Policy blog

Whose truth is it anyway?

We often wonder how those with a history of domestic abuse view the results of their behaviour – not least the damage they cause to both their partners and their children. This weekend, millions of people will watch the fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Mayweather of course pled guilty to abusing his partner and mother of three of his children. As a result, he does not get to see his children as much as he might like. But what should we make of Mayweather’s version of the ‘truth’ when asked for how he feels about this?  His answer: “You know how women are sometimes”.  Hmm, no mention of his part in this…

Mayweather has a long and protracted history of perpetrating domestic abuse, with convictions reaching back as far as 2001. Just last year he made claims that “there are a lot worse things that go on in other people’s households”, adding that there’d never been any photographic evidence of bruises and bumps he’d caused. But we know that the truth of domestic abuse is often hidden behind closed doors.

Only yesterday, the Independent Police Complaints Commission published a report into the death of Hollie Gazzard, a hairdresser from Gloucester. She was brutally murdered by her ex-partner in front of horrified customers and colleagues at the salon where she worked.

Hollie and hundreds of other women who died at the hands of current or ex-partners will never be able to tell their truth. They’ll never be able to share the fear of living with abuse, how it affected their children and how they were hoping that someone would notice and ask the question.

It’s this truth – the horrendous reality of domestic abuse – that drives us to make sure all families live in safety.

We think that there are three truths that victims of abuse would want Floyd to hear.

The first truth is that all too often we miss opportunities to spot abuse and stop it: in the year before they get the help they need, most victims will have five contacts with public services and it will take almost three years before they get help. For professionals, it’s about knowing how to start the conversation. It’s knowing what to do if a victim or child tells them things aren’t right at home. But to help families become safe, we first need to find them.

The second truth is that victims of domestic abuse need to work with a skilled, trusted professional who can help them address the risk they face and meet their needs. Properly trained and well-resourced specialist domestic violence workers – Idvas – make all the difference. More than 60% of those helped by an Idva and Marac report that the abuse stops.

The third truth is that we need to resource these services properly. But the reality is that, despite ever-increasing caseloads, we still only have half the Idva capacity we need. No matter how good and dedicated the Idva, that level of work will impact on how well they are able to do their job.  Look at our Facebook page if you want to see powerful examples of how they are trying to meet the needs of their clients with ever rising caseloads.

If we create a model response to domestic abuse in every area, all families will get safe more quickly, and stay safe in the long-term. It’s a huge challenge, but one we’ve thought long and hard about. And our new strategy sets out how we begin to achieve this.

This is our truth to ending domestic abuse. What’s yours?

Oh and Floyd, if you are reading this, think again.


Inspired by some Idvas – and irritated by the manifestos

Last week, I spent two days in the north-west, talking to domestic abuse specialists, police officers and expert support staff, and council officers.

I visited two police forces, observed a Marac meeting, had lunch with city council officers and tea with one of our Leading Lights Idva services. The common theme amongst this diverse group of professionals, all dedicated to stopping domestic abuse? The sheer demand for their help – and the struggle they were having meeting it.

Take the Idva service. They were one of the first Idva services to set up – and are consistently one of the best in the country. The job of an Idva is to stop murders and serious harm – and they do. We will never know how many victims are safe today because of the Idvas in that town over the past eight years.

Talking to the Idvas, I heard stories of huge creativity and ingenuity in finding ways to help victims and their children get safe. The beauty of an Idva intervention is that it’s 1-2-1, tailored to the needs of a particular victim and her children – not one size fits all. And working with all the right agencies at a Marac, the Idva can make sure each victim gets the right help that makes her safe – and helps her stay safe in the long-term.

But what made me furious was hearing how many victims each Idva was having to support. They were each carrying caseloads that, if continued over the year, will see them work with nearly 300 victims each. No matter how good the Idva (and these were good), that level of work will impact on how well they do their job. SafeLives recommends a safe caseload of just 60-70 victims per Idva per year.

And that picture is the same all over the country. Over the last year, visible cases of high-risk domestic abuse have gone up 18%. That’s around 8,400 additional victims that services across the country need to help. Idva services don’t turn women away, or run waiting lists to manage demand. Instead, they stretch themselves ever more thinly to give a service to every victim they can – which leads to shorter interventions. And there are no Idva services which have seen anything like an 18% increase in capacity to help victims – indeed most have seen a decrease.

So I’ve been thinking about that team of brilliant but overworked Idvas this week as the parties launched their election manifestos. Happily, all the main parties standing in England talked about domestic abuse – a real step forward. But it’s a missed opportunity that the funding pledges in the Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative manifestos are only for refuge – when we need to fund a range of effective services for victims, whether they need rehousing or not.

Idva services, and their friends and champions, need to make sure that politicians, funders and commissioners hear from us over the next five years. We need to convince them about the impact community services make. After all, more than 60% of victims supported by an Idva and Marac report no further violence at case closure, making this intervention the most effective currently operating in the UK.

So that’s the next challenge for us at SafeLives. Whoever forms the next government, we will tell them from day one that they need to invest in and promote effective, risk-led Idva services alongside housing for victims of domestic abuse. It’s our job to sort the funding and the politics, to make sure that everyday our brilliant Idva colleagues can help more victims get safe and stay safe.


Idva-Marac – a great model but not a revolution on its own

I received a great email from the Resolutions Consultancy this week. It called for nothing less than a revolution in child protection in Australia, ahead of the upcoming Signs of Safety conference.

The point that resonated so strongly for me was the clear distinction that they made between the value of a particular model (Signs of Safety), and the context in which it operates:

Signs of Safety is the most comprehensive practice approach currently available to the child protection field. Signs of Safety has been refined by thousands of practitioners across 17 countries since 1988.

While the Signs of Safety is completely grounded in what works in practice, the model alone will not change how child protection work gets done. Practice decisions are always shaped by myriad factors including organisational anxiety, leadership, workload levels, workforce experience and stability, cultural confidence, political vulnerability, information recording systems and compliance – not to mention the actions of courts, police, mental health services, non-government collaborators, politicians and many more.

To transform practice requires a sophisticated, whole of system approach to implementing the Signs of Safety. That’s the revolution.

Here in the UK, we share that revolutionary spirit. We want to see a revolution in the way that we respond to domestic abuse - one that builds on the advances of the past 10 years.

We are rightly proud that all over the UK, victims and their children now get support from a dedicated professional Idva, who co-ordinates a range of other agencies at a Marac meeting.

But it’s also right that there is some healthy challenge about the Idva-Marac model.

Just as with Signs of Safety, we have to be honest that a good model on its own will not change the whole response to domestic abuse - especially where it is not being implemented faithfully. For example, we are concerned to hear about Idva contracts being awarded where the practitioners are not required to be trained by us, or to follow the national definition of the Idva role.

And just as the extract above highlights, we have to live with (and try to address) the operating environment in which we operate. In the multi-agency approach we advocate, issues such as workforce stability, workload, leadership and confidence are key.

Throughout it helps if we are clear about what the Idva-Marac model actually is. It’s not short-term, and it’s not criminal justice focused. It’s about achieving long-term safety built on a trusting relationship with an Idva who in turn coordinates the resources of partner agencies to manage and reduce risk and meet needs.

We’ve spent the last ten years advocating for the Idva-Marac model – and we will continue to push for every multi-agency partner to get better at helping high-risk victims become safe, and for enough trained and well-supported Idvas so that every high-risk victim gets the right help.

But a revolution in domestic abuse response needs more than the Idva-Marac model. There are other significant gaps to be filled – and we’ve set out how we’re going to approach them in our new vision and strategy.

We are excited about our new vision. It builds on the Idva-Marac model and sets out a practical approach to system change. We would love to know your thoughts.  

It will be a great revolution if we achieve it.

Read more about Signs of Safety



Getting it right first time – the grim reality

When I worked in the City no one ever talked to me about domestic abuse.  Now, a week does not go by that a friend does not ring me for advice about how to find help for their daughter, sister or close friend.  Most recently I was called by a friend who wants to help an elderly neighbour who, having finally divorced her abusive husband, is now suffering violence and abuse from her grown-up son.  My friend asked if I could find a local support service that she could speak to. Easy I thought.

Not so easy. I rang the service provider we had trained but they have lost the contract to a housing provider. They gave me the number for their floating support service. I rang but the number had changed. So armed with the new number I rang again. This time I got an answer phone telling me that they were only open from 10am to 2pm. Not to be defeated, I rang again the next day to find that they couldn’t help me and referred me to yet another organisation.

The next call found me talking to someone who wanted to give me immigration advice. I explained that I was looking for a domestic abuse support service and they offered to give me the number of a firm of family law solicitors. Not so easy at all. Five phone calls and I was no further forward. My internet searches yielded one service that was open from…10am to 2pm, one day a week.  

The good news is that I finally found a proper domestic violence service – thanks to a referral from one of our Leading Lights accredited services – and I am hoping that they will be able to help.  

So, five calls later it just reminded me that there are huge hurdles in getting help – even when a 70 year old woman who has lived with domestic abuse for over 40 years finally gets to a point where she has no choice but to speak out.  What does it feel like to all those women who don’t have a friend to help navigate the system?  For those women who will never call the police?

One year on from the inspector’s report, are police forces still failing victims of domestic abuse?

Today marks one year on from the landmark report by HMIC into domestic abuse.

It found that the police response to domestic abuse was not good enough. It found failings in core police business – like collecting evidence at the scene. It found that officers didn’t have the knowledge and skills to work with victims of abuse. And it showed that despite domestic abuse being linked to 8% of crimes, in reality police forces did not see it as a priority.

At the time, SafeLives (then Caada) said that the report was "a damning indictment of the leadership in the police" on domestic abuse. Our chief executive wrote:

“The failings that the inspector has identified are in the basic elements of the police response. One would assume that there would be a consistent approach to arrests when a crime is committed. Apparently not. Or gathering evidence. Or showing empathy to victims. Or correctly identifying the level of risk a victim faces. Or defining a repeat incident. The list goes on.”

Sadly, we weren’t shocked. Whilst we knew of good practice in some areas, we also knew that too often the response to victims was dismissive or disbelieving, or that the officers didn’t take action to make sure the victim didn’t suffer more abuse.

It was refreshing to see such a clear challenge held up to police forces to improve their response.

So, one year on: where are we now? In short: there has been some progress, but change is taking time, and isn’t anywhere near as fast or as urgent as we would like.

Some big changes are happening. SafeLives seconded one of our team to the College of Policing to write their new training programme on domestic abuse. “Domestic Abuse Matters – 25 days of Action” is a programme, not a single event, designed to reach a critical mass of first responders in every force, supported by in-house coaches. It is not just about training, but about driving culture change, and will be co-delivered by domestic abuse charities. And it focuses on coercive control – the key pattern of domestic abuse that often gets missed. The first pilot is about to take place in Hertfordshire – and will be evaluated to see whether the attitude change does take root.

HMIC also paid tribute to the brilliant work of Idvas on the ground, saying that PCCs “should take note of the strong value placed on the role of Idvas by the victims, police and other criminal justice agencies.” And we’ve been glad to see the number of Idvas all over the country continuing to rise – even though we still only have 50% of those we need.

Other changes are slower. Inspecting the police response to domestic abuse in isolation doesn’t show the whole picture. Domestic abuse touches the whole family – and other agencies such as children’s services, housing, health, substance misuse and mental health are also responsible for helping stop domestic abuse. This is why HMIC recommended a multi-agency inspection on domestic abuse – including the police and other local agencies. Agencies not prioritising domestic abuse and not working together are failing victims and children – and the learning from a joint inspection would be crucial. But the idea appears bogged down in inter-departmental discussions

Overall, we are still looking for the big change we need – and that means that police leaders have to make sure that their policies and priorities translate to the front line: every call, every time, for every victim and every perpetrator. Some forces still have a long way to go.

Here at SafeLives, we’ve worked with forces who want the challenge of an external partner to help them get better. We’ve run independent scrutiny panels for forces, and worked with PCCs to commission better services for victims. And we’re always here to help and challenge any force that really wants to get better at responding to domestic abuse.

The HMIC report was crystal clear about what needs to change. One year on, the pace of that change is not fast enough.