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.