Practice blog

Dragon's Den: James Rowlands, Brighton & Hove and East Sussex

James Rowlands was one of the experts who pitched their ideas for getting it right first time for victims and families to our Dragon's Den at our conference in February - his pitch was voted the winner by the audience. Here he explains how his idea would work to keep victims and their families safe.

James Rowlands pitching his idea to stop domestic violence

Most services, regardless of their core activities, will come into contact with victims of domestic abuse or other forms of violence against women.  That might be abuse which is experienced by someone using their service, but it might also be abuse that’s being experienced (or perpetrated) by a member of staff. Services need to be able to respond to this effectively, so making domestic abuse everyone’s business is a chance to make sure we really do get it right first time.

My proposal is to build domestic abuse (and other forms of violence against women) into contracts when commissioning services, so that commissioners make identifying and responding to violence & abuse a core requirement. This is sometimes called ‘horizontal commissioning’ – it means writing in an expectation around the type of response commissioners want from services when they are preparing and agreeing contracts.

Obviously the type of response depends on what is being provided. At its simplest, it might mean ensuring that there is a workplace policy, so that the service is able to respond appropriately to a situation where someone is affected by abuse and knows where to refer for help and support. If you take the example of a contract for a refuse service, you wouldn’t want them (nor would they be able) to check for domestic abuse in every house that they collect rubbish from. But what you can ask them to do is to make sure they have a policy in place in case one of their employees makes a disclosure, so that they can make sure that person is safe in the workplace and knows where to access support.

For those services with more targeted or specialist contracts – say providing financial advice, housing or working with people with substance misuse issues - you could have a greater level of expectation. So for example, as well as a policy for staff, they might be required to make provision for staff training, undertake opportunistic enquiry and play a part in a local care pathway (‘Ask and Act’), as well as contribute to data collection.

In Brighton & Hove, we’ve been working on guidance to this approach, and are looking to pilot it in contracts for housing-related support and public health. This is an opportunity to ensure domestic abuse (and other forms of violence against women) are consistently identified as a priority by commissioners, enabling in turn best practice to be cascaded to services and frontline practice.  So now it’s about working to get this embedded in local contracts, evaluating the impact and then working to make sure we can contribute to a wider change in culture through this small, practical step. It doesn’t really cost commissioners anything to put these conditions in place, and the response from commissioners, colleagues in procurement and local specialist services has been really positive so far.

James Rowlands is strategic commissioner - domestic violence & sexual violence and violence against women and girls - for Brighton & Hove and East Sussex.

Dragon's Den: Det Supt Paul Goundry, Durham Constabulary

Detective Superintendent Paul Goundry is one of the domestic abuse experts who pitched their ideas for getting it right first time for victims and families at our annual conference. Here, he explains why it's so important to listen to the victim's voice. 

The police service in its work with the Home Office is intent on improving its response to domestic abuse by improving its consultation with victims. Currently, every force has its own way of learning about the victim's feelings but, in the main, we have shied away from contacting victims directly. This means that we do not understand what officers did well and what could have been done better to allow us to improve practice.

A national pilot taking place in spring/early summer 2015 will look at surveying victims by speaking directly with them. The question set is being developed with the assistance of third sector and academia and will allow forces to understand satisfaction levels and identify where improvements can be made.

If the pilot is a success, I expect all forces will adopt it.

Dragon’s Den: Becky Rogerson, My Sister’s Place

SafeLives domestic abuse conferenceAt our conference last week, we asked leaders from across the sector to pitch their ideas for getting it right first time for victims and families. Becky Rogerson from My Sister’s Place in Middlesbrough told us about how she would prioritise work with perpetrators.

Doing nothing is no longer an option. 

We have been dealing with domestic abuse since 1975 when first refuges were established. We have developed our understanding over the last 40 years around prevalence, manifestation and, importantly, about the impact of abuse. We have learned that the impact is even more harmful than first realised - for the direct victim, for children, for families, and for communities. With this knowledge, we have set to work to find ways to alleviate the symptoms – and we have some effective strategies with which to do this – from refuges to outreach support, counselling, Idvas, specialist courts, Maracs, Mashs and other hubs. These approaches, I would argue, ‘work’ in identifying those most at risk and reducing the harm. Statistically, however, these approaches are measured against the prevalence of domestic abuse. In effect, this is measuring victim services against the behaviour of perpetrators – a large heterogeneous group of individuals that we apply, what I call, a ‘sandbag approach’ to. It’s like having a major leak and stacking sandbags to re-direct the flow whilst we get on with clearing up the harm.

Nationally, what do we have in place for perpetrators? Some prevention work happens in schools about positive relationships but provision is patchy – then a yawning chasm until the 'perpetrator' appears on a police report or safeguarding referral. By this time, the problem may be entrenched and the response is expensive – police, CPS, courts, probation, victim services, 30 week programmes, safeguarding plans, multi-agency meetings, prison. And even where all these options are used, the data still shows high repeat rates.

So what needs to happen? We need a community-based prevention approach. If we are to hold perpetrators to account, we need to know which ones and how, as the prospect of all perpetrators heading toward the Criminal Justice System is not realistic.

We need an accessible, flexible and responsive perpetrator service that provides:

  • Initial assessment: that informs agency action
  • Information sharing to support Marac and safeguarding processes
  • Practical help and support to perpetrators that seek help and/or are at risk of escalation
  • Education: for example on the powers of the courts, and likely consequences of breaching protective orders or further incidents (the slope that takes some perpetrators unwittingly into the criminal process).

We now have a broad definition of domestic abuse that covers a wide range of behaviours and we need to think about education, enabling perpetrators to make informed choices at an early stage (rather than assuming they have already made a choice to be abusive). We need to make use of some the techniques we use to encourage victims to seek help and start to engage with perpetrators more effectively – perpetrators do not live on Mars – they are with us in our workplaces, in our families, and in our social circles. There are numerous opportunities to understand and influence the direction of travel. I believe we have a range of different perpetrators that could be thought about as on a ‘spectrum’ in terms of their behaviour and risk; an early opportunity to change, to reflect on their behaviour and make informed decisions about their future is a gap that needs filling. If this approach could change the course of only 10% of perpetrators, we could reduce the human cost of domestic abuse in thousands of families, save lives, and save millions of pounds to the public purse.

Turning a slogan into practical action

Maybe you followed the tweets from our conference on the #safelives hashtag last week, or maybe you’ve read about our report in the Guardian or seen us on Channel 4 News. Maybe you heard the brilliant Rebecca Coombs tell Good Morning Britain about how the police and health services didn’t get her the help she needed early enough to escape abuse – which led to her ending up in hospital.

If you have, maybe you’re wondering what it is we need to do to make the slogan a reality. We can all agree – “it’s time to get it right first time – for every victim and every family” – but what does that mean in practice?

As we changed from Caada to SafeLives, we did not abandon some of what made Caada special – our detailed practical guidance on what a better response to domestic abuse looks like on the ground.

So we’ve got two new guidance papers to help you get it right first time.

The first guidance is tips for frontline professionals who aren’t domestic violence specialists. You can use it right now, or amend it to make it work for your local area. At its core, it has three elements:

  • How you spot domestic abuse
  • Asking the question
  • Deciding what to do when someone discloses

We hope doctors, nurses, midwives and other health professionals find it useful. It’s also written for teachers, advice workers, homelessness and housing workers and the range of other professionals who work day-to-day with families and children. You don’t have to be an expert in domestic abuse to use it.

The second guidance is for managers, commissioners and domestic violence co-ordinators. This runs through our top ten tips for what to do in your area or organisation to spot victims and children living with abuse, and get them the right help faster. 

There are evidence-based interventions that can help – like putting Iris into GP surgeries or setting up a hospital-based Idva team. And some of the ideas are simple – like asking every victim who comes forward in a particular day or week what opportunities services in your area missed to get them help sooner. That snapshot will help you understand what you need to do.

The guidance is an introduction to what you should be thinking about – but if you want more info, or to talk through anything about how to make it work in your organisation or area, please get in touch with us on

So, there you have it. Some things change, and some things remain the same. We’ve a new name, but what’s not changed is our desire to end domestic abuse. We’ll always stand alongside all those across the country that are passionate about it too. If you want practical guidance to help you get better, and not just the same-old same-old, you know who to ask.


Celebrating and sharing success

This content originally appeared in our newsletter between November and December 2014 and reflected our views at the time. Caada is the previous name of SafeLives.

With 2014 now coming to a close, we spoke to a few professionals and the people they've made safe to hear what made them proud.

Helping victims in a hospital setting

Amber Canham, Independent Domestic and Sexual Violence Advisor, North Devon Against Domestic Abuse

Amber set up a new system of routine enquiries about domestic abuse in the hospital where she is based. The result? A surge in referrals, particularly from the emergency department and maternity ward:

“The medical staff have been very open to what we do. Before the hospital IDVA post existed, we had no referrals from this hospital at all. Every few months the staff saw patients who were self-harming or had attempted suicide because of the abuse they were experiencing. Now these patients are being helped by the IDVA service instead - we have about seven referrals a week.”

Focus on young people

Claire Amans, Young People's Violence Advisor and Service Co-ordinator, South Tyneside

Claire is a Young People's Violence Advisor (YPVA) who started working in South Tyneside this year, directly supporting young people and their families. As soon as she began, Claire realised that young people in the area were in desperate need of more help:

“I only came into the post in March and by the end of July it was evident that it wasn't possible to meet the demand alone. Currently I supervise two staff members within the YPVA service - both have extensive experience working with high risk young people. Everyone who we support has a lead Young Person's Violence Officer who offers weekly 1:1 sessions to both them and their family. To date the feedback we have gained from young people, their families and partner agencies has been very positive. I'm proud of what we have achieved so far.”

The voice of a young victim

Cathy, 17, teenage victim of relationship abuse

Claire's new service has already helped many young people to deal with abusive relationships and turn their lives around. Cathy, aged 17, was in a physically and mentally abusive relationship for eight months with her boyfriend. He controlled her behaviour, grabbed and pushed her, even strangling her once. She spent four months working with Claire, and as a result was able to end the relationship earlier this year:

“Claire helped not just me but also my family so much – I now feel I'm becoming myself again. She understands everything I say to her and the things she has taught me will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Working with the whole family

Dee Conlon, Deputy CEO Empowerment, Blackpool

Empowerment in Blackpool was one of the first services to use our Children's Insights outcome measurement programme. They recently received a Children and Young People Now (CYPN) award and secured extra funding for the work of their children's IDVA service ‘The Den'. They supported their application for both using data from Children's Insights.

“This year, we won the CYPN award in the category of family support - it's a real recognition of the difference we've been able to make to children's and young people's lives.

"With CAADA Children's Insights data in particular, we now have the evidence base to show how we've helped children and young people. The tool is really useful for small organisations. It shows, in a way that we've never been able to before, the very real outcomes of the service we provide. By proving the value of what we do, the data also helped us secure five-year funding to roll out our service in the neighbouring area. It's such a relief to know that we've achieved some stability and are not going disappear overnight.”

Improving how MARACs work 

Emma Storey, MARAC Coordinator and IDVA Services Manager, Cheshire East

The MARAC steering group for Cheshire East has also been trying something different. Their new audit process helps find out the impact their work has had on victims and their families, and how the MARAC could be even better:

“We looked at a couple of cases informally and thought there would be value in looking at what happened to that case prior to the MARAC and after it. We randomly chose three cases and came up with the idea of a template that we would ask all MARAC agencies to complete. The response has been fantastic – people have really gone into quite a bit of effort to dig into what had gone on for the family. It's been really valuable for us. We've decided that we need to do some MARAC and risk assessment training, which has been scheduled in, and we've also used it as a case study for our multi-agency training.”