Social workers must consider domestic violence when supporting “problem” families, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services head warns

Social workers providing intensive family support under the government’s Respect agenda must consider the possibility of domestic violence when working with “difficult” families, experts have said.

Elaine McHale, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services’s lead on domestic violence, told Adass’s first spring seminar last week that sending a parent who was a victim of domestic abuse on a standard parenting programme could actually do “more damage than good”.

McHale, Wakefield Council’s corporate director for family services, said:  “Lots of local authorities are not necessarily using the right type of course to facilitate parenting for a mother who has to protect a child and herself. That aspect won’t even be considered.”

Kate Mulley, policy development and research manager at NCH, the children’s charity and former domestic violence lead at the Local Government Association, said a parent who was a victim of domestic abuse would need a “quite specific” style of parenting programme, focused on issues such as safety, authority, and dealing with their child’s disclosures.

She said it was therefore essential for those working with so-called difficult families to look out for signs of underlying domestic abuse before deciding how to respond.

“In most of these cases, domestic violence is not going to be the reason why they have come to the local authority’s attention,” Mulley said. “It is about picking up on it and then responding to it.”

Mulley said longer-term research about parents who were victims of domestic abuse and ended up on standard parenting programmes was needed in order to assess the potential damage. “Domestic violence can often be an attack on a parent-child relationship,” she warned.

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