SafeLives’ public health approach to ending domestic abuse

Seeing the whole picture to end domestic abuse

To end domestic abuse, we need to look at the whole picture. This means:

  • seeing and responding to the whole person, understanding linked adverse experiences and individual characteristics and situation
  • wrapping around all family members involved, so the responses provided are coordinated and sustainable
  • ensuring appropriate roles are taken on by the community, and society as a whole
  • acting at each opportunity for change and intervention, from before harm happens to after the most imminently dangerous moments have passed and people are trying to rebuild

SafeLives works with local strategic and operational leaders, and frontline practitioners in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  We bring together data, practice expertise and survivor voice in a public health approach, based on the four steps endorsed by the World Health Organisation. 

Our team of practice experts supports local areas with systemic change, developing an understanding of local organisational culture, context and connections, mobilising the ambitions within our own strategy and local plans, to end domestic abuse.  

We work with local authorities, Police and Crime Commissioners, Clinical Commissioning groups and other multi-agency partners to undertake a systemic review through the lens of the whole family, identifying opportunities for improving the response to high risk abuse, as well as early intervention and prevention. Our approach includes a systems-wide assessment of the current local landscape, consulting with service users and providers to understand opportunities, strengths, and gaps.  

We co-create solutions through delivery of workshops based on the understanding of the system and make recommendations for improvement, enhancing existing work and – in England and Wales - supporting areas implement the new requirements of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. 

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Our key findings so far

To date, SafeLives has worked with 27 Local Authorities in England and Wales on the first two steps. We're proud to publish our Executive Summary report which shares the findings of this work to date. These findings are based on extensive research which includes surveys and interviews with survivors, professionals and those who harm. The report tells us: 

Systems are not always responding to the whole family affected by domestic abuse

  • Too many people tell us survivors' mental health needs are not being met, and poor information sharing arrangements with some public services are re-traumatising.
  • Children are not being supported: of the 72% of survivors who had children, only 28% said their children were offered support.
  • Perpetrators are not being held to account. Only 3% of survey respondents said that the person who caused them harm had received support for their behaviour. 

We need to take a public health approach to ending domestic abuse for the whole family

  • We want to ensure that every adult and child at risk from abuse has an effective, empathetic response that's tailored to their particular circumstances, helps them become safe and well in the long-term, operates in a way that is right for them, and that there is provision for dealing with those who cause harm.

This approach is already having a positive impact in local areas

  • Local areas are strategically prioritising domestic abuse as a result of thinking in this holistic way, which they may have otherwise struggled to do with existing capacity.
  • Local areas are placing the authentic voice of survivors at the heart of strategies to shape a more effective response to domestic abuse locally. 
  • Local areas are getting a better understanding of gaps around multiagency working, specialist service provision, and levels of awareness around domestic abuse. 
  • It is helping local areas work more cost effectively, making better use of the resources they have. Working with the Social Value Engine to measure social value, our first pilot is showing that their work on the first two steps is delivering a £7.72 return on each £1 invested. 

Read the Executive Summary

Read the Public Health Approach Report


Our team 

The practice team in SafeLives bring together a wealth of domestic abuse and multi-agency experience including housing, health, social care, safeguarding and youth work. We use our knowledge, experience, and research capabilities to support and advise areas in developing a whole family, systems wide approach in preventing and responding to domestic abuse. Key to the success of our work is embedding the voice of survivors and taking an evidenced based approach. We build what we do in areas by understanding in depth what is happening, through both qualitative and quantitative data; identifying opportunities and strengths; then co-creating with key stakeholders’ solutions which are based on what works.

Read more about the SafeLives Practice Team.


“We must talk about it more - in the media, in places of work, normalise it without accepting it and helping people have the courage on the outside to challenge it. If we can fundamentally change attitudes around drink driving and smoking - surely we can start to raise awareness and address domestic abuse in the same way. If survivors, children and young people get behind this - we can change the future.”  

- Survivor

Our journey 

  • 2004 Focus on a high risk framework for adult victim/survivors: developing Idva and Marac, scaling up across the UK, supporting over 290 Maracs and training over 3000 Idvas and 300 Idaas  
  • 2014 Broadening out to a ‘whole family’ approach: developing Drive (in partnership with Respect and Social Finance), One Front Door and ‘Beacon sites’ of best practice  
  • 2018 New ‘Whole Picture’ strategy, looking at the whole person and linked adverse experiences and all family members, as described above 
  • 2021 and into the future: Responding to the new Domestic Abuse Act in England and Wales and supporting Delivering Equally Safe in Scotland, building on our work to date and delivering a whole picture approach to ending domestic abuse  


The whole family, siloed by the system. 

Our research, data, interventions and survivor feedback, has shown how local systems fail to understand the whole picture of a family affected by domestic abuse.  

  • Many individuals and families experiencing domestic abuse have multiple needs and many are ‘hidden’ from services
  • 87% of survivors in our Whole Lives survey had told multiple people about their experience of abuse, yet only 31% had managed to reach specialist support and this was most commonly through a self-referral route  
  • 85% of victims of domestic abuse seek help five times on average before they get effective support 
  • 23% of young people exposed to domestic abuse are also demonstrating harmful behaviour, 61% against the mother
  • On average, older victims experience abuse for twice as long before accessing help as those aged under 61
  • Around 30% of children in households supported by an Idva (a specialist domestic abuse professional) were not known to children’s services 
  • At the time they start school at least one child in every classroom will have been living with domestic abuse since they were born  
  • Young victims are exposed to other risks – 29% to child sexual exploitation and 15% to gang violence  
  • In 2016, we found that only 1% of perpetrators of domestic abuse receive any specialist intervention to be challenged or change their behaviour 

“All professionals need to be informed about how to work with those affected by domestic abuse, and the perpetrators. It is not a specialist area of work – it is the bread and butter for everyone who works with families in all capacities. It is not a standalone issue – people need to understand how it relates to all other areas of people’s lives in complex ways.” 

- Survivor

Contact us:

To discuss how we could support you, please contact: 

Pauline Deakin, Head of Practice and Nikki Kelly, Head of Practice: info@safelives.org.uk