Domestic abuse: why we need alternatives to incident-led responses

Kirsty Mooney of Rock Pool outlines an intervention in domestic abuse that puts individual families first

Photo: mashiki/Fotolia

by Kirsty Mooney

The September Joint Targeted Area Inspection (JTAI) report of the response to children living with domestic abuse clearly demonstrates that much has been achieved to support children and young people that are affected by domestic abuse. Despite this, the report says “it is time for the system to evolve”.

There are clear themes that run through the report, including:

  • The need to assess the whole family including the perpetrator
  • The need to move from a short-term view to look at the bigger picture
  • The need to recognise that domestic abuse can look different in different families
  • The need to better understand about the impact of coercive control

The report is further evidence of what we at Rock Pool recognised over two years ago and subsequently developed with the Inspiring Families Programme.

It is clear from evidence within the sector and a changing discourse that agencies and practitioners need to be addressing coercive control and understanding the dynamics of domestic abuse rather than providing incident-led interventions.

Services need to better engage abusive men and in addition try to gain insight to what they understand by the abuse.

It is important that we understand the nuance in domestic abuse – is there evidence of power and control, or if not, then what is happening in that family that is destroying lives?

Agencies need to understand the impact of the abuse dynamics that are affecting each individual child within every individual family.

Family-specific interventions

It is critical that we offer interventions that are specific to each family and not just the rely on the standard responses that have failed to work for individuals and families for a long time.

Risk-led assessments have the potential to generate risk-adverse interventions. Safety measures often not attainable by victims are enforced with threats to remove children. The responsibility to police the perpetrator is often laid at the door of the person already managing the risk as best they can, which may mean they stay in the relationship.

In too many scenarios the person carrying out the abuse and violence is absent from assessments and meetings and are unknown to services.

In families that intend to stay together they are often unable to engage with the standard response (separate or stop being abusive), so they dip below the radar and are discharged from services until the next time. They are perhaps seen as uncooperative, or both parents are held responsible and less likely to change.

An alternative to this incident-led response is to look in more depth at the day-to-day dynamics of the family and therefore engage them in a collaborative process to address the dysfunction and dangerousness of their lives.

Dynamics of abuse

The Inspiring Families Programme is a response to this need. It is a structured 10-week assessment and intervention for families that are affected by domestic abuse and intend to stay living together or are in an intimate relationship.

The programme enables professionals to assess the dynamics of abuse across the whole family, it provides rich information about the day-to-day lives of individuals within the family and where the power and control lies.

As a trauma-informed, psycho-educational programme it is also an intervention that places both parents at the centre of their own assessment.

Both partners attend weekly group sessions of two hours where they are given the same materials to look at and discuss. They are given information to help them understand the impact of domestic abuse on themselves, their child/ren and their relationships. They are also asked to complete a task at home with either their partner or their children.

The sessions are designed to enable the facilitators to assess the participants behaviours including coercive control, disguised compliance, level of current risk and likelihood of future risk.

The depth of knowledge gathered enables professionals to make evidence-informed decisions on what is the right intervention for that family moving forward in order to support lasting change. This could also include a safe planned exit for the non-abusive partner.

This knowledge is contained in a final assessment report that includes information about the type of abuse, capacity to change and recommendations moving forward. This will contribute to the overall analysis of the family and effective care planning.

Domestic abuse does look different in different families. The programme’s focus in acknowledging this is to offer participants enough information to challenge their potential inter-generational acceptance of abuse and violence.

Changing patterns

This is then the first step in changing patterns of behaviour for families who have been so habituated to this behaviour they are unaware there are alternatives.

The programme also provides facilitators with information where there is clearly no intention to address the behaviour due to fixed beliefs held by the perpetrator, and this can be used to further protect victims and children.

Two years ago, Rock Pool delivered the first Inspiring Families Programme Facilitators Training in Slough.

Rock Pool train’s staff to become licenced facilitators so they can deliver the intervention. They can be anyone. In Slough we have trained a mix of people including social workers, family support workers, targeted youth support. In the pilot programme one of the facilitators was a police inspector – she co-delivered the men’s group – of which they were aware she was a police officer.

Referrals to the programme come from any referral into children’s services where domestic abuse is a factor, as well as referrals from other agencies.

The programme is now delivered every ten weeks, and delivered in English and Urdu with plans to deliver the programme in Polish in 2018.

As of September 2017, 32 families commenced the programme and 30 families have completed it (completion is defined as attendance at 8/10 sessions, non-compliance with this results in the cessation of group participation for that family). Within those families there were 79 children, 80% of cases were open to statutory children services and 20% were from Early Help.

From May 2016 to September 2018 there have been two cases that have re-opened to children services for domestic abuse related issues. The information that was gathered from the Inspiring Families Programme assessment enabled a swift and more informed response by professionals.

First line of action

Feedback from families is also very positive. Many participants have commented how the programme has helped them understand the effect of domestic abuse on their children and to also help them understand what constitutes a healthy relationship.

As one male participant said: “It helped me realise what I did was wrong and gave me the tools to correct it.”

The JTAI states that “when a universal service first recognises that domestic abuse may be a factor, the first line of action should be to give access to specialist support.”

Our view is that the first line of action should be to assess what is happening with that family and then offer the right targeted support in order to deliver lasting change that will enable children, young people and families to thrive and become Inspiring Families.

Kirsty Mooney is director of business at Rock Pool.

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2 Responses to Domestic abuse: why we need alternatives to incident-led responses

  1. Carol November 17, 2017 at 11:07 am #

    Such inspiring change! I used to be a victim of domestic abuse. When you are put in that situation, the power of fear is so overwhelming that you often cannot see the reality of what is going on. The fear is enhanced by what goes on behind close doors, and there is a ‘powerwheel’ that the victim can get stuck on, because the perpertrator acts innocent in front of others, and often denies that any thing is happening. In my experience, I had it reversed back onto myself, because he convinced everyone that I was the abuser. He told everyone involved with me that I was crazy.

    I spent so long struggling with this relationship, that it really did screw my head up. I had young children, and even worse it led to community domestic violence making it worse. Eventually I was diagnosed with a mental health problem left behind by not just the abuse, but the fact that I lost everything including my children in an attempt to survive what was happening to me..

    For myself, it is good that social care have made this break through when considering domestic violence, but they must stop the victim-blaming. That is when the victim comes forward, shifting the blame from the perpatrator to the victim, as this can interfer with the victims self worth which also destroys the victims confidence levels aswell as there ability to protect there children.

  2. Rory Witham November 27, 2017 at 7:19 am #

    Oh dear, this will be a nightmare.
    One issue and I have seen this in a few cases, is where there are false allegations of DV.
    EWHC 1412 (2013) the mother made false allegations of abduction threats and this was presumed true by everyone leading to injustice.

    The terminology of control, is bad, the reasons for this is due to relationship dynamics, while psychology is required and extensive work with the family would be required to gain a “culture” understanding as this is wide ranging and subjective. often objective views will be bias and therefore this is bound to fail without clear thresholds ( which are in place already).

    As we see a rise in DV cases, then I will jump the gun slightly, as it is KNOWN and FOLLOWED.
    The case cited above is NOT the only one that I know of. The “planned” perversion was so “typical” and well set out, that if you had not have inside knowledge, you would be “none the wiser” A website and “abuse groups” publish stories and how to “win in court” by making allegations of DV.
    the issue we all have is who in the violent person the aggressor, do we stereotype, the big man over the little woman? There have been stories of women pushing buttons to then be assaulted and then to make reports. I have heard both sides of these incidents.

    Where children come into the equation, then the “abuse” and both parents behaviour may in fact be a negligible fact of who done it, but the fact that it is happening. thus the child being exposed to this could be protected (CA reasonable parent). equally each parent could be accountable, victim or not of accountability ( CA Failure to protect).

    Drawing lines in this will be difficult. reporting and recording will be difficult.