Policy blog

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.     

Helping the Telegraph with some domestic abuse stats

When I tell my friends that I work for SafeLives, their reaction is often one of surprise. They don’t go so far as to say “But you’re a man” or “Isn’t domestic violence a women’s issue?” but you can sometimes see the question in their eyes.

I work for a domestic abuse charity because, even though the majority of victims are female, it is not just a ‘women’s issue’. As the slogan goes, stopping domestic violence is everyone’s business. That includes all forms of violence and abuse – physical, sexual, psychological, and financial too. It’s therefore disheartening to see Neil Lyndon playing down the prevalence of female homicide and rape in the Telegraph today.

It’s true that the stats around violence against women and girls are extraordinary. To turn Carl Sagan’s famous paradigm on its head, they are the extraordinary evidence that back up extraordinary claims. That’s why organisations like the UN, the UK’s Office for National Statistics, and yes, even SafeLives, spend time and resources getting their data right – even though we know that many victims are understandably worried about telling others about their experiences.

So you would expect Neil to provide some extraordinary counter-evidence to give substance to his extraordinary counter-claims. No such luck. Neil’s argument boils down to two main points:

  1. He doesn’t know any women who have been murdered or raped
  2. Britain’s annual sexual assault rates are low, which means the UN stats are wrong

Let’s start with that first point. Neil suggests that because he’s never known a woman who’s been murdered, it can’t be a leading cause of global premature female deaths. I am glad you do not know anyone who has been murdered, Neil – but hundreds of families in the UK aren’t that lucky, and still feel the loss of a loved one every day.

The point is this: anecdotes don’t mean anything by themselves. Neil also applies this anecdotal approach to sexual violence, arguing that he’s only ever met two women claiming to have been sexually assaulted. In his own words:

Both of them were disbelieved by their own women friends who reckoned the soi-disant victims were making up stories that couldn't be verified to dramatise their lives.

Neil, I’m not surprised more women haven’t told you or others in your social circle about sexual assaults they’ve experienced, if this is the reaction they can expect.

The second point in Neil’s argument  is so flawed that I can see why he had to include the anecdotes.

Neil’s concern is with the UN’s claim that one third of women worldwide experience sexual violence during their lifetime. He argues that 2.5% of women in Britain are recorded as being victims of sexual assault in the past 12 months and - because the experience of British women must be representative of one-third of the world’s population - that would mean every woman in the other two-thirds of the world had been sexually assaulted, which couldn’t be true.

Let’s allow Neil’s claim that Britain could be representative of one third of the world (even though the Europe, North America and the Australian continents only make up 20% of the global population).  Let’s ignore the fact that the 2.5% figure is a conservative estimate, given the problem of under-reporting. Neil has still missed a key point: the UN stat is measured over women’s lifetimes, not just the past 12 months.

 If 2.5% of women are sexually assaulted each year, the number who have been assaulted at some point in their lives will be far higher. In the UK, 20% of women aged 16-59 have been victims of some kind of sexual assault in their lifetimes. Given higher rates of sexual assault abroad and the use of rape as a weapon of war in conflict zones, the one-in-three stat is clearly plausible.

In short, Neil’s suggestion that the UN stat is “a claim which disintegrates in your hands like wet tissue paper the moment you subject it to scrutiny” is laughable.

But we’re dismayed that this denial of the widespread reality of abuse – and lack of empathy for victims – is still published on a mainstream newspaper website. Accurate statistics about domestic abuse, and violence against women more widely, are hard to come by, and sometimes harder to understand.

But measuring and understanding domestic abuse is something SafeLives is expert at. So Neil, the next time you would like to write a piece on domestic abuse in the UK, give us a call and we’ll help you out. Or you could just visit our brand new stats pages, for the latest numbers from the UK’s largest database of domestic abuse cases.  

Maybe then you’ll write a piece that’ll help victims speak up, and get help – rather than one that tells them they should be disbelieved.

By Tom.Ash

Counting Idvas – and why their numbers are rising

It’s been a good week for funding news for domestic violence services. We’ve just heard that SafeLives’ funding from the Home Office to support Maracs and train Idvas will continue – as will the Home Office’s funding direct to local areas to support Marac co-ordinators and Idva services, and the national helplines. And the Department for Communities and Local Government has just confirmed which local councils have won a share of the £10m they previously announced for housing support for domestic abuse victims.  

All of this is, though, set against a national picture where the funding available to help victims of domestic abuse isn’t close to meeting the need. It’s often split across multiple funders and not spent according to a joined-up strategy. And in recent years, many specialist services have even seen their funding cut.

The current picture of support

It can be difficult to know the exact picture of what’s out there to support victims, so, in late 2014 SafeLives decided to run our first annual survey of Idvas in England and Wales.

Over the last ten years, Idvas have transformed the landscape of domestic abuse services. Before, victims at high risk of murder or serious harm often had little choice but to go to a refuge, regardless of whether they needed to move home to become safe – and if that wasn’t the right option for them, there was little else.

Idvas are different: they work with the victim to understand the risk she faces, and help her create a plan to become safe. It’s a personal connection between the worker and the victim: each situation is different, and the Idva can work 1-2-1 with the victim to come up with a plan that works for her, manages the risk posed by the perpetrator and meets the victim’s needs.

Maybe she wants to take out a court order to stop the perpetrator returning, or needs help with mental health or practical problems like money. Maybe she’s worried about her kids and wants to get help for them too. Often the emotional support of an Idva is vital in helping the victim regain her confidence. And crucially, rather than working separately from the system, through the Marac the Idva is linked in to all the other agencies that need to help the victim become safe and stay safe – the police, housing, the council, local health services and others.

All this means that the victim gets a great service – and one that gives her the best chance of getting safe. Victims tell us they value the support from a dedicated expert who focuses on them. And nearly two-thirds of those helped by an Idva and Marac report that the abuse stops: it’s the most effective intervention for domestic abuse victims in the UK currently.

What the Idva survey told us

Over the past decade, the number of Idvas has been steadily rising. Here at SafeLives, we set up the role in its current incarnation, working with a group of brilliant small charities to pilot and refine it. And we train and support the UK’s Idva workforce: our externally-validated training is the original and the best. There are SafeLives-trained Idvas all over the UK, working every day to cut the risk victims face and make them safe.

The survey in 2014 was our first chance to really understand where Idvas were working, and with whom. We only asked about those working with high-risk victims, and we excluded those who weren’t working as Idvas, like outreach workers.   

Here’s what we found:

  • There are just under 500 Idvas working with high-risk victims across England and Wales
  • 930 Idvas are needed to support all high-risk victims in England and Wales (on SafeLives’ estimate). So we have just half the Idva capacity we need.
  • 80% of Idvas work in voluntary agencies, with the rest being employed by the public sector
  • Many Idvas are working with caseloads vastly higher than SafeLives recommends – this means they can’t always offer full wraparound support
  • 20 police force areas have less than half the required Idva capacity to support high-risk victims – and five have less than a quarter.

How many Idvas are there in each police force?

Our next steps

Over the past couple of months, we’ve written to the police and crime commissioner for each area to ask them about their plans to increase Idva capacity. Lots have responded positively, noting how valued the Idva services are by victims locally. And we’ve seen some areas really step up to the challenge: last week, the Mayor’s office for policing and crime announced funding for 40 new Idva posts in London. And in January, local partners in Essex funded an increase to 24 Idvas working with high-risk victims across the county.

The challenge now is to make sure the number of Idvas keeps going up, so that every area has enough to make sure that victims get the right help. And they need to be working alongside a great Marac, where every agency takes responsibility for making victims safe. We need every Idva to be SafeLives-qualified, and work as part of a great service which is big enough to be resilient and knows the impact it is making.

And here at SafeLives, we need to work out whether the Idva model can adapt to support other victims. We found that there are already 150 Idvas who work with medium- or standard-risk victims as part or all of their caseload. We know Idvas work for high-risk victims – and it’s obviously right to prioritise victims at the highest risk of murder or harm. But can the model work for medium-risk victims? How are those victims different, and how do we cut the risk to them? There’s some work for us to do on this – watch this space!

Here at SafeLives, we’re proud of the work that Idvas all over the country do – and we’ll always champion and support them. Or, as one Idva told us:

“We know how much we mean to victims – so often we hear ‘Thank god for the Idvas’ and ‘I’m not sure what I would have done without you.’”