Cambridge Journal of Evidence-Based Policing

, Volume 2, Issue 3–4, pp 111–124 | Cite as

Can Police Prioritize Highest Risks of Harm Among 6670 Children Exposed to Domestic Abuse?

  • Andrew M. FeatherstoneEmail author
  • Geoffrey Barnes
  • Denis O’Connor
Original Article


Research Question

Can police prioritize children they encounter by risk of future harm involving those who witnessed domestic abuse?


We tracked the prevalence and frequency of future harm involving all 6670 children who Kent Police (UK) found witnessing domestic abuse and referred to Social Services in 2012. A 3-year tracking period lasted exactly 1065 days after the date of each initial referral.


Four categories of events were tracked for each child: (1) further witnessing of domestic abuse, (2) a child being named as a suspected offender of a criminal offense, (3) a child being reported as a victim of a criminal offense, and (4) a child being reported as a missing person from the home.


Further harmful events were highly prevalent (48%), yet over 92% of those events were repeated reports of witnessing domestic abuse. Less than 3% of the cohort went on to become a victim of crime, 1.6% were reported missing, and 6% were named as offenders in a crime over the 3 years. Total events including new witnessing of DA were heavily concentrated in a “power few”: under 10% were reported in 50% of the 8685 subsequent events over the next 3 years.


Tracking subsequent harm to children present at domestic abuse shows more than enough concentration of future events to justify selective targeting of resources for further efforts to protect these children, ideally by using advanced predictive analytics such as random forests modeling.


Domestic abuse Child victims Vulnerability Police risk assessments Social services Tracking victims and offenders 



The first author is indebted to his Kent Police colleagues who assisted him in completing the research, particularly Sarah Smith, Sarah O’Keefe, and Alan Bennett, and to Ian Drysdale for supporting this work at Cambridge.

Funding information

This study was financially supported by Kent Police and the Policing Knowledge Fund administered by the College of Policing, as thesis for the Master of Studies degree in Applied Criminology and Police Management, Cambridge Police Executive Programme, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew M. Featherstone
    • 1
    Email author
  • Geoffrey Barnes
    • 2
  • Denis O’Connor
    • 3
  1. 1.Kent PoliceMaidstoneUK
  2. 2.Western Australia Police PerthAustralia and University of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  3. 3.University of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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