safeguarding partnership between Education and the Police. It was set up in 2011 by retired primary Head teacher, Elisabeth Carney-Haworth OBE and her husband, David Carney-Haworth OBE, a retired police sergeant. The original aim of Operation Encompass was to make sure that schools were informed, before the start of the next school day, if the police had been called to a child or young person’s house the previous evening due to a domestic incident and to ensure that children are recognised as victims of Domestic Abuse in their own right.

The Operation Encompass Teachers’ Helpline ensures that any staff member who has a concern about a child’s vulnerability related to Domestic Abuse (whether an Operation Encompass notification has been received or not) has access to the dedicated advice line, freely available, Monday to Friday between 8am and 11am. The phone line is funded by the Home Office and is supported by the Department for Education to ensure schools can access immediate psychological advice, consultation and guidance. All information remains confidential and no identifiable information, relating to any child or family member is shared, ensuring all existing safeguarding procedures remain in place.

Our multidisciplinary team at Psychology Associates (comprising Educational, Child & Community Psychologists and Clinical Psychologists) are experienced in supporting high levels of vulnerability associated with Adverse Childhood Experiences and Domestic Abuse. As an integrated education and wellbeing service, we are also an Adoption Support Agency with specialism in supporting developmental trauma.

As a diverse team of professionals’, we have found that callers have valued the psychological and therapeutic lens that our advice draws upon and to have the experience of connecting with a containing, validating human voice. When receiving calls from headteachers, Designated Safeguarding Leads, teachers and mentors, often the sense of relief has been palpable; they have been incredibly grateful to have someone listen, guide, reflect and advise, providing recommendations that they can then decide how to take forward.

With permission from callers, anonymous feedback has been recorded.  This feedback has provided useful insight into the perceived impact of this advice:

This has been so helpful, it has been great to talk to someone else and think about next steps. It’s great to get another opinion and some helpful guidance about how to progress.

(Head teacher and Designated Safeguarding Lead)

Very helpful advice … the opportunity to ask how we can actually support. I’m not a Psychologist so having the advice and an opinion is so important as we know we need to get this bit right to help the children longer term…I will let my colleagues know and I am sure they will be contacting the Helpline.

(Class teacher)

The Helpline has allowed us to develop and refine a range of skills as a team. Rapport building over the telephone is just as important as it is face to face. Ascertaining the caller’s understanding of trauma, their starting point in supporting the child within the school context, is as integral to telephone consultation as it is to face to face consultation.  

Listening carefully to the caller’s key areas of concern, exploring what has been tried (and how this has been implemented and monitored), understanding the child’s strengths and most importantly, their key relationships, to underpin their sense of safety and security, has been central to all advice and guidance. 

The Teachers’ Helpline and the year ahead

In the year ahead, the Teachers’ Helpline will be available to any school or setting who would like consultation, advice and guidance related to supporting children and young people who have experienced domestic abuse or where there is a concern that this may be a risk. 

Together with Operation Encompass we have also developed the tool ‘Recovery & Resilience Planning’ as a one-page summary to guide staff in their understanding and support, focusing on relationships, emotional wellbeing, engagement and learning. We have found that this tool can be a useful prompt for us during telephone calls, and callers are able to use it to inform their approach and consolidate their own understanding of how best to support children and young people. The website also contains links to wider videos and resources and the Operation Encompass free Key Adult Training.

The opportunity for free consultation, advice and guidance is underpinned by our aim of building ongoing capacity within school systems. We think that there is growing understanding in schools about the impact of domestic abuse on children and young people. In some secondary schools where SEN and Safeguarding teams have been historically quite separate, we can see how stronger links between the Designated Safeguarding Lead and the SENDCo are impacting on whole staff understanding of children and young people in relation to Domestic Abuse. Some schools are addressing tensions between behaviour policies and the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences, through developing relational based behaviour policies. For us, the Teachers’ Helpline is part of this wider work.  

Please share the Teachers’ Helpline 0204 513 9990 with your schools and settings. We are keen for colleagues across education to know that this support is available to school staff and to share it with anyone who you think may find it useful. 

References and further information

Teachers’ Helpline number: 0204 513 9990

The Teachers’ Helpline is available Monday to Friday, 8am – 11am.

Operation Encompass – Free online Key Adult training and free resources produced by Psychology Associates about how schools can best support children and young people

Refuge – A charity providing specialist support for women and children experiencing domestic violence. 

Psychology Associates – Information about the multidisciplinary team and resources at Psychology Associates. 

Information about the provisions in the Domestic Abuse Bill

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