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Domestic violence is one of the most common issues social workers come across. But their role is often not fully understood outside the social work sector. Lydia Bennett, professional practice advisor at the College of Social Work, explains.

Social workers have worked  with victims of domestic violence for years - in the courts, social services, accident and emergency, and in refuges. But their role in helping victims and families is still not well understood.

Social workers are skilled at engaging with the whole family and are able to link the experiences of every member of that family - the victim, the perpetrator and the children.

So what would this look like in a typical social worker’s engagement with a family?

Making sure the children and the victim are safe are key tasks for the social worker. Often, the social worker works with the parent to encourage them to see the world how their children do. This approach helps to motivate the parents to change the situation the family is in. Social workers also work directly with the children to strengthen the mother-child relationship, as it can be badly affected by domestic abuse – especially if the victim separates from a violent partner. And social workers need to understand the impact of domestic violence on the mother’s mental health and her parenting skills.

And their role doesn’t end there. As they focus on the whole family, social workers engage in a safe way with the perpetrator, challenging them to change their behaviour.

But domestic abuse is not a simple issue and responding effectively requires a truly holistic approach. That’s why co-ordinated support from a whole range of agencies is crucial. Social workers can build strong links with other agencies and encourage better access to services for vulnerable families.

It’s vital that social workers understand what an effective response to domestic abuse is. To offer the skills and knowledge needed to effectively help families, social workers need to keep up-to-date with domestic violence and abuse case law, learn from relevant serious case reviews and attend training. The College of Social Work will soon be producing domestic violence and abuse practice guidance outlining key priority areas for social workers. We hope it will deepen the understanding of domestic abuse and help reflect on how complex the experience is for families living with abuse. And we’re also delighted to accredit SafeLives’ training for social workers.



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