Fourteen London boroughs have adopted a matrix system to assess the risk of domestic violence. Molly Garboden reports
Launched in London last May, the Domestic Violence Risk Identification Matrix has been rolled out across 14 of the capital's boroughs. The multi-agency model has been developed to build knowledge and confidence among social workers and other practitioners so that they can respond more effectively to domestic violence and the risk it poses to children.
"Domestic violence is something which happens behind closed doors and it can be extremely difficult to coax details from young victims who may be frightened of sharing family secrets," says Cheryl Coppell, chair of the London Safeguarding Children Board, which helped to set up the model with Barnardo's. "We have drawn up guidance for all professionals who come into contact with children who may be at risk. This includes a special assessment to focus attention on the needs of the child."
But, first, a steering group of representatives from social care management, police, health and community organisations, such as Women's Aid and faith groups, is set up to exchange knowledge. Training is headed by a lead officer from the LSCB who liaises with Barnardo's domestic violence learning and development consultant.
The model comprises four parts. The first module takes half a day and introduces participants to the multi-agency domestic violence threshold scale. Its purpose is to enable frontline staff to identify risk and provide specific guidance for suitable levels of intervention. There is a four-stage scale, with four representing a need for immediate assistance and one identifying a risk of violence. A rating of four, for instance, would apply to pregnant women and mothers with children younger than one where an incident of domestic violence had occurred.
The second and third modules, conducted over two days, cover initial assessments of domestic violence for social workers. This training includes triggers for assessing the risk to children and the non-abusing parent and provides practitioners with an assessment tool.
In the final module, social care staff are provided with safety planning interventions to be undertaken with children and young people and the non-abusing parent during the assessment periods. This training takes one day.
Staff in groups of five or six then have four mentoring sessions, usually monthly, within the local authority team. Here, practitioners discuss ways they can apply their new skills to practice.
Barnet and Bromley success
Libby Fry, assistant director of Barnardo's London sub-region children's services, helped to establish the model in the capital. Although Fry says response to the model has been positive overall - Barnet and Bromley have had huge success with it - she says some authorities are more difficult to persuade.
"Authorities can sometimes be reluctant to invest," she says. "Many social workers have high caseloads that leave them with no time for this kind of extra training, but sometimes it's down to a lack of management support."
Fry says managers could be reluctant for practitioners to increase their skills in case they are tempted take them elsewhere. Managers are also concerned about the level of commitment involved.
"With every LSCB, we specify that a steering group works best if it truly is multi-agency and that it's made up of senior people in each sector," says Fry. "That way the programme is more likely to be seen through. But I think often because of the amount of work managers have on, it's difficult to free them up."
Four years before its introduction to London, the Barnardo's model was evaluated and piloted in Northern Ireland. The first trial run of the programme in London was in Barnet in 2007. Boroughs now taking part in the project are Barking & Dagenham, Barnet, Brent, Bromley, Croydon, Enfield, Greenwich, Hammersmith & Fulham, Lambeth, Haringey, Harrow, Sutton, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.
Martin Calder of Calder Social Work Training and Consultancy evaluated Barnet's pilot to see whether the model was fit to be rolled out in London. Overall, his findings were positive.
In his report, Calder points out that, as well as building confidence and expertise, the matrix can help practitioners challenge managers on some cases.
"The framework provides a clear focus for decision-making and is proving useful in challenging managers' decisions in circumstances where resources seem to prioritise the level of response as opposed to the identified risk or need," he says.
What professionals say
● "I had given up on working domestic violence cases as I saw them as dead-end cases, but this tool has really helped me and now I think I would be willing to have a domestic violence case and feel confident that I could support a family better."
● "I hope to use this training within my work to enable and empower women who are experiencing domestic violence."
● "The main point for me was learning how to recognise signs of domestic violence that may be hidden."
● "This training is an eye opener for me. It makes me think differently about the victim of domestic violence."
Source: Barnardo's feedback survey for the London Borough of Barnet
Scale of the problem
● Domestic violence accounts for 15% of all violent incidents.
● One in four women and one in six men will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime with women at greater risk of repeat victimisation and serious injury.
● 89% of those suffering four or more incidents are women.
● One incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute.
● On average, two women a week are killed by a current or former male partner.
Source: Home Office, August 2009