Analysis of serious case reviews suggests that practitioners do not always assess and follow through on all identified risks of domestic abuse. With Ofsted’s next ‘deep dive’ joint area inspections focusing on children living with domestic abuse, here are some factors which social workers should consider when working on these complex cases.
Professional judgment and domestic abuse
These points are taken from Community Care Inform Children’s Learn on your Lunch session, written by child protection trainer and consultant Perdeep Gill, which analyses problems with professional judgment arising from the Child K serious case review. Inform Children subscribers can view this article here.
- Multi-agency domestic abuse procedures can assume that protecting the adult victim will protect the child from harm – this is not necessarily the case. The philosophy that the best protection for the child is the protection of the mother also stops us from thinking about the mother as a possible abuser.
- Be careful not to focus solely on individual incidents of domestic abuse, rather than the history and the other issues and context.
- Are you or have you been intimidated by violent partners, and would you push to meet with them? If we as adults are scared, we need to think about how a child living in that situation might feel.
- Plan direct work with the child to make of sense of their lived experiences. The work needs to be thorough – lip service or surface questioning can make the risk greater for the child because it can give professionals false reassurance that the assessment has been done and the risk is low.
- The fact that someone is a victim can cloud professional judgment. Guard against over-identifying and losing your professional distance from victims, which can impact on your ability to prioritise the children.
- Do you use ‘easier’ labels like emotional harm and avoid confronting parents with the likelihood of physical abuse or sexual harm?
- Be careful not to be led by other agencies’ handling of domestic abuse incidents and child protections referrals. Also, do not make assumptions about other agencies’ knowledge and processes. This applies to all professionals but we need to be particularly mindful of the ‘imagined omnipotence’ of children’s services by other agencies if a family is known to us, that we are already aware of all issues.
- Referrals from multiple agencies about the same thing might be about the same incident but they might not. If assumptions are made and allegations not checked out, the escalation of abuse can be missed.