15th May 2013
Gaining referrals across a range of agencies is a key indicator of a healthy Marac, but keeping so many partners in the loop can be hard. One Marac currently recording cases from all 13 referring agencies is Swansea in South Wales. For Amanda Stone (Marac Co-ordinator) and Bryan Heard (Chair), working as effectively as possible with a range of key partners is central to continued identification of, and support for, victims of domestic abuse and their families.
A single point of contact
“I would definitely say that communication is important,” Amanda, a retired police sergeant, explains. “When I was first in-post, I made sure I talked through the Marac toolkit with all the agencies we work with, so they knew exactly what was required and where to come if they had any issues. Having a single point of contact is also really important – that way, practitioners know you're only ever a phone call away, and I strongly encourage all our agencies to get in touch if they have any questions about a referral, no matter how trivial it might seem.”
Offering a training package for all partner agencies is a key way to increase referrals. For Swansea, it's about being proactive too: working on their initiative to reach out to partners who might not automatically think to refer into Marac. “Whenever he gets the opportunity,” Amanda says, “Bryan makes a point of setting up meetings with professionals within partner agencies we particularly want to encourage referrals from. These introductions allow us to explain more effectively what the Marac does and why it is important to refer in, as well as allowing people to put a face to a name.”
“These professionals may want to help, but might lack a full understanding of the dynamics of abuse,” Bryan explains. “Victims will have such engrained coping mechanisms that they find it incredibly difficult to leave the relationship or to disclose the abuse they're experiencing. By meeting with headteachers and GPs directly, I can explain more about the ways in which abuse manifests, using examples which are directly relevant to their roles.
“With teachers, for example, it's about asking them to look out for a child who becomes suddenly withdrawn – does mum have a new boyfriend? With doctors, we might encourage them to pay extra attention to the emotional and mental health of a patient who has presented with suspicious injuries.
“These professionals may already have an instinct that something isn't right but are unsure about what to do next. This kind of targeted discussion has really helped to drive up our referrals, as it helps them to join up the dots and gives them the confidence to take the next step.”
The team also makes certain that all referrals sent to the Marac are added to the agenda and discussed. This ensures no cases are overlooked, and emphasises to all agencies the significance of their ongoing contribution, strengthening the multi-agency aspect of the Marac and allowing it to continue to operate successfully.
Bryan explains: “It demonstrates to the professionals making the referrals that we appreciate their concern and trust their judgement. If you were a teacher, for instance, and the referrals you were making repeatedly failed to make it through to the Marac, despite your own concerns, there could be a tendency to think, ‘I'm obviously doing it wrong – maybe I won't bother.' We work hard to convey to referring agencies that it's their gut instinct that counts. We also make sure that we keep the professional who has made the referral updated on the outcomes of the case, to reaffirm the positive impact their awareness has.”
Both Amanda and Bryan cite good organisation and regular attendance as other reasons for the strength of their multi-agency relationships. “We strongly encourage all agencies to attend wherever possible,” Amanda explains. “Even if the person who made the initial referral is unable to attend, we'd still advocate that another representative comes in their place.”
Bryan adds that this consistent approach is reflected in the presentation of cases. “We also make sure that cases are kept concise and relevant to ensure that each receives as much attention as the first. The cases we discuss at Marac are, by nature, very demanding; something as simple as making time for a tea break is really important as, not only does it help to stop concentration levels dropping, it also allows practitioners to get to know each other on a more informal level which, in turn, makes for a stronger Marac.”