Multi Agency Response to children living with domestic abuse

Regular contributor @DVHurts writes about the recent report investigating the multi agency response to children living with domestic abuse. Some good practice is noted but also criticism of practices that do not keep children safe, such as written agreements that do not focus on the perpetrator as the source of the abuse and therefore the risk. 

I am highlighting a recent joint inspection report by OFSTEAD, HMICFRS, Care Quality Commission and HM Inspectors of Probation, into the multi agency response to children living with domestic abuse. You can read the whole report here.

This report is about the second joint targeted area inspection programme, which
began in September 2016 and which examined ‘the multi-agency response to
children living with domestic abuse’. The findings in this report consider the extent to
which, in the six local authorities inspected, children’s social care, health
professionals, the police and probation officers were effective in safeguarding
children who live with domestic abuse. The report calls for a national public service
initiative to raise awareness of domestic abuse and violence. It also calls for a
greater focus on perpetrators and better strategies for the prevention of domestic

It raises the question whether a public health campaign similar to drink driving or drug awareness should be rolled out considering the enormous human and financial cost of domestic violence:

There needs to be a public service message aimed at reducing the prevalence of
domestic abuse as part of a long-term strategy. The focus of this public service
message needs to be on those perpetrators who have offended or might offend, and
to communicate a better understanding of the behaviour and attitudes of those
perpetrating abuse.

Once again firefighting by services, rather than prevention is highlighted:

Work with families that we saw on inspection was often in reaction to
individual crises. Agencies can be overwhelmed by the frequency of
serious incidents, particularly higher risk ones. However, keeping children
safe over time needs long-term solutions.

There was criticism on the concentration on the victim, rather than the perpetrator by services:

A pattern emerged that suggests agencies focus on the victim as the only solution.
In the worst cases, agencies placed an inappropriate attribution of responsibility on
the mother to protect her children. The end of an abusive relationship was
considered to reduce the risk to children, when in fact research tells us that
separation can escalate risk.
Most agencies did not focus on the perpetrator of the abuse enough. Instead, they
focused on removing the family from the perpetrator, leaving them to move on to
another family and, potentially, a repeated pattern of abuse.

On a more positive note, the inspectors highlighted several areas of good practice , including midwifery, in particular staff who are not frightened to ask the awkward questions:

In Hounslow, for example, inspectors praised the ‘One Stop Shop’ service
for parents who are subject to domestic abuse. The service is open one
morning a week. Parents can access a range of services, advice and
support from various professionals including legal advice, support from an
independent domestic violence adviser (IDVA), children’s social care, the
police, housing, substance misuse support, a refuge worker and an
independent sexual violence adviser. Inspectors noted that:
‘parents are gaining an understanding of the impact of living with
domestic abuse, leading to their being better able to meet the needs of
their children and keeping them safe’.

On the other hand there was criticism of practice that was highly unlikely to keep children safe:

Some of the thinking and practice we saw with victims in contexts of coercive
control were clearly inappropriate. This included the use of written agreements
that placed responsibility for managing the risk to children with the victim.
Written agreements are similar to written contracts, where social workers and
parents agree a set of terms that the parents sign. The terms may include
things like, the victim will not continue a relationship with her abusive partner,
she will not allow him into the house, she will not be in contact with him, and
so on.

The use of written agreements in two of the six local authorities was
widespread. However, we saw no evidence that they are effective. Given that
the focus of written agreements is often not the perpetrator who is the source
of the abuse and therefore the risk, it is unsurprising that they are ineffective.

Then something that a number of woman will relate to, and is often the subject of comments on this blog( not just from me):


Some of the women we spoke to in our focus groups described how their abusers used their distress as evidence that they were unstable. Often the women believed they were regarded as having mental health conditions or of being emotionally incapable of caring for their children. In one case, this resulted in a mother being evicted from her home and her partner being given sole custody of her children, whom she did not see for several months. Eventually her abuser, who had a severe alcohol addiction, was evicted and custody returned to the mother

Untangling this web and being consistent in identifying who needs to be held
responsible, and for what, will always be challenges for professionals. We found
instances of language being used that incorrectly held victims responsible for
the risk of domestic abuse. For example, we saw reports that described an
abusive situation as a ‘lifestyle choice’ and reports stating that victims had
learnt to ‘make better relationship choices’. We also found instances of
the multi-agency response to children living with domestic abuse
inappropriate practice, including a police log that had been updated to state
that a safeguarding visit would not be completed because both parties were ‘as
bad as one another’.

A lack of focus on perpetrators can lead to a short-term view of risks. We saw examples of swift action being taken to secure the immediate safety of the
victim and children, without any action being taken to address the root causes
of the perpetrator’s behaviour. In temporarily resolving the immediate incident,professionals can lose sight of the greater risks posed in future.

One survivor of domestic abuse told us:
‘I called the police on him multiple times and they just kind of patted him
on the back and said ‘calm down son’. And I’m like, ‘he’s just thrown me
down the goddamn stairs’.

It is a comprehensive, readable report and has been reported on elsewhere:

22 thoughts on “Multi Agency Response to children living with domestic abuse

  1. HelenSparkles

    Thanks for this. I absolutely think there is a focus on victims and that women (it most often is the female partner) are asked to leave those abusive relationships in order to protect their children.

    There are several issues with resources so the focus needs to be systemic, as does the solution.

    I have a lot to say about vulnerable women being put in that position or their inability to leave such a relationship, so please don’t think I mean to minimise that, it is over challenging and it is risky for them. I just want to talk about what is available to do the work with perpetrators because, if it isn’t there, it isn’t a service I can use. If it is expensive, it isn’t a service i can fund.

    There is a mixed bag of research on working with perpetrators, I am not sure we know what is most effective and what should be introduced, and I think this is essential. My most recent update indicated that this would need to be a 30 week programme, all sessions attended, and at a cost of a number of thousands of pounds. I think it was maybe £3k but don’t quote me. I think that is a relatively low spend in terms of long term gain but I also know there isn’t a budget in my LA that could cover this being used routinely. It needs to be routine because if a case is closed because on person has extricated themselves safely from that relationship, the abuser does then have other relationships, and not only are those women at risk but it will often lead to CS intervention if children are involved.

    The other issue with the work is that the person attending has to be committed to change, accept their abusive behaviours, and to engage with what is a difficult process. There are barriers to that for many reasons, not least that some people who are abusive do not have any insight into the way they exercise power, control and coercion. DV is typically seen as violence and, if I ruled the world, I would change several elements of the language used in this area. Domestic sounds like chintz curtains to me, I would change it to abuse at home, there is nothing cosy about being attacked in your own home. We need to take the violence out of the language, because whilst it is often a factor, it is never the only one. It leads people involved to just saying “I didn’t hit/him/her’. Even when violence is a feature, the key issue about abuse is the power and control, which can be exercised in may and varied ways. Abuse at home should cover the coercion, manipulation, stalking, checking text messages, monitoring activities with friends, and complete take over of someone’s life within an intimate relationship. We could have intimate partner abuse and what that is being taught in schools. Nigella Lawson called it intimate terrorism.

    So I would like to see a change in language, early education (there are ways of presenting that info age appropriately), and education for the general public which clarifies what DV is even if the words don’t change. Most importantly though, the writers of that report should commission an analysis of research and services so that even if there is a variation in services due to local need, different characteristics of those who perpetrate DV etc. there is some clarity of what would be most effective so that those who commission services can be confident that a short term cost leads to long term gain.

  2. Angelo Granda

    Thanks to d.v.hurts for the post also to Helen Sparkles for her contribution.

    1.I agree that mothers and children should be left alone and that the problems of the ‘perpetrator’ should be tackled more effectively . Ideally, I feel violence and coercive control should be dealt with by the criminal system ; offenders should be charged and punished either by re-training in prison or borstal or by probation orders, drink and drug rehabilitation training, psychiatric treatment , community service orders, good hard work, boot camps along with physical exercise and hard work and so on.

    2.Should there not be enough evidence to convict the perpetrator ,perhaps the Police might involve the Adult Social Services. This is one solution worth considering. Why involve the CS? It is not the brief of the CS to address the problem of reforming dysfunctional adults. They are only concerned with children and ,of course, they cannot fund work with adult offenders.QUOTE: There is a mixed bag of research on working with perpetrators, I am not sure we know what is most effective and what should be introduced, and I think this is essential. My most recent update indicated that this would need to be a 30 week programme, all sessions attended, and at a cost of a number of thousands of pounds. I think it was maybe £3k but don’t quote me. I think that is a relatively low spend in terms of long term gain but I also know there isn’t a budget in my LA that could cover this being used routinely :UNQUOTE

    3. The comment above, makes it fairly plain that the CS are unable to help these offenders. Unfortunately , its priority is children and it cannot protect children except by the draconian act of removing a child into care. Immensely traumatic and degrading to the child and Mum. The CS haven’t the power to help!

    4.Might I suggest that Adult Social Services counsel and offer the perpetrator help as outlined above. If he refuses point-blank claiming innocence, then Adult Social Services should approach the Family Court for an order. The Family Court should be given the power to order the probation services, community orders and rehabilitation orders mentioned above in para.1.

    5. I also think that the victim should be offered counselling by ADULT Social Services around domestic violence and its causes, prevention etc. This may not go down well here, but the underlying cause of it may sometimes be because of the victim too. Although , the fault is predominantly that of the perpetrator, the trigger may sometimes be the actions, inactions, general behaviour of the victim. Help should be offered there too.

    Hope this helps. All comments welcome.

  3. HelenSparkles

    Unfortunately, convicted or not, nobody can force anyone to engage and it is counterproductive if change is what you are aiming to achieve.

    1. Angelo Granda

      It is true that the CS cannot force anyone to engage .I have expressed the view that it is counterproductive to ask them to do it because they don’t have the power. I have also said it is counter-productive for the Police or anyone else to ask the CS to attempt the task of reforming adults; it is not its forte.
      All they appear to do, by concentrating on children’s issues is to attack the very existence of a family by threatening permanent liquidation within 26 weeks. Hardly a humane policy? It makes a situation even more toxic and alienates parents from the authorities.
      A good adult SW, will organise effective counselling and advocacy ( rather than forgetting to follow legal guidelines and frameworks ignoring the need ) and put a cap on d.v. They will also monitor the situation ;should they feel it necessary, they will see the victim forthwith and counsel separation and/or rehousing, safe refuge etc. The victims need to be given options most of all the opportunity to escape .
      As you wrote and as Sam and I agreed, there is no service you can use and even if there were ,if it is expensive the LA will not fund it therefore you cannot use it. As you say, you ( the CS) don’t appear to know of effective measures and what should be introduced.
      If there is one part of your comment I disagree with it is this- QUOTE: I absolutely think there is a focus on victims and that women (it most often is the female partner) are asked to leave those abusive relationships in order to protect their children: UNQUOTE. I hope you understand that I am not trying to be disagreeable but it is a big complaint that the victims are not focussed on by the CS absolutely at all. Rather , the safety of children is focussed upon.

      1. HelenSparkles

        When I said it isn’t effective for anyone to engage and that it is counterproductive to do so, I meant therapists/counsellors/advocates. They will all refuse to work with someone who doesn’t want to work with them because of this. CS do not provide this service so whatever you think of them being involved is irrelevant.

        Unfortunately you misunderstand entirely if you think I am saying mothers/victims should be left alone.

        You are also wrong that the only recourse from CS is to remove a child. There are cases where victims of serious DV remain with their partner and the risk is too great for a child. There are also cases where victims engage with support, risks are managed, and children remain at home or return home if they have to leave temporarily (usually to stay with a family member).

        The 26 weeks is preceded by a pre – proceedings period, except in the worst cases, this is the period during which SW & others are supposed to undertake all of the work with families to support them to effect change which is sustainable over time. The 26 weeks exists because, once those assessments are completed, there should be no delay for the child.

        You are wrong about the safety of victims not being considered, they are consistently supported to be rehoused or move to a refuge, out of the area if necessary. It is housing policy to support a move, so isn’t really any issue.

        I said “I just want to talk about what is available to do the work with perpetrators because, if it isn’t there, it isn’t a service I can use. If it is expensive, it isn’t a service i can fund.” IF being the operative word. As it happens I have both, a service and funding. I was speaking hypothetically. I hadn’t realised you would interpret this as a personal experience.

        When I said we don’t know what is most effective, I wasn’t talking about CS or SWers. I was talking about the plethora of research which doesn’t give a clear indication of what would be most effective, or if indeed a range of services are needed. Just like medicine and other professions, SW is research and evidence based.

        Adult social care do not work with perpetrators of DV, other services do that, CS don’t either.

        Adult social workers are not counsellors, for either victims or perpetrators, it is actually trained counsellors which do that job.

        Court orders for people who refuse to engage would be pointless. Even if they went to prison for non complacence, they would come out, and a short prison term is highly unlikely to be effective for anyone.


        1. HelenSparkles

          Oh & if you really don’t like the way someone behaviours, you could just end the relationship, rather than err hurting them/stalking them/manipulating them/gaslighting etc.

  4. Angelo Granda

    Unfortunately,Helen, despite your idealism, i understand that many, many women victims of domestic abuse ,coercive control etc. will doubt or deny : –
    a) the ability or the willingness of an LA to engage effectively or honestly with them.
    b) that the so-called evidence- base is reliable.
    c) that the so-called research base is extensive and is used impartially.
    They will also argue that honesty is not the LA’s forte, that legal guidelines PRE-PROCEEDINGS and court orders are flouted and that ,in reality, so-called ‘in-depth’ core assessments pre-proceedings are a total sham. That is the truth in so many cases; often the SW’s are commanded not to talk to parents or involve them in assessments at all!

    This is why I will always say that CP professionals take cases into the realms of fallacy. For example, it is not true that court orders are pointless. Reform can be imposed upon perpetrators if the Court has the power to make them. Surely, anyone interested in protecting children and enabling them to remain with natural family will support such a process .
    BTW, I was not suggesting that the perpetrators are not fully responsible for their actions ( as readers very well know by now). I have said and I wish I could demand they be dealt with properly by the criminal law . We all know that the Police refuse to get involved when children are involved preferring to pass the buck to the CS.
    I have said that someone’s behaviour is always responsible for d.v. dished out to them. Only the perpetrator is responsible ultimately. However ,I believe the victims should also be offered adult counselling during which, I suggest possible causes of family dysfunction and triggers of d.v. can be discussed in order to prevent any repetition.
    Readers, I suggest it is inhumane and a false ideology that human beings cannot be reformed even when they are apparent lunatics. Our whole civilisation is based upon the principle that human beings err and commit criminal offences. These people should be dealt with proportionately in line with the ECHR convention . Whilst Fred and Rose West types may be beyond reform and should have their children permanently removed , we should not rush into making hasty decisions and we should pay regard to procedural correctness and follow the Convention safeguards.
    Not simply pretend we have as the lawyers seem to do.

  5. Angelo Granda

    Correction: slip of the keyboard.
    I meant to write , I HAVE NOT SAID that someone’s behaviour is always responsible for d.v. dished out to them.

  6. HelenSparkles

    Not sure where you get idealism from Angelo?

    I know your position only too well and I can’t agree with it I’m afraid.
    Victims of DV are rarely honest until they are, for completely understandable reasons; often they are just too frightened. I am very sick of saying to you that assessments cannot be completed without the involvement of parents, unless of course they refuse to cooperate, no SW are commanded not to talk to anyone!

    Your understanding of reparative work with victims or offenders is seriously limited. Compelling anyone to do that kind of work is counterproductive. It is only when the victim or perpetrator is ready that the work can be effective. This is basic.

    The police don’t pass the buck, they need beyond reasonable doubt as a burden of proof, CS need balance of probabilities because that is what is safe for a child.

    We all hope to effect change and make things better for children so they can remain at home.

    I am not sure why you are calling anyone lunatics, that seems like very pejorative and judgmental language?

    “This may not go down well here, but the underlying cause of it may sometimes be because of the victim too. Although , the fault is predominantly that of the perpetrator, the trigger may sometimes be the actions, inactions, general behaviour of the victim. Help should be offered there too.”

    This means that the victim is responsible for the perpetrator’s actions Angelo and that is never right.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I agree that no victim is ever responsible for a perpetrators actions but equally it cannot be sensibly denied that there is definitely a dynamic existing in some relationships where the line between victim and perpetrator becomes blurred and some ‘victims’ do act in antagonising and provoking ways. We need clear eyed appraisal of relationships that are toxic. I have never encountered a situation of 100% victim or 100% perpetrator. Recognition of this is NOT ‘victim blaming’ – it is recognising that all relationships are a dynamic and influenced by each person within them.

      1. HelenSparkles

        Ok, so that is a toxic/volatile relationship within which both parties behave ‘badly’ at times. That is not domestic abuse. Domestic abuse always involves power and control. When one person has power and is able to control, the other person is a victim. There is rarely a shift between victim and perpetrator in those cases.

        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          I am afraid I don’t agree – and that is after seeing many such relationships over many years. I agree that one person is usually the ‘main’ perpetrator, but I have seen many examples of the ‘victim’ behaving in a way that was itself controlling and abusive. I feel very strongly that we have to accept the reality and not simply hide behind cries of ‘victim blaming’

          There is also the horrible reality that many women do go back – often frequently – to men who abuse and torment them. There is something going on here that operates on quite a deep level. It won’t be fixed by changing the laws on benefits or presumptions around contact. Abusive men are able to identify their victims with ease. Why is that? What is going on?

          1. HelenSparkles

            I don’t think I have mentioned victim blaming. I do think that whoever the perpetrator is, they are responsible for their actions. The 2nd paragraph I agree with wholly, the main issue for me is work with the men who move from partner to partner, and whose vulnerability they can detect. It isn’t simple at all, people do go back, and sometimes that is a rational decision for them because that partner may have threatened to kill them.

          2. Sam

            Incidents are very rarely isolated one offs. There is normally a pattern of abuse before the victim seeks help and normally even longer before she or he , actually gets any.
            Shouting is intimdating as is the smashing of objects.

          3. Angelo Granda

            QUOTE: Abusive men are able to identify their victims with ease. Why is that? : UNQUOTE

            That is a very interesting question. I gather from information on this resource that victims of domestic violence and abuse ,when a couple separate and divorce, is often attracted to other violent men by fatal attraction . As if they have a death-wish. This is false ideology on the part of CP professionals and often leads to the victims having children removed unnecessarily.

            QUOTE: What is going on? :UNQUOTE

            Could it be that , when the problem recurs, an otherwise largely, decent man could have become infected by the same dysfunctional dynamic which ruined the first marriage.
            This is why I have suggested that the victims are not blamed but that , they too, should be given counselling and life-training.

        2. Angelo Granda

          Sam, you are quite right, shouting is intimidating, smashing objects is aggressive and threatening. It is unacceptable violence ,abuse and controlling ,coercive behaviour. It is CRIMINAL behaviour which should be dealt with by the criminal system is all I am saying. It isn’t for the CS to do that.
          We know that Police fail to investigate and often make no attempt to raise evidence to charge the perpetrators when there are children in the family. If no children in the family ,they investigate and find evidence to charge perpetrators. If the family is a wealthy, professional one ,they investigate correctly and find evidence to charge perpetrators. There is one law for the rich, one for the poor and childless and another for poor, vulnerable families with young children ( especially if they receive benefits ,have autistic children and reside in certain post-code areas. In their case ,the Police don’t investigate and seek out evidence. The reason why not is because they are subject to strict policy directives from Local Authorities to deal with the problem by referring the families to Social Services and to work with the CS. These families are targeted as sources of children to swell the care system.
          Sam, please will you tell me what ‘gaslighting’ is.

  7. Angelo Granda

    Helen, it does not mean that victims are responsible for the abuse perpetrators actions. Violence can be triggered unknowingly in which case ,the victim isn’t responsible.
    Sarah, I believe domestic violence and abuse ( coercive control) and so on is triggered by a dysfunctional dynamic which exists within every functioning family. Fortunately ,only a small minority of men actually bash their wives because they can control themselves. However, many men shout and bawl at them, some even throw things at the wall, some threaten their wives and some don’t do anything but just bottle it all up. Some times they only crack once and never do it again. Sometimes it becomes habitual and the men have to isolate the wives from extended family and friends and devise ways to blame their victims and that is when the Police should obtain evidence and charge them. If violent behaviour and coercive control is illegal then these men should be punished and reformed within the criminal law system.
    When we regard the triggers of these various behaviours, unhappiness and disruption within families, divorce etc; we are looking at something that could happen to any family at any time. The dysfunctional dynamic is part of our every day lives. Pressure. Unemployment. Drugs. Drink. Lack of moral values and religious education and so on ad finitum.
    The problem is that LA’s have illegitimate aims; they seek to target and persecute ‘vulnerable ‘ families and take their children into care rather than act legitimately and support them within natural family as the Children Act so clearly intends. Please note, no one is squeaky clean and should they feel inclined to conduct a persecutory witch-hunt then any family could be targeted but they go for the poor and vulnerable only as a rule. They victimise poor children ( especially those whose families are on benefits, see recent discussion re- needy families, fishing expeditions through files, criminal records, disability etc. and destroy families . They often instruct schools,Police and Doctors to make official referrals in order to start their interferences. Post codes and Working class- families are their preference ,especially the poorly-educated and destitute .
    They FLOUT legal guidelines AND Court orders and as a result, other professionals and the Courts make wrong appraisals and act disproportionately.
    When the LA gets children into care, they have achieved their illegitimate aims whatever they may be. Usually it is to avoid spending on support plans in preference to spending it with profit-making concerns; sometimes it is to satisfy the sexual and other desires of predators within the system and sometimes because of outright inhumanity of SW’s and other professionals due to false ideology. For example, that you cannot force reform on criminals. These policies are a disaster for children which is why safeguards are in place to prevent them.
    Helen, when I say idealism ,I mean those who think cases are conducted correctly according to the rules in most cases. This may be true in your particular department but not in others. The care system is usually a disaster for children but professionals turn a blind eye and pretend it does them good. We cannot deny the findings of Public Enquiries any longer. Children in care are stigmatised, degraded and submitted to much abuse and mental torture. Funny not many professionals come on to this resource and comment on recent revelations.

  8. Angelo Granda

    Do any readers agree It would be a helpful change to frontline practices were the Family Courts ( I ncluding Magistrates) given the power to order less draconian sanctions in the shape of community work, probation,substance abuse rehabilitation ASBO’s and so forth.Where it is reckoned one or other parent is violent and a danger on the b of p an ASBO would ban him or her from the family abode for a period pending reform.

Comments are closed.