YOUNGSTERS in Barnsley who have witnessed domestic abuse have been promised more support as part of a multi-agency initiative which launched in the borough last week as a response to rising cases.

Barnsley’s dedicated domestic abuse team - the first to be established in South Yorkshire - reported four times more arrests relating to alleged abuse from partners since the pandemic began last March.

Children who have either witnessed incidents or are deemed to be at risk will now be targeted though Operation Encompass, after cabinet members approved the borough’s involvement in the police-led initiative last Wednesday.

Under the scheme, police alert schools before 8.30am if a youngster has been exposed to abuse at home the previous evening, so the school can offer support as soon as possible.

Coun Sharon Howard said: “When people think about domestic abuse, they think of the direct victim, not necessarily the layers that are underneath it.

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“Adverse childhood experiences, such as the impact of domestic abuse, can often become the cause of risky behaviour including greater vulnerability to criminal exploitation)and chronic health conditions later in the life course of an individual.

“Operation Encompass will help statutory safeguarding partners and relevant agencies in the borough to improve their understanding of such adverse experiences and to provide better support to vulnerable children, so they do not miss out on early help and intervention, including therapeutic help.

“This will add assurance that the progress and protection of all vulnerable children, including those who have witnessed or been affected by domestic violence, will continue to be monitored and tracked by statutory safeguarding partners and relevant agencies.”

Having already been rolled out across South Yorkshire, the scheme began in Barnsley yesterday.

Dr Alan Billings, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, told the Chronicle the issue remains high on officers’ agendas.

“When the first lockdown began, there was a feeling across the country that there would be a rise in cases of domestic abuse - in Barnsley there was a 7 per cent increase,” he said.

“The focus has been on the timeliness of the response, meticulous investigation and effective safeguarding of all at risk.

“The restrictions on movement over the last 12 months have meant that families have been cooped up at home for long stretches of time, putting huge pressure on relationships.

“Protecting vulnerable people in this situation is one of my top priorities for policing.

“As well as the adult, I am also very aware that there may be children who are victims of abuse, or who may witness it.

“This is also why I give as much support as I can to those organisations in Barnsley that help people caught up in domestic abuse - such as IDAS (Independent Domestic Abuse Service).

“We hope to support as many organisations as possible in order to reach anyone who has found themselves a victim.”

David Carney-Haworth OBE, founder of Operation Encompass added: “Domestic abuse is prevalent across all tiers of our society and in many cases there are children present in these situations.

“Research tells us that these children are negatively affected by experiencing that domestic abuse.

“This scheme brings domestic abuse out into the open and enables schools to show that they will support, without judgement, families and children who are experiencing this abuse.”