Historically, child victims of domestic violence have remained hidden, but a scheme in Blackpool makes them visible to local agencies, writes Molly Garboden
hree years ago, Blackpool had twice the English national average of domestic violence-related assaults and a 34% “repeat rate” of people experiencing multiple incidents of domestic violence.
After introducing multi-agency risk assessment conferences (maracs) in April 2007, that repeat rate figure halved to 17%.
Andrea Thorley-Baines, partnership manager of Blackpool’s domestic abuse team, attributes this success to the awareness raised among the agencies involved in maracs, as much as to the meetings themselves.
“It means that it doesn’t matter what agency victims go to because everyone asks the same questions,” she says. “Not only do all agencies understand the risk involved, but everyone is using the same vocabulary to communicate levels of risk and what action should be taken.”
Every agency, from schools to police, is alerted to the “marac homes”. Even the fire service is told, because arson is considered more likely in such a setting.
The marac concept was created by charity Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse (Caada), which produced national guidance. There were fears that some agencies would lack enthusiasm but these proved unfounded: “It took us so long to get feedback from so many people, we had to turn some away,” Thorley-Baines says. “In the end we formed cluster groups of agencies with one representative from each as our point of contact on a specific issue.”
Blackpool is one of the few areas to have children’s independent domestic violence advisers who take individual cases and oversee the marac process. Thorley-Baines says this is very important when social services are not already involved with the child.
“The non-abusing parent may be safeguarding their child, so physical safety is not an immediate concern,” she says. “What is a concern is that children feel able to tell their stories. The children’s advisers provide a range of age-appropriate materials to help children cope with what’s going on and help them understand that their family is getting help.” Children’s advisers also counsel mothers who are victims, telling them the violence does not make them a bad parent.
Although many children in marac households have low self-esteem, Thorley-Baines says those who see the world outside their homes as a refuge are in the most danger. Children with this reaction are often high achievers in school and do not display typical signs of living in an abusive household.
Caada chief executive Diana Barran says maracs have helped identify these children in need nationally.
“In terms of direct harm to the child, the worst combination, as identified by Lord Laming, is domestic violence, mental health problems and substance misuse,” Barran says. “What we’re seeing is children growing up with all three factors in about half of the cases we look at in maracs. Historically, these kids were hidden, but now, in part because of this programme, they’re visible so we have no excuse not to act.”
Barran adds that any council considering setting up a marac should consider the appointment of independent domestic violence advisers for both children and adults. A health setting such as a hospital, she says, is by far the most effective.
“This is important because it means there’s immediate access to victims who come in for medical attention,” she says. “The independent adviser can discuss their options with them then and there. That’s why we’re pushing for joint commissioning between councils and primary care trusts.”.
➔ Community Care is running a conference “Supporting victims of domestic violence and their dependents” on 13 May 2010 in central London. For more details phone 0207 347 3574
How maracs make a difference
Neela*, 33, has three children. While being treated in hospital for injuries, she reveals her husband inflicted them. She has been treated several times for similar injuries and the A&E nurse assesses her using the Caada domestic abuse risk identification checklist.
She calls the local independent domestic violence adviser to arrange support and makes a referral to the marac.
The marac meets and decides on a safety plan for Neela. This includes:
● The police flag Neela’s address to ensure a speedy response in future call-outs.
● The independent domestic violence adviser arranges an appointment with a solicitor for Neela.
● The housing department agrees to change Neela’s front door locks.
● A&E flags her records to ensure treatment is offered to Neela in a room away from her husband.
● Children’s services assess the risks facing the children.
● Education services agree to provide extra support to the children.
● Every agency notes that Neela’s husband is not aware of her disclosure.
Results: Neela gains an injunction to prevent her husband contacting the family or accessing the family home. She files for divorce and receives support from the Asian women’s outreach service.
* Name has been changed
Research shows IDVAs aid safety and well-being
Research shows IDVAs aid safety and well-being
This article is published in the 6 May 2010 edition of Community Care under the headline “Blackpool illuminates victims of violence”
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