Ineffectual written agreements in domestic abuse cases amount to victim blaming

Eleanor Schooling has called for a discussion about the use of written agreements after inspectors found they weren't effective in many domestic abuse cases

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Some written agreements in domestic abuse cases are “tantamount to victim blaming”, the national director for social care at Ofsted has said.

In a blog this week, Eleanor Schooling gave examples of ineffective use of written agreements, particularly in domestic abuse cases where there is coercive control.

She said some agreements seen by Ofsted “place responsibility for managing the risk to children with the victim or make them responsible for policing the behaviour of the perpetrator”.

“In another case, the emphasis was on a mother to ensure that her partner, who had been abusing her for 18 years, did not have contact with the children,” said Schooling.

“It clearly didn’t take account the coercive control she was likely to have been subjected to.”

Schooling concluded that such agreements are “tantamount to victim blaming”.

She added that Ofsted’s thematic review of domestic abuse found no evidence that these kind of written agreement were effective.

In some cases agreements actually increased risk by giving professionals false assurances about children’s safety.

Full and equal participants

She said the sector needs to improve its understanding of how and when written agreements should be used and avoid victimising further those suffering from domestic abuse.

Written agreements can be effective in circumstances where the family members are “full and equal participants” in developing them, such as in family group conferences, she added.

However, she said there needs to be more clarity about their status and meaning: “In the view of some professionals, it is a signed contract. For others, it outlines the local authority’s concerns, their expectations of parents and the consequences of not meeting those expectations.”

She called more debate about how agreements could be used positively and when not to use them at all.

Schooling also highlighted several lessons from serious case reviews on how to use written agreements:

– They should be specific and have clear expectations. Professionals need to be assured that parents genuinely understand the agreement
– Agreements should be underpinned by thorough assessment that is clear about risk and protective factors of all relevant adults and family members
– They should be produced with parents who are equally committed to changing their behaviour
– There must be clarity on how the written agreement will be monitored and reviewed in accordance with multi-agency plans and how this will inform the assessment of risk and action taken
– A clear focus should be on the work undertaken with family members to effectively manage risk and protect children – in particular work to change the behaviour of the perpetrator
– The limitations of written agreements should be made clear.

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3 Responses to Ineffectual written agreements in domestic abuse cases amount to victim blaming

  1. Lisa Green January 26, 2018 at 12:33 pm #

    So, I am not a fan of written agreements but Social Workers are often forced into using them by the pre-proceeding (PLO) and courts don’t like it if you haven’t used them. The issue is more about how to write a good one. There has to be clear expectations for all family members and all the agencies involved, including but not exhaustive; police, health, education and setting out the role of the Social Worker. Child friendly copies if age appropriate should be given to children and not just given but explained so that they understand what is happening, help them realise that people care enough to have a plan and agreement.
    There is a massive gap in services for domestic abuse and over the years I believe Social Worker have lost the ability to work with the offending parent/partner in Domestic abuse cases. We used to use an assessment book called the orange book and then the framework for assessment came out which in some ways watered down the risks too much.
    I agree with most of the things Ofsted have said about written agreements but perhaps Ofsted could come up with more helpful suggestions rather than just critical comments, after all thy inspect all Local Authorities and will have seen the best and worst examples- a list to put those Local Authorities intouch with each other to suppor peer learning and improve practice. I know they have done this sort of thing before. Even in their press release they fail to say what role they could play to improve practice.

  2. Stephen Lindsay January 26, 2018 at 3:45 pm #

    The Safe and Together Model might be an approach that would assist with this issue.

  3. Tom J January 29, 2018 at 11:56 am #

    One challenge is that humans can often be more complex and therefore fail to fit nicely into our ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ moulds.

    A strong case can be made that Blake Fowler’s death was strongly attributed to not wanting to blame or distress the ‘victim’.