Transforming the response to domestic abuse

Closes 31 May 2018

Reporting domestic abuse to statutory agencies


We recognise how important it is that statutory agencies and professionals properly understand what domestic abuse is. Without a good understanding the response can be poor and victims’ safety can be compromised.

“I felt pressured to leave my husband. I told them that this was my house and that I did not want to go into a council flat on the ground floor where I would not feel safe. I told them of my other physical issues but I did not feel listened to. They just wanted me to leave.”[1]

In March 2014 when Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) published their first report into domestic abuse they found some alarming and unacceptable weaknesses in the police response.

They were deeply concerned by the attitudes of some officers where comments like “it’s just a domestic” demonstrated a lack of understanding of both the issue and potential risk facing a victim.[2]

In 2017 HMICFRS noted that there have been improvements in police practice and that while many police officers have positive, caring and empathetic attitudes towards victims, some still have a negative approach to those who are most vulnerable.[3]

Wide-ranging action is being taken to improve understanding of domestic abuse across many statutory agencies. This includes statutory guidance, targeted resources and training. A handful of examples are listed below:

  • Police
    A training programme for the police entitled Domestic Abuse Matters has been developed by the College of Policing with support from the charity SafeLives. An evaluation by the College of Policing has found it has a positive impact on police officers’ knowledge of coercive control and attitudes to domestic abuse.[4]
  • Housing
    The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) commissioned domestic abuse awareness training for front line housing options staff in English local authorities in 2016. The National Practitioner Support Service ran 14 events across nine English regions training 232 frontline housing staff. The purpose of the training was to ensure that front line officers are able to provide the right support at the right time to victims of domestic abuse, sign posting victims to the appropriate services. The training was supported by an online toolkit.
  • The Crown Prosecution Service
    The Crown Prosecution Service has published comprehensive legal guidance on domestic abuse for all prosecutors across England and Wales.[5] This is being supported by training, including mandatory training on taking forward prosecutions using a full range of evidence, and through extensive compliance checks.
  • Health agencies
    In March 2017, the UK government Department of Health and Social Care produced an online publication ‘Responding to Domestic Abuse – a resource for health professionals’.[6] The Royal College of Nurses have developed a pocket guide in recognition of the need for nurses, midwives and health care support workers and all other health care professionals to have an understanding of the impact of domestic abuse on patients, clients and colleagues.[7] Similarly, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) with Identification and Referral to Improve Safety (IRIS) and Safe Lives have also produced guidance for General Practices (GPs) to help them respond effectively to patients experiencing domestic abuse as demonstrated by the case study below.[8]
  • Social workers
    Recognising the key role social workers can play, the government is rolling out a new national assessment for child and family social workers in England. Through this assessment social workers will be accredited against a set of criteria which describes what effective social work practice looks like.[9] This criteria includes domestic abuse and is expected to start from mid-2018.
  • Cafcass
    The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) work directly with vulnerable children and families in the family courts. They have developed a tool which provides social work practitioners with a structured framework when assessing family court cases where domestic abuse is or may be a feature. The tool was developed to bring together the current understanding of risk assessment and the impact on children of living with domestic abuse into one usable format for practitioners. It has been widely recognised as a model of best practice.
  • Jobcentre Plus
    The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is committed to strengthening its Jobcentre Plus work with local partners to ensure that people with complex needs, including those who have experienced domestic abuse, are able to access benefits, receive the right level of employment support and requirements, and are referred on to local organisations to provide the wider support needed.

“I could talk to my doctor as I trust him and he knows most of the things that go on in my life… talking to my doctor really opened my eyes”.[10]

Case study: Identification and Referral to Improve Safety of women experiencing domestic violence (IRIS) scheme

The IRIS programme trains general practice teams to identify patients with experience of domestic violence and abuse and offer them a referral into specialist support.

Staff are taught how to spot the signs and symptoms which suggest that a patient might have experience of domestic violence and abuse, how to ask about this and then give an appropriate and supportive response.

A simple referral system ensures that patients who disclose and who would like support are referred to a specialist, named worker, linked to the GP practice - the IRIS Advocate Educator.

Contact information is provided to patients who don’t want to be referred and the training includes information about national helplines for male victims and perpetrators.  The discussion is recorded in the patient’s medical record.

Quote from a GP who undertook training: “I’d known one of the patients who disclosed to me for 21 years. In that entire time I had no idea that she was living with a very controlling and psychologically abusive husband, and that this abuse played a key role in her health problems.

I’ve also had women in their sixties and seventies disclose. These women have put up with it for so long, but when offered the right support they are capable of making really brave decisions and changing their lives for the better.”[11]

We recognise the value the voluntary sector can play in educating statutory agencies about domestic abuse. Jobcentre Plus offices routinely work with local charities on domestic abuse initiatives.

For example, Jobcentre Plus Essex have formed a local partnership with Safer Places in Essex to train staff, support the creation of networks of domestic violence champions and safe places for victims to disclose across the county.

The training aims to equip staff to respond appropriately and effectively and be able to refer on to appropriate services. 

Case study: J9 initiative

The J9 initiative, named in memory of Janine Mundy, the mother of two young boys who was killed by her estranged husband who was on police bail, was established by Somerset and Devon and Cornwall police and Janine’s family to raise awareness and help victims of domestic abuse. The J9 logo is displayed in premises where victims can obtain information which will help them to access support and use a telephone.

The initiative includes awareness training developed by Safer Places, an Essex based charity, as well as the creation of domestic violence champions networks and safe places for victims to disclose across the county.

Jobcentre Plus already has measures in place to support victims who have fled an abusive household. The enhanced J9 service enables Jobcentre staff to also signpost to practical help and support from within the Jobcentre.

On each floor in the Jobcentre there is a J9 point where staff can easily obtain information including contact details for Safer Places and local support refuges. Jobcentre staff who have been J9 trained wear a small J9 badge or lanyard.

These are just some of the examples of efforts to improve statutory agencies’ understanding and identification of domestic abuse. However, we recognise there is still more to do to ensure there is a consistent response across the country.

As the Joint Targeted Area Inspection (JTAI) Report on the Multi-agency Response to Children Living with Domestic Abuse[12] highlights, there has been good overall progress made by local areas in responding to domestic abuse.

This is particularly true of protecting children and victims. However, the report identifies that a step change is needed in the way agencies understand and respond to the issue.

We are looking at options to further roll out information to jobcentre staff, health services and Troubled Families’ workers (in England) to improve their ability to recognise the signs of domestic abuse and to offer the tailored support required.

7. Which statutory agencies or groups do you think the UK Government should focus its efforts on in order to improve the identification of domestic abuse? Please tick your top 3 from the list.

8. In addition to improving training programmes and introducing guidance, what more can the government do to improve statutory agencies’ understanding of domestic abuse?