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Standing Together: Multi agency working and co-location in children's social care

Nicola Douglas has worked in the field of domestic abuse for the past fifteen years, in both frontline and strategic roles. Nicola is currently the Children and Health Team Leader at Standing Together Against Domestic Violence.  

Sally Jackson has been working in violence against women in both the statutory and voluntary sector over the last 25 years. As Partnership Manager she is currently the Operational lead for VAWG across Hammersmith and Fulham, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea. 

The value of co-location  

Our understanding of the devastating impact of domestic abuse has increased over time and many agencies recognise the importance of supporting the non-abusive parent. However, evidence and research continue to highlight the many ways in which mothers are held accountable for all aspects of children’s wellbeing and safeguarding, even when their partner is the one perpetrating the abuse (Humphreys and Absler, 2011).  

By constructing mothers as solely responsible for child rearing and safety we create the perfect conditions for women to be held accountable for abusive men’s behaviour and this ‘renders the abusive partner’s behaviour invisible’ (Mandel, 2010). 

Victim blaming is widespread, underpinned by structural inequality between the sexes and is evident in various reports, interventions and approaches around domestic abuse. Examples include Serious Case Reviews where coercive control is misinterpreted as situational couple violence.  

Another example is the reporting of the brutal murder of mother-of-five, Natalie Saunders, where the Crown Prosecution Service described Natalie as ‘choosing to remain with Stephen Charlton, despite the physical violence and emotional abuse that he would often inflict upon her’.  

Those who have witnessed, experienced or have an understanding of coercive control will know that victims have little space to make choices and that leaving an abusive relationship is incredibly risky.  Rather than seeking to understand the context of a survivor’s decisions, many agencies still centre the responsibility for safety on the non-abusive parent.  

All professionals, including Social Care staff, have a role to play in helping women to recognise abuse and increase safety. However, this must happen in collaboration with survivors - ensuring that the perpetrator’s pattern of coercive control and its impact is fully recognised. If we shift the narrative back to the perpetrator and their responsibility, as Stark (2013) suggests, ‘social work intervention can develop a strength perspective that recognises and builds on the courage it takes to survive coercive control’  

Standing Together  

At Standing Together Against Domestic Violence we recognise the value of the Coordinated Community Response, working with communities to bring together all the different local agencies that play a part in tackling abuse, from prevention to prosecution and beyond. We help them to coordinate their activities, review performance, identify gaps, and support them to improve.  

Since 2015, representatives from local specialist victim/survivor and perpetrator services have been co-located within Children Social Care’s front-line teams. The overall purpose being to better support and safeguard children and families where domestic abuse is a feature. The project has meant that practitioners have been able to offer support and advice to social care staff, facilitated three-way meetings with survivors and social workers, contributed bespoke safety plans and delivered training and briefings to better equip staff with the skills to support survivors and their children.  

This work is reinforced by strategic oversight at the Local Safeguarding Children Boards, VAWG Strategic Board and Operational Groups. With this approach we aim to embed a whole systems approach, ensuring that social workers develop a robust understanding of coercive control and domestic abuse.  

Research continues to remind us of the importance of such training: Wiesz and Wiersma (2011) asserted that Social workers need training and guidance in order to develop appropriate responses to women. Liegghio and Caragata (2016) recommend training and education in a safe environment where social workers can have the opportunity to reflect on prejudices and assumptions, so that micro-aggression can be made visible. 

The co-location project has brought benefits to both our social care staff and specialist services. Both are better positioned to understand the parameters of each other’s work, share ideas and collaborate to increase the safety of survivors and their children.  

We have seen improvements in practice following training on the impact of domestic abuse on children. Child and family professionals who recognise that children don’t witness abuse but are subjected to it, approach the work from a more empathetic viewpoint. 

We have also started the process of training staff in Safe and Together, a child-centred model deriving its name from the concept that children are best served when we can work toward keeping them safe and together with the non-abusive parent. Mandel (2010) suggests that in most cases, risks posed to children by an abusive partner can be mitigated by intervention with the perpetrator and working in partnership with women. The Model provides a framework for partnering with domestic violence survivors and intervening with domestic violence perpetrators in order to enhance the safety and wellbeing of children. 

Mandel (2010) advocates using the framework of coercive control to inform assessment; examining the perpetrator’s pattern of coercive control and the actions he has taken that have harmed women and children.  

Safe and Together recognises the full spectrum of the non-offending parents’ efforts to protect the child, promote their safety and wellbeing and works from a strength-based perspective. It fits well with the three pillars of safeguarding: 

  • Protect the child 

  • Support Mother to protect herself 

  • Hold the perpetrator to account 

The literature suggests that practice that is sensitive to women’s needs and focuses on perpetrator behaviour as a parenting choice can better protect women and children. Women’s narratives of their experiences suggest that such an approach is possible with relatively small but important changes to the language and behaviour of family and children services. 

We have made lots of progress in our understanding of the impact of domestic abuse, with agencies recognising the value of collaboration in order to support survivors and their children to find safety. However, we have much work to do if we are to truly shift the narrative so that perpetrators are held accountable for their abuse and survivors are not left with the sole responsibility for safeguarding children. We owe it to both men and women to raise our standards of men, to expect them to prioritise children’s wellbeing and to call out examples of sexism and misogyny as these are ultimately the bedrock of abuse.  

Visit our Spotlight page for more blogs, podcasts, guidance and survivor stories over the coming weeks

References:

Humphreys, C and Absler, D (2011) History repeating: child protection responses to domestic violence, Child and Family Social Work, 16, 464–473

Liegghio, M and Caragata, L (2016) “Why are you talking to me like I’m stupid?”: the micro-aggressions committed within the social welfare system against lone mothers, Affilia: The Journal of Women and Social Work, 31, 1, 7–23

Mandel, D (2010) Child welfare and domestic violence: tackling the themes and thorny questions that stand in the way of collaboration and improved child welfare practice, Violence Against Women, 16, 5, 530–536

Stark, E (2013) Coercive control. In: Lombard, N and McMillan, L (eds.), Violence against women: current theory and practice in domestic abuse, sexual violence and exploitation, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Weisz, A and Wiersma, R (2011) Does the public hold abused women responsible for protecting children?, Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work, 26, 4, 419–430

Issues around lack of domestic abuse training for Social Work students 

Cherryl is currently a Safeguarding Advisor to Sheffield Cathedral and Assistant Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor for the Church of England. She began her career as an Offender Manager, then became one of the first Victim Contact Officers for the Probation Service before taking on an Idva role. Since 2008, Cherryl has undertaken strategic leadership in the violence against women sector within local authorities in Yorkshire. She was the operational program lead for Growing Futures, a DfE funded program within Doncaster Children’s Services Trust.  Cherryl has also developed an independent consultancy, providing training, advice and authorship of Domestic Homicide and Adult Safeguarding Reviews.  

Issues around lack of domestic abuse training for Social Work students  

Throughout my diverse career, I’ve been privileged to work alongside some of the most dedicated social work colleagues.  Social workers support others to improve their lives, supporting families through some extremely difficult times.  I have always been impressed by the resilience and caring nature of social workers, and humbled by the impact of their support of children; some have been so inspired by the example the social worker set, that they’ve decided to undertake social work degrees in the hope that they can support others.  

Yet whenever there’s any level of review, social workers become vilified and somehow its forgotten that social workers, like the rest of us, are humans who go to work with every intention of doing a good job. Sometimes the pressures of the job, or lack of training, contribute to the mistakes that are made.   

I recall back in 2014 when trying to develop a Marac pathway for Children’s Social Care, speaking with a Children’s Board manager about the high percentage of cases that social workers hold, where domestic abuse is feature. I’d been under the impression that all social workers, when attending university, would receive training. I was told that, in fact, not all course providers will ensure the social workers of tomorrow are fully equipped to identify less obvious indicators of domestic abuse. 

In 2015, I led a DfE funded social work transformation programme. Interestingly, and to the shocked disappointment of our senior management team, one of the biggest challenges was our difficulty in recruiting social workers to the programme.   

Being able to equip social care colleagues to undertake a Dash through training, mentoring, information and guidance enabled me to oversee the development of training to support case management. Some interesting conversations followed with managers and social workers alike, which swiftly identified a fundamental flaw: social workers are trained to assess risk, and this is transferable, but they receive minimal training in the subtle dynamics of coercive control.  

In response, we developed lunchtime seminars and held workshops and conferences to stimulate thought so that the question became “why doesn’t he stop?” instead of “why doesn’t she leave?”. Screening in the difficult cases, (where it was hard to tell who was abusing who), was undertaken and primary aggressors identified. The wins came when we started to see changes in lenses - for example, that maybe her letting him in the house at 3 am (after he’d been banging on the door) might be a safety measure and a reflection of his coercive control rather than her failure to protect.   

This required us to support social work colleagues to overcome their fear of talking to perpetrators, and recognise that perpetrators are people who shouldn’t be allowed to become invisible- because their abuse continues, and in some cases, worsens.  We supported conference chairs to embed the family court justice guidance and ensure assessment of risk incorporated Dash when disclosures were received or domestic abuse identified, not waiting until it was crystal clear that the abuse in relationships crossed the Marac threshold.  

We provided therapeutically informed approaches to children and young people who were referred to Marac alongside an abused adult carer, and found that, by default, we were supporting the abused adults for a host of reasons, but mainly because the austerity-led pressures on commissioned services meant their support was frequently delayed.  We also worked with a university to provide a Masters course and invested in having around 30 workers who could provide consistent advice to their colleagues. This course brought home to me the disconnect between practice and academic research and, at times, it felt that trying to align them was a leap too far.  

I’m aware that changes in social work training are afoot and I’m excited by the development of training for Social Workers in relation to coercive control. I often reflect back on the project and the knowledge that the 186 children and young people supported through our programme received clear messages that their life could be different and didn’t have to be overshadowed by domestic abuse. The reduction in repeat referrals for those supported by the programme showed the fruit of meeting people where they are at, and how this contributes sustainable change.  And then I think why, given that we depend on our social workers to provide meaningful support to families in crisis, can’t we ensure they receive meaningful training and CPD support post qualification to equip them to identify and appropriately deal with domestic abuse? It’s going to be a feature in at least 80% of their cases. Surely, doing this is common sense, cost effective and the way to go?   

Visit our Spotlight page for more blogs, podcasts, guidance and survivor stories over the coming weeks

Change Programme for Children’s Social Care

Emma Robinson is a trainer for SafeLives and leads on our Responding to Young People Affected by Domestic Abuse (YPVA) foundation and expert courses, and our Outreach foundation and expert courses. Emma has previously worked as an Idva and Service Manager for Women’s Aid. In this piece, Emma describes the development of an exciting new culture change training approach to upskilling Children’s Social Care in responding to families experiencing domestic abuse.

Change Programme for Children’s Social Care

Ofsted’s most recent annual report  highlighted domestic abuse as “the most common factor in the lives of children who need social care services”, and the need for “more emphasis on tackling perpetrators and understanding what works to stop abusive behaviour.”

However, there is often an apparent gap in skills, confidence and understanding amongst frontline professionals. Practice decisions lack an understanding of the dynamics of abuse, and often blame is placed on the victim of domestic abuse.  Professionals can become frustrated at the lack of meaningful engagement with victims of domestic abuse and they can be manipulated by tactics employed by perpetrators.

One recent analysis of Domestic Homicide Reviews recommended specialist training and meaningful changes in attitudes and practice for Children’s Services.  The Home Office also produced a summary of Domestic Homicide Reviews. Of the 33 intimate partner homicides considered as part of the analysis, just under half (15 cases) included dependent children in the family structure.  In the majority of these cases, the victim and the perpetrator were the parents of the children (11 cases). Children had witnessed or were affected by abuse, violence or a homicide in 12 of the 15 DHRs involving dependent children.

The 2017 Joint Targeted Area Inspection (JTAI) report on The Multi-Agency Response to Children Living with Domestic Abuse highlighted that most work with families is a reaction to individual crisis, with agencies being overwhelmed by the frequency of serious high-risk incidents, however actions designed to keep children safe over time and long-term solutions are lacking. There was a common theme that agencies followed an “incident-led” response with a short term focused on the immediate incident not looking at the whole picture for the children or family. There was also a focus primarily on the victim; both on keeping them safe as well as looking to them to manage the abuse.

The report found that lead agencies such as Children’s Social Care “are not always looking at the right things and in particular, not focusing enough on the perpetrator of abuse.” In addition, the report stated that professionals sometimes failed to connect isolated incidents to build a picture which would enable them to make a full assessment of the level of risk and stated that “professionals must understand the history of the abuse and the trajectory of its seriousness.”

The JTAI also raised concerns that professionals did not always recognise that separation could escalate risk and there was a misconception that abuse ends when the relationship ends. Further learning from the inspections was that the wider implications of living with abuse was not understood, for example when neglect was a feature. The JTAI further highlighted the importance of accurately determining when coercive control is a factor to identify what support works.

Just as we found through our work at SafeLives the JTAI concluded that the question still being asked is “why doesn’t she leave?” rather than “why doesn’t he stop”. This leads to a built-in assumption that the victim should leave the abuser. Despite this being highly dangerous and disruptive for children.

Domestic Abuse Whole Picture training

As part of the Governments Transforming the Response to Domestic Abuse Consultation Response and Draft Bill published in Jan 2019, SafeLives is developing and piloting a culture change programme for Children’s Social Care teams.  Domestic Abuse Whole Picture is more than just a training programme, it is designed to change the culture of entire teams from the strategic leads to frontline workers and safeguarding call handlers.

The Programme is split into the following 5 elements;

  1. Health Check

    • A critical friend approach to ensure that the service can support and therefore maintain the cultural, attitudinal and behavioural change achieved by the training.

  2. Local Train the Trainer sessions

    • Training local trainers to ensure sustainability of the programme and provide local input to the training sessions

  3. Frontline Training sessions

    • Designed to increase empathy and decrease victim blaming around domestic abuse, it provides social workers with the best knowledge and tools to support families experiencing domestic abuse.

  4. Champions Training Sessions

    • Creating a network of ‘Champions’; Social Care colleagues with extra skills and training who have a mandate to support and sustain their peers beyond training. They ensure that the skills, behaviour and attitudes are being adopted by checking service delivery, giving feedback, challenging inappropriate language and behaviour, and congratulating great practice.

  5. Sustaining the Change Workshop

    • An opportunity for senior leaders to engage with the training programme.  This workshop is bespoke to each area and is designed to facilitate leaders in planning how they will sustain the changes made. It also includes a presentation of the findings from the health check and feedback from the responders and Champions about the challenges they face.

The training sessions were developed with support from our Pioneers who have lived experience of domestic abuse, ensuring that we’re led by the voice of survivors.  We were also supported by trainers with experience of working in Social Care, so we could ensure the content is accessible and meaningful to the realities of practice.   We are hugely excited to be bringing this training to West Sussex, Norfolk and Suffolk as part of this pilot, and look forward to sharing the feedback from those areas.

Visit our Spotlight page for more blogs, podcasts, guidance and survivor stories over the coming weeks

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Why Ofsted believe in the whole family approach

Paul d'Inverno joined Ofsted as one of Her Majesty's Inspectors in 2007. Paul is a qualified and registered social worker and has worked in several different roles within children's services; local authorities; the voluntary sector; inspection and regulation. Paul has experience of leading and being a team member on a range of inspections. Paul was previously the national lead for fostering and adoption and is currently the specialist adviser for child protection. Paul has a master's degree in business administration and post-graduate degrees in both education and social work.  

A family-centred approach  

Ofsted works closely with the Care Quality Commission, HMI Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services and HMI Probation, carrying out joint inspections to see how well local agencies in an area work together to protect children. Children living with domestic abuse was the focus of our inspection programme in 2016. 

We found that the ongoing support for those involved in domestic abuse - whether they are the victim or the perpetrator, -works best when it is family-centred. The most successful interventions are multi-agency based. 

Professionals have made progress in responding to domestic abuse, but this is a widespread public health issue that needs a long-term strategy to reduce its prevalence. 

While much good work is being done to protect children and victims, far too little is being done to prevent domestic abuse and repair the damage that it causes. There needs to be an approach to tackling domestic abuse that focuses more on prevention and repairing long term damage to child victims.  

Agencies can address these complex challenges, but they can’t do it alone. A widespread public service message is needed to change behaviour on a larger scale. 

During our joint inspections, we saw work with families that was often in reaction to individual crises. Keeping children safe over time takes long-term resolutions. 

The focus on the immediate crisis leads agencies to consider only those people and children at immediate risk. Agencies are not always looking at the right things and, in particular, not focusing enough on the perpetrator. 

In higher-risk cases, we often saw an immediate response from agencies to prioritise the safety of children and adult victims. Some solutions, such as moving victims and children away from the perpetrator of the abuse, isolated the child from friends, family and school. This short-term view can make it harder for professionals to see the bigger picture and history of abuse within the family setting. It also makes it harder to see connections between isolated incidents. 

Achieving long-term impact is only possible if professionals are looking at the right things. Our inspections found a pattern where professionals focused on the victim. In all the cases we saw, this was the child’s mother, but we know domestic abuse can happen in any relationship. In the best-case scenarios, this represented an understandable focus on the mother as a victim of crime and in need of protection. But, even in the best cases, there was often a lack of accountability or responsibility attributed to the perpetrator of the abuse. Furthermore, in a minority of cases, there was an inappropriate attribution of responsibility on the mother to protect her children. 

A focus mainly on the victim fails to address a range of important factors at play. These include the experience of the child, the root causes of violent behaviour displayed by the perpetrator, and the impact on other family members. Without a focus on the perpetrator’s mind-set and behaviour, there is a high risk of recurrence once the immediate crisis has passed. While we need to support victims to help them protect themselves and their children, we must not lose focus on the perpetrator, their behaviour and their accountability for their actions. 

Some of the thinking and practice we saw with victims in contexts of coercive control was inappropriate. This included the use of written agreements that placed responsibility for managing the risk to children with the victim. Written agreements are similar to written contracts, where social workers and parents agree a set of terms that the parents sign. The terms may include conditions, like the victim will not continue a relationship with her abusive partner, or not allow them into the home.  

As you might imagine, inspectors saw no evidence that these agreements were effective. Given the fact that the focus was not on the perpetrator – who was the source of the abuse and therefore the risk – this is hardly surprising. 

It seems obvious that any victim in a situation where coercive control is a risk would find it very hard to comply with such an agreement. 

Focusing on the needs and experiences of children is critical. A failure to do so means the emotional and mental impact of domestic abuse may go unaddressed. Children and young people who have lived with domestic violence for several years frequently experience intense feelings of responsibility, guilt, anger and a sense of despair and powerlessness over their lives.  

Worryingly, there were some instances where children were forgotten about, missed, not spoken to or simply not considered. 

It’s important to use a family-centred approach, which means addressing all needs and risks within individuals in a family holistically. For example, some parents we spoke to were very positive about Hounslow’s ‘Let’s Talk’ programme. Creative work is undertaken with children to enable them to understand their experiences of living with domestic abuse. Work was also undertaken with adult victims, which enabled them to better support their children. 

So, in summary, while domestic abuse is widespread and needs a public health response, we must not forget to work with the perpetrator and we should never lose sight of the impact on children. 

Visit our Spotlight page for more blogs, podcasts, guidance and survivor stories over the coming weeks

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The benefits of Social Workers delivering domestic abuse programmes

 

Rachel Tossell became a Bereavement Counsellor 15 years ago, completing two Counselling Diplomas to work with adults as well as children and adolescents. She specialised in working with people bereaved by suicide, especially teenagers, and found domestic abuse to be an attributing factor in some cases. Rachel has now been working for North Devon Against Domestic Abuse (NDADA) for 9 years and has completed her YPVA training, developing the work to include mums, after noticing it was more effective than working with the children in isolation. She developed Grow Together, a course for mums, and Side by Side, a course for mums and one of their children to do together. Both courses are now being run in the community. 

The benefits of Social Workers delivering domestic abuse programmes  

I have worked at NDADA for 9 years and throughout those years I have developed relationships with many other professionals. I very rarely work in isolation and have found working in partnership with agencies to support our service users can be effective in building communication and trust between us all. I feel this not only encourages survivors of domestic abuse to seek support from a variety of services depending on their needs, but also allows workers to seek support from other agencies.   

I have found there is strength to the different and diverse ways in which we all work, so long as there is shared vision and mutual respect.  NDADA have set about finding ways to support our local agencies to understand the complexities of domestic abuse. We offer training and help them develop skills that they can use in their own work life, whilst being supported and building working relationships. 

NDADA run three courses consistently, Pattern Changing is a 14-week programme for women, focusing on the woman herself and her power to change the course of her life. Grow Together is an 8-week course for the parents or carers of children who have lived with domestic violence and abuse within the family and Side by Side which is a parallel course for a mum and one of her children. The first two courses need two facilitators each and the last needs four. It has been such a support to us to have workers from other agencies on board as co-facilitators. We have worked alongside a family practitioner from the disability team, student social workers and family practitioners from the initial assessment team, and family workers from the children's centre (who kindly provided a venue and a crèche!). We have welcomed a student social worker into refuge on a six-month placement (who has written a piece at the end). We also welcome school nurses, health visitors and educational psychologists to shadow us for a day, as well as supporting student police officers in their placements for a week.  

We have found this to be so beneficial for all involved for the reasons above, but for so many more too. Having the privilege to sit alongside women and children on their journeys of self-awareness, healing and growth is not only an honour but an opportunity for us to learn, process and challenge our own thoughts and feelings so we can better understand and support them. It’s important we hear their voice without judgement or conflict, in some cases incorporating the whole family and listening to all their voices. From the service user's perspective, working together and seeing social workers in a different role, can break down the stigma attached to the service and ‘humanise’ the workers. 

The following has been written by a student social worker who has now completed her 6-month placement with North Devon Against Domestic Abuse Refuge. 

I have completed my second year MA Social Work placement at the refuge. By doing this I have gained in-depth knowledge on Domestic Violence (DV) that I otherwise would not have had. At university our course is very general; we only had two lectures on DV, despite this being very likely to be present in many of the families we work with.  

I am now able to recognise and better support service users because of the work that I have been involved in with NDADA. I understand the options that are available to survivors. Through working directly with children, I have seen how DV impacts them, even when parents believe that they did not know what was happening. 

I feel that NDADA is very open to working in a multi-agency way and seeks to inform other professionals on what they can do to help. At times I have been shocked by the experiences of service users, however, in terms of my future practice, I have developed resilience and the ability to be open and honest about DV, where I would not have been before.  

Visit our Spotlight page for more blogs, podcasts, guidance and survivor stories over the coming weeks

 

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