19th June 2019
Cherryl is currently a Safeguarding Advisor to Sheffield Cathedral and Assistant Diocesan Safeguarding Advisor for the Church of England. She began her career as an Offender Manager, then became one of the first Victim Contact Officers for the Probation Service before taking on an Idva role. Since 2008, Cherryl has undertaken strategic leadership in the violence against women sector within local authorities in Yorkshire. She was the operational program lead for Growing Futures, a DfE funded program within Doncaster Children’s Services Trust. Cherryl has also developed an independent consultancy, providing training, advice and authorship of Domestic Homicide and Adult Safeguarding Reviews.
Issues around lack of domestic abuse training for Social Work students
Throughout my diverse career, I’ve been privileged to work alongside some of the most dedicated social work colleagues. Social workers support others to improve their lives, supporting families through some extremely difficult times. I have always been impressed by the resilience and caring nature of social workers, and humbled by the impact of their support of children; some have been so inspired by the example the social worker set, that they’ve decided to undertake social work degrees in the hope that they can support others.
Yet whenever there’s any level of review, social workers become vilified and somehow its forgotten that social workers, like the rest of us, are humans who go to work with every intention of doing a good job. Sometimes the pressures of the job, or lack of training, contribute to the mistakes that are made.
I recall back in 2014 when trying to develop a Marac pathway for Children’s Social Care, speaking with a Children’s Board manager about the high percentage of cases that social workers hold, where domestic abuse is feature. I’d been under the impression that all social workers, when attending university, would receive training. I was told that, in fact, not all course providers will ensure the social workers of tomorrow are fully equipped to identify less obvious indicators of domestic abuse.
In 2015, I led a DfE funded social work transformation programme. Interestingly, and to the shocked disappointment of our senior management team, one of the biggest challenges was our difficulty in recruiting social workers to the programme.
Being able to equip social care colleagues to undertake a Dash through training, mentoring, information and guidance enabled me to oversee the development of training to support case management. Some interesting conversations followed with managers and social workers alike, which swiftly identified a fundamental flaw: social workers are trained to assess risk, and this is transferable, but they receive minimal training in the subtle dynamics of coercive control.
In response, we developed lunchtime seminars and held workshops and conferences to stimulate thought so that the question became “why doesn’t he stop?” instead of “why doesn’t she leave?”. Screening in the difficult cases, (where it was hard to tell who was abusing who), was undertaken and primary aggressors identified. The wins came when we started to see changes in lenses - for example, that maybe her letting him in the house at 3 am (after he’d been banging on the door) might be a safety measure and a reflection of his coercive control rather than her failure to protect.
This required us to support social work colleagues to overcome their fear of talking to perpetrators, and recognise that perpetrators are people who shouldn’t be allowed to become invisible- because their abuse continues, and in some cases, worsens. We supported conference chairs to embed the family court justice guidance and ensure assessment of risk incorporated Dash when disclosures were received or domestic abuse identified, not waiting until it was crystal clear that the abuse in relationships crossed the Marac threshold.
We provided therapeutically informed approaches to children and young people who were referred to Marac alongside an abused adult carer, and found that, by default, we were supporting the abused adults for a host of reasons, but mainly because the austerity-led pressures on commissioned services meant their support was frequently delayed. We also worked with a university to provide a Masters course and invested in having around 30 workers who could provide consistent advice to their colleagues. This course brought home to me the disconnect between practice and academic research and, at times, it felt that trying to align them was a leap too far.
I’m aware that changes in social work training are afoot and I’m excited by the development of training for Social Workers in relation to coercive control. I often reflect back on the project and the knowledge that the 186 children and young people supported through our programme received clear messages that their life could be different and didn’t have to be overshadowed by domestic abuse. The reduction in repeat referrals for those supported by the programme showed the fruit of meeting people where they are at, and how this contributes sustainable change. And then I think why, given that we depend on our social workers to provide meaningful support to families in crisis, can’t we ensure they receive meaningful training and CPD support post qualification to equip them to identify and appropriately deal with domestic abuse? It’s going to be a feature in at least 80% of their cases. Surely, doing this is common sense, cost effective and the way to go?
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