Policing Incidents of Domestic Abuse Involving Children: Children’s and Police Officers’ Experiences

  • Annemarie Millar

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Aim: This research represents a ‘first look’ at ‘emotional intelligence’ (EI) (Goleman, 1996); and how EI may mediate police-child interactions at incidents of domestic abuse (DA).

Background: It is now widely accepted that very few children and young people (CYP) living with DA remain unaffected, the effects of which may be carried into adulthood (Richardson-Foster et al., 2012; Radford, 2011; Kitzmann et al., 2003; Wolfe et al. 2003; Holt et al., 2008; Levendosky et al., 2002). The common conceptualisation of children as passive ‘witnesses’ of DA and the failure to recognise them as direct ‘victims’ in their own right, separate from adult victims can act as a major barrier for professionals responding to children within this context (Richardson-Foster et al., 2012). Children are almost always represented as outside the violence between adults, a representation that is often reproduced in academic and professional discourses e.g. ‘victims and their children’ (HMICFRS, 2017, p. 36). The first professional many child victims of DA often come into contact with are members of the police. This represents a ‘key moment’ to enhance the welfare and safety of many children (Richardson-Foster et al., 2012).

Methods: Semi-structured interviews with police officers and children were carried out, as well as two case study interviews using a ‘Think Aloud’ protocol. A major consideration for this research was the development of a research philosophy that explicitly privileges the voice of the child and a children’s rights-based approach (Lundy, 7007; UNCRC, 1989).

Sample: 20 semi-structured interviews with police officers and 15 semi-structured interviews with children were carried out. Five children aged 4-7 and ten children aged 8-15 participated in individual art-based interviews using ‘draw and talk’ technique. Two police officers and two children (aged 12 and 14 years old) took part in the case study interviews.

Analysis: Thematic Analysis explored police officers and children’s responses that were illustrative of Goleman’s constructs of EI.

Findings: Children reported significant differences in empathy, a key tenet of EI, which impacted children, especially younger children’s perceptions of the police as a “helping” profession and feelings of safety and visibility at incidents of DA. This study found evidence of important differences in the level officers reported and made use of emotional knowledge and understanding in response to children at incidents of DA.

Recommendations: EI appears to offer an important contribution to the overall efficacy of officers at incidents of DA involving children. This offers challenges for officers’ and organisational perceptions’ which view these “soft skills” as ancillary to the role of policing.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorMichelle Butler (Supervisor), John Devaney (Supervisor), Tanya Serisier (Supervisor), Michelle Butler (Supervisor) & Mary-Louise Corr (Supervisor)

Cite this