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Jackie Milton qualified as a social worker over 20 years ago.  During her early career Jackie worked within adult mental health services but moved to children’s services after a period working in an early intervention team funded by the Children’s Fund which was part of the 1997 Labour Government’s War on Poverty strategy.

Jackie is currently employed by North Somerset as a Service Leader. Her passions centre around social justice and the empowerment of communities to become equal partners in services; encouraging positive change by raising expectations and recognising human rights. Throughout her career the lasting impact of trauma and adversity has been evident both in her work supporting adults, children and their families. 

Being chosen to be one of the pilot sites for SafeLives One Front Door project was a complete honour and as North Somerset were the only pilot site that didn’t already have an established MASH arrangement, we very much felt that we were bottom of the class. Whilst we had enthusiastic partners in both health and Avon and Somerset Police, we knew we had many challenges to overcome.

We started with the end goal in mind. SafeLives’ vision of a multi-agency response for everyone impacted by domestic abuse, is compelling and radical; something that every agency can identify with and buy in to. Having said that, you can’t eat an elephant in one go, so we have phased our programme to first establish a pathway for police notifications of domestic abuse where there are children involved.

We have had a few false starts, but we eventually got the right people in the same room together. We assembled a core team of professionals including drug and alcohol services, Idva, health, police, housing, CSC, Early Help, DOFA (Designated Officer For Allegations), HIF (High Impact Families/Troubled Families) and attended numerous events to spread the vision to GPs and the Designated Safeguarding in Education leads. Probation and mental health were keen to join but the low numbers of cases they were involved in meant that the resource implication for them wasn’t an effective use of their time. Due to this we are currently experimenting with virtual attendance and measuring its effectiveness. We are really excited that schools are playing an ever-increasing role.

We found that each agency had their own agenda and unspoken cultural views on what was needed to tackle domestic abuse (usually, it was another agency needing to do more and do it sooner).

As we did not have an established MASH arrangement, we found we had to create an entire process from scratch. This would not have happened if we didn’t have the support from our SafeLives project lead, Deidre Cartwright. Deidre met with the strategic leads and supported us to create a process (out of our ramblings) that would work for all the organisations involved and also fit into the One Front Door model.

The team started working together in October 2018. It started very simply, with a book of handwritten notes before progressing to a spreadsheet. We had endless debates about BRAG1 (blue, red, amber green) ratings – does a police red top trump a housing red? Can you BRAG if you’ve no previous knowledge of the person? What time should the information sharing meeting be held bearing in mind the health rep had to research every family member? Slowly, the team members started to take ownership of the project and came together to agree what tweaks were needed. 

The joint working quicklygave us great results, which gave everyone confidence in the new system and motivated them to persevere, which was especially helpful when the going got tough. 

Relationships between the agencies felt different. As a small local authority, we know everyone in the professional network but we each started appreciating the specific skills and knowledge of our partners and got a deeper understanding of each other’s service delivery requirements. There grew a collective responsibility for the children and families that had been discussed and even if an agency had no role within the safety planning they felt connected to the outcomes. The focus on domestic abuse has raised its profile locally. We became acutely aware (and slightly ashamed) of the fragmented, disjointed, linear way services are delivered and are hopeful that the One Front Door model could bring about effective change. Our conversations around domestic abuse have changed and our frustrations about a lack of response to the perpetrator have grown.  

Listening to the other pilot sites we began to realise that by not having an established MASH, starting with a blank canvas was actually quite liberating and gave us the blank canvas that we needed to create and implement key changes to our system.

Currently we are about to have our bespoke Liquid Logic system go live which talks to both early help and children’s social care systems and we are planning our next development phase. We are also arranging a social get together as we forgot to schedule some fun into our project planning.

The success of the pilot has emboldened us and we are about to trial an early intervention into family conflict which has been created by our collective desire to target potential perpetrators.  But the best news of all is that victims of domestic abuse in North Somerset are getting a holistic and timely offer of support.

(1) Brag ratings are widely used in our One Front Door Pilot

Read the One Front Door report.

For more information on One Front Door please contact OFD@safelives.org.uk

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