A scheme that enables police to alert schools where there have been instances of domestic abuse involving their pupils has been extended to 77 more schools in the Newry and south Armagh area.
The pilot programme named Operation Encompass has already been operational in 60 schools across the Downpatrick region, where it began in September 2021.
Relevant information shared by officers is intended to help the school put the right emotional support in place for any of its pupils that may have witnessed or experienced abuse at home, and police said all details are treated with the strictest confidence.
If the PSNI attend a domestic abuse call where children are present, they will contact the child’s school before 9am the next morning to share this information with their safeguarding team.
Police said they attended 65 domestic abuse incidents with 118 children exposed to adverse childhood experience in the last five months, during their initial pilot area of Downpatrick.
Officers said consent was provided by 28 parents relating to 49 of the 118 children, with referrals then being made to the designated teacher at these children’s schools.
Schools partaking in the Newry and south Armagh scheme include nurseries, primary and post-primary schools, special needs schools and more.
They are partnering with the Safeguarding Board of Northern Ireland, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Education Authority for this pilot of Operation Encompass, which is hoped to be rolled out across the entirety of Northern Ireland in the future.
Detective Chief Superintendent Anthony McNally said: “The lasting effects on children who are exposed to domestic abuse can sometimes be left out of the narrative and we want to work in partnership to change this and ensure they are properly safeguarded.
“A child who is experiencing and/or witnessing physical, emotional and psychological abuse at home will go to school the next day often requiring emotional help and support, so it is important that our education colleagues are made aware in quick time when a child has suffered or witnessed domestic abuse.”
Mrs Stewart from Newcastle Primary School, believes Operation Encompass has already had a positive impact in the Downpatrick area.
“Previously, we would have been informed a few weeks later. By this time the child would’ve been struggling to process what had happened alone in school and without the reassurance that they so desperately need,” she said.
"The police contacting the school saved the parent and the child of having to disclose something very personal and private to them. This allowed us in school to offer support without them having to go through the pain of disclosing.”
She added that she would recommend the programme to other schools “without any hesitation”.
"It’s allowed us to provide immediate support without any delay. It is paramount that schools are kept informed of any changes to children’s lives so that they can be prepared to deal with situations such as this."