17th April 2015
Last week, I spent two days in the north-west, talking to domestic abuse specialists, police officers and expert support staff, and council officers.
I visited two police forces, observed a Marac meeting, had lunch with city council officers and tea with one of our Leading Lights Idva services. The common theme amongst this diverse group of professionals, all dedicated to stopping domestic abuse? The sheer demand for their help – and the struggle they were having meeting it.
Take the Idva service. They were one of the first Idva services to set up – and are consistently one of the best in the country. The job of an Idva is to stop murders and serious harm – and they do. We will never know how many victims are safe today because of the Idvas in that town over the past eight years.
Talking to the Idvas, I heard stories of huge creativity and ingenuity in finding ways to help victims and their children get safe. The beauty of an Idva intervention is that it’s 1-2-1, tailored to the needs of a particular victim and her children – not one size fits all. And working with all the right agencies at a Marac, the Idva can make sure each victim gets the right help that makes her safe – and helps her stay safe in the long-term.
But what made me furious was hearing how many victims each Idva was having to support. They were each carrying caseloads that, if continued over the year, will see them work with nearly 300 victims each. No matter how good the Idva (and these were good), that level of work will impact on how well they do their job. SafeLives recommends a safe caseload of just 60-70 victims per Idva per year.
And that picture is the same all over the country. Over the last year, visible cases of high-risk domestic abuse have gone up 18%. That’s around 8,400 additional victims that services across the country need to help. Idva services don’t turn women away, or run waiting lists to manage demand. Instead, they stretch themselves ever more thinly to give a service to every victim they can – which leads to shorter interventions. And there are no Idva services which have seen anything like an 18% increase in capacity to help victims – indeed most have seen a decrease.
So I’ve been thinking about that team of brilliant but overworked Idvas this week as the parties launched their election manifestos. Happily, all the main parties standing in England talked about domestic abuse – a real step forward. But it’s a missed opportunity that the funding pledges in the Labour, Lib Dem and Conservative manifestos are only for refuge – when we need to fund a range of effective services for victims, whether they need rehousing or not.
Idva services, and their friends and champions, need to make sure that politicians, funders and commissioners hear from us over the next five years. We need to convince them about the impact community services make. After all, more than 60% of victims supported by an Idva and Marac report no further violence at case closure, making this intervention the most effective currently operating in the UK.
So that’s the next challenge for us at SafeLives. Whoever forms the next government, we will tell them from day one that they need to invest in and promote effective, risk-led Idva services alongside housing for victims of domestic abuse. It’s our job to sort the funding and the politics, to make sure that everyday our brilliant Idva colleagues can help more victims get safe and stay safe.