Parental domestic abuse was a prominent feature in approximately one third of families who had a social work assessment. Norfolk recognised that early identification was key to reducing the number of safeguarding concerns and children going into care or receiving child protection plans.
Children’s Services in Norfolk County Council have made substantial changes to their strategic approach to domestic abuse by placing early intervention and prevention at the heart of their response. Local agencies had noted repetitive cycles of abuse by perpetrators and acknowledged a need to be more proactive. Challenging and supporting the abuser to change behaviour, via a whole family approach, was seen as an important approach.
Inspired by Hertfordshire’s “family safeguarding model” and together with partners, they developed a whole family, strength based, relationship focussed approach, aiming to genuinely support the whole family. They brought together a multi-disciplinary team of practitioners which included domestic abuse, parenting support and substance misuse to meet the needs of families and where appropriate support behaviour change.
Parental domestic abuse was a prominent feature in approximately one third of families who had a social work assessment. These cases involving parental domestic abuse as one of the reasons for referrals to children’s services can involve other intertwined factors such as mental health and substance misuse, the three sometimes being referred to as “toxic trio”. This concept emerged from research commissioned by the DfE, but is being challenged by a recent study which found the evidence “alarmingly weak”. Norfolk recognised that early identification was key to reducing the number of safeguarding concerns and children going into care or receiving child protection plans.
However, one of the key barriers to early identification recognised by Children’s Services (CS) within Norfolk County Council, was that many staff in frontline roles lacked the confidence and training to respond effectively to suspected victims of domestic abuse. For example, some staff were reluctant to encourage disclosures or were unsure what questions to ask when they did suspect domestic abuse. To overcome this challenge, training and empowering frontline staff from various agencies became a key priority to delivering the aspiration of early identification and intervention of domestic abuse.
What did they do?
Children’s Services (CS) spearheaded a Domestic Abuse Change Champions Network. Since 2015, 2000 champions working in public-facing roles in a variety of agencies have received training. The champions receive two days of training to develop their knowledge on asking, responding, and supporting people affected by domestic abuse. The attendees learnt how to recognise the dynamics of domestic abuse, how to identify risk and support safety planning. They also learnt how to confidently encourage disclosure, and what the legal requirements were for sharing the victim’s information. The training also covered broader issues relating to violence against women and girls such as sexual violence, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and “honour” based abuse.
The champions’ role is to use their knowledge to better identify abuse in their interaction with the public in their day-to-day roles, but also promote among their colleagues: an awareness of domestic abuse, the information available about services, and the ethos of early disclosure and the subsequent response.
The project gained a momentum in spring 2020 during the implementation of lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Norfolk County Council believed the risk of domestic abuse would increase, and support services would be perceived as more difficult to access. They recognised having people based in the community became an even more vital to reach victims and survivors. To adapt to the lockdown Norfolk County Council moved their training online.
We have had amazing speakers to keep people inspired and let people know that Norfolk is passionate about raising awareness on domestic abuse”
- Tabatha Breame, DA Change Coordinator
Since spring 2020, an additional 230 people have joined the network, including from community health organisations that played a vital role during lockdown. The network is now embedded in all hospitals and in many schools across Norfolk.
This is one of the most successful projects from Norfolk to address domestic abuse"
- Paul Finon, Head of Intensive and Specialist Support within Children Services
The champions network team gained public recognition for their work: to date, they have won three awards;
- a national Municipal Journal Award for Public Health Improvement in 2018
- an Outstanding Contribution Award for Employee of the year in 2018 from Norfolk County Council
- Event of the Year Award from PRIDE in 2019 for delivering a domestic abuse awareness event aimed at hairdressers and beauticians.
The champions were regarded as the “the eyes and the ears” of what was happening in local communities. During the implementation of lockdown, they became the first point of contact for many victims and survivors and were able to be responsive to their needs.
The feedback from champions regarding the training reflected the contribution they had made to tackling domestic abuse, not just at work, but in their personal lives too.
I directly worked with a lady who was a victim and referred her on to other agencies to arrange support for her son. The woman came out of the relationship she was in and seemed to grow as a person – she had confidence and she just radiated – and knowing I had made a contribution to that made me feel better.”
- Julie, Family Practitioner in Norfolk Early Help and DA Champion
Although impact data on this project is not yet available, the coordinators have reasons to believe it has had a significant impact. Their mantra throughout has been, “If all of the 2000 champions support just one person, that’s already a lot of adult and children victims kept safe”.
- Partnership working around domestic abuse is key
...and Children Services have a strong role to play in this partnership.
- The COVID context provided some opportunities for the champions network
Greater availability of some professionals such as teachers, which enhanced participation in the training, and ability to reach more people via virtual training, something they will consider continuing beyond the pandemic.
- Continually improving the knowledge and skills of the champions network
The quality assurance of the champions network remains one of the key challenges of this network, as finding the resources to go out and quality assure what people are doing would be challenging for CS Norfolk. Acknowledging the importance of ongoing learning (“two days isn’t enough”), the DA change coordinators have created an online library of resources and hold regular sessions to refresh and update the champions’ knowledge.
Paul Finon, Head of Intensive and Specialist Support within Children Services, Norfolk County Council (firstname.lastname@example.org)