New protocol will help professionals uncover hidden domestic violence in infants

  • Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Uncovering hidden domestic violence in under-threes will be made easier for social workers, health and other professionals when a new protocol is launched by the project’s national coordinator, Professor Cecilia Essau, in London next month.

Image - New protocol will help professionals uncover hidden domestic violence in infants

Dr Essau, from the University’s Department of Psychology, is a leading researcher in youth mental health. She is the author of over 200 scientific articles and author or editor of 18 books in this area. 

The INTOVIAN Protocol is a series of carefully designed questions which medics and nursery staff, as well as social services workers, can use to assess whether a child is suffering at home. The questions are phrased to encourage professionals to consider behaviour as well as the answers given. This is so a child’s emotional and physical state can be assessed through its actions and expressions during face to face meetings. 

How the protocol works

The protocol can be used by professionals as part of infant and toddler routine health examinations in children centres and hospitals and regular observations of young children in nurseries. As well as using information provided by families, professionals can use the protocol to assess:

  • The quality of the care-giver and child interaction, 
  • Levels of affection shown, 
  • Psychological involvement of both care-giver and the child.

Professionals can use the questions and their judgements about the relationship between the parent and child to uncover potential issues, such as whether a parent might have or have not been responsible for a child’s injury. This can be likely if the parent’s explanation is inconsistent, for instance.

The protocol includes details on when professionals should consider taking further action to protect a child from potential harm and a database setting out the appropriate agencies. 


The INTOVIAN Protocol has been developed in the context of the EU-funded INTOVIAN project, which six EU countries have participated in - Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the UK). The checklist and its extensive supporting guidance have been constructed so it is applicable to any EU country.

It will be launched on Monday 6 July at the University of Roehampton where it will be explained to health, care and nursery leaders who will be invited to adopt it. The event will also discuss the formation of a network to fight infant or toddler abuse and neglect by promoting prevention, early diagnosis and intervention.

Global estimates of child homicide suggest children aged 0-4 are most at risk with rates more than double compared to 5-14 year olds. These children are the most vulnerable for many reasons, including their dependency, small size, and inability to defend themselves (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2014).