Policing incidents of domestic abuse: Children and police officers' experiences

Research Institution / Organisation

Queen's University Belfast

In Collaboration With

Women's Aid N.I; Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI)

Principal Researcher

Annemarie Millar

Level of Research


Project Start Date

September 2013

Research Context


This research represents a ‘first look’ at ‘emotional intelligence’ (EI) (Goleman, 1998); and how EI may mediate police-child interactions at incidents of domestic abuse (DA).


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 first professional that 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 CYP (Richardson-Foster et al., 2012). The cultural context in which policing is delivered in one part of the U.K, Northern Ireland (N.I), represents a unique aspect of this study.


20 semi-structured interviews with police officers and 15 with CYP were carried out. 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 (UNCRC, 1989).

Preliminary Analysis

Analysis sought to explore police officers and CYP responses that were illustrative of Goleman’s constructs of EI. Findings: CYP reported significant differences in empathy, a key tenet of EI, which significantly impacted CYP, 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 CYP at incidents of DA.


EI appears to offer an important contribution to the overall efficacy of officers at incidents of DA involving CYP. This offers challenges for officers’ and organisational perceptions and potential recruitment and training which view these ‘soft skills’ as ancillary to the role of police officers’ and policing.

Research Methodology

​The empirical data came from 20 semi-structured interviews with police officers and 15 with CYP and 2 case studies.

Preliminary Analysis

Thematic Analysis (TA) identified themes that were important to understanding CYPs and police officers’ lived experiences within the context of the research questions and theoretical framework (Emotional Intellegence).

Interim reports and publications

​Not available

Date due for completion

June 2018
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