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Jo is Director of Quality and Innovation at SafeLives. Within this role she is responsible for designing and piloting exciting new and effective interventions to end domestic abuse, providing expert advice on activities, policy messages and practice. She works with national and local commissioners, funders, policy makers and partners to make this happen. Jo was previously was Director of Professional Development at SafeLives, has been senior consultant at the NSPCC in Cardiff and previously worked for the police for ten years in the public protection unit and at the Women's Safety Unit. 

A Whole Family, Whole Picture Approach  

Just like children’s safeguarding, domestic abuse is everyone’s problem, and every agency has a role to play in supporting the whole family.  Frequently, however, the response to parents is so separated from the response to their children, that we’re not joining up and looking at the impact of domestic abuse on the whole family.  The child protection and domestic abuse response can become separated from each other, with assessments of children and parents made without the active involvement of domestic abuse practitioners and vice versa. This often means no one is seeing the bigger picture and interventions can be unsafe, ineffective and unsustainable.  

We know that family members and their vulnerabilities interconnect; people do not operate in silos, but this is not reflected in the way we work.   Often, we support one person, one concern at a time.  We refer to one agency for mental health support, another for domestic abuse support, another for substance use support. Practitioners are working in a silo and in doing so there is a duplication of effort, strained resources, practitioners giving disjointed or contradictory messages to families, and uncoordinated interventions.  We are missing opportunities to help people at an early stage and lives are being put at risk.   In a nutshell, we are safeguarding adults and children in a way that suits us not them.  

Seeing the whole family  

Children and young people need the right support, at the right time, to keep them safe and help them rebuild and recover. If this doesn’t happen, the consequences can be long-term and devastating.  A decision of ‘No Further Action’ is not an appropriate response for families where there is domestic abuse. We should consider which universal or non-statutory services can be provide a little support, even for those families who don’t meet the threshold for children's social care intervention. It costs more in the long run, both financially and in resources, when supportive actions are not implemented at the earliest opportunity, but the cost is greatest for the families we aim to help. We have not heard from children and young people with lived experience that say- don’t worry it sorts itself out in the end. “No Further Action” rarely ends in happily ever after does it? 

For every person being abused, there is someone else responsible for that abuse: the perpetrator.  Yet perpetrators of domestic abuse are too often invisible within safeguarding action plans.  Child protection approaches focus on scrutinising the survivor’s ability to protect, rather than managing the risk that the perpetrator poses.   Children’s social care teams often struggle to engage with perpetrators in meaningful ways and have very little access to appropriate interventions, reducing opportunities to address abusive behaviour before it escalates.  If we really want to work with the whole family, we need to work with the person responsible for the harm. We can help them to challenge these behaviours and where possible, support them to change. How many family agreements where domestic abuse is evident do you see the perpetrators signature? 

Practitioners are exhausted by seeing the revolving door of families being re-referred into domestic abuse services, being bounced around services and offered only short-term sticking plaster solutions. What does that feel like for our families? 

One Front Door 

One Front Door aims to support vulnerable adults and children to get a swift and effective response.  It is our vision for a transformation of local systems, processes and responses. 

The One Front Door (OFD) project aims to integrate pathways into child safeguarding and domestic abuse services by organisations working together to identify and safeguard vulnerable families at the earliest opportunity.  Pilots have been developed in seven sites across England to trial this approach and support agencies to develop processes including referrals and consent, risk assessment, information sharing, collaborative working and information systems. 

In the OFD model,a multi-agency specialist team will identify the needs and risks to all family members at the same time, facilitating early intervention and pre-emptive action. In this way, a team of co-located expert practitioners from a range of agencies will work collaboratively to assess risk in all its guises, whenever there is a safeguarding concern raised about any family member.  By pooling expertise and sharing information at the earliest opportunity, we enable professionals to get the most comprehensive picture of risk for each family member, avoiding those cases of ‘No Further Action’ where risk had been assessed for a single person and single criterion. Using this method, we can identify links between people who pose significant risk and those who are vulnerable. This is key to identifying potentially dangerous situations for children and young people, such as child sexual exploitation, gangs and organised crime. 

In our pilot sites, multi-agency teams use a whole family assessment system which enables them to quickly identify what level of information sharing is crucial and lawful.  Information is not just shared within hours of the referral being made; it’s used meaningfully. By collaborating, practitioners from different disciplines can understand different presentations of risk and need, and what that means for the entire family. Then, a plan of next steps can be created within 24 hours. 

Unlike a MASH, OFD sees key agencies coming together from the moment the referral comes in. Multiple experts work together and are equally responsible for the decision making. This means we are reducing the risk of families falling through the gaps. We’re not reliant on one particular agency’s perspective, but rather sharing the responsibility and making the most of the expertise each partner can offer. We don’t expect children's social workers to be experts in everything; One Front Door helps experts to contribute to safeguarding straight away, so Childrens social care can do their job well, safe in the knowledge that they have experts in mental health, substance misuse, criminal justice and domestic abuse on their side. 

One Front Door is underpinned by six principles which are required to meet the needs of families experiencing domestic abuse: 

A transformation of systems, processes and responses      

Better support for children and young people who live in fear  

Creating long term change, not short-term fixes  

Disrupting those that abuse; perpetrators challenged and held to account.  

Engaging the ‘whole family’ means more opportunity to make people safe, sooner.   

Families do not operate in silos, and neither must we   

 We are in the final stages of our evaluation of One Front Door. In one site, the number of contacts that were not closed with a ‘no further action’ outcome increased by 25%. This is a 25% increase in the number of families accessing support at the earliest opportunity. Families who would otherwise come back through the revolving door with a worsened situation, with children experiencing being scared at home again and again and again. Would this be good enough for your best friends' children? 

We are currently looking for funding opportunities to continue to build OFD as an effective whole family response. For more information, please email OFD@safelives.org.uk 

Visit our Spotlight page for more blogs, podcasts, guidance and survivor stories over the coming weeks

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