Social services and partner agencies are not focusing enough on the perpetrators in domestic abuse cases, inspectors have said.
A report published today said services focused on separating families from perpetrators, but they could move on to another family and repeat the pattern of abuse.
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“Professionals did not always recognise that, though not always, separation could escalate risk,” the report by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, and the probation and police inspectorates said. The report was written following a six multiagency inspections on the topic of domestic abuse carried out since September 2016.
“For many victims and their children, violence can increase and escalate when the relationship ends. Some victims suffer persistent post-separation violence over long periods of time. Those perpetrators who go on to kill their victims are most likely to do so at the point of separation,” inspectors found.
Even in the best cases there was a “lack of accountability or responsibility attributed to the perpetrator”, the report said.
‘Public health issue’
More broadly, inspectors said professionals were making good progress in dealing with immediate crises, but there needed to be a long-term strategy to reduce the prevalence of domestic abuse, which they viewed as a “widespread public health issue”.
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They called for a national public service initiative to raise awareness of domestic abuse and violence.
“Agencies can be overwhelmed by the frequency of serious incidents, particularly higher risk ones. However, keeping children safe over time needs long-term solutions,” the report said.
“Accepted practice in tackling social problems is to prevent, protect and repair. 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 does.”
The report was critical of the widespread use of written agreements for domestic abuse cases in two local authorities, despite “no evidence that they are effective”.
“Given that the focus of written agreements is often not the perpetrator who is the source of the abuse and therefore the risk, it is unsurprising that they are ineffective,” the report said.
Prevention and repairing
Eleanor Schooling, Ofsted’s national director for social care, said the inspections revealed a lot of good work being done to protect victims of domestic violence, and emergency services were “particularly effective”.
“But we’re not so good when it comes to helping victims deal with the aftermath and get on with their lives. The justice system must play a role, but there is work to do to stop it happening in the first place,” Schooling said.
“It is a sad truth that the sheer scale of domestic abuse means that it can be all too easy for police, health professionals and social workers to focus on short term responses to incidents. But the best teams are able to see the bigger picture,” she added.
She called for a new approach to domestic abuse that focuses on prevention and repairing long-term damage to child victims.
Schooling told Community Care there was a “widespread deficit” of services for supporting families to repair from the effects of domestic abuse.
“Longer term, we don’t make decisions that help people to start to recover and repair from all of this,” Schooling said.
She said public service messages about how unacceptable domestic abuse is would support prevention, as there are perpetrators capable of changing their behaviour.
“There’s a whole spectrum of perpetrators and it would be quite good to get them early and stop them. There’s been some good stuff in schools about healthy relationships and what to expect from your boyfriend, girlfriend.”
She also called for more evidence about what would work, as more supporting information for interventions would help support decision makers to fund and resource services.
Responding to the report, Alison Michalska, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said domestic abuse cases were the most common factor in cases where children were at risk of harm.
“Whilst this report recognises that much good work is being done by local authorities and their partners across the country, the terrifying scale of this issue means that agencies have had to focus virtually all of their available resources on protecting children and victims from the immediate risk of harm, rather than on prevention, at which point the damage to children and victims has already been done.
“Some councils have had to cut back on non-statutory services, as our funding reduces, which means that vital support services for victims of domestic abuse aren’t always available or accessible despite the clear need for these services,” Michalska said.
She added that there would not be a shift from towards prevention without “sufficient, sustainable funding from government”.
“A shift to a more systematic focus on prevention and changing perpetrator behaviours is long overdue and the government must lead this endeavour from the front as a matter of urgency.”