In 2017 Manchester set out to shift the culture and practice of children’s social care to become more domestic abuse informed and enable practitioners to have greater confidence in challenging the perpetrator and holding them to account.
In 2015/16 Manchester City Council had an extensive consultation with victims and survivors who revealed that they had felt unsupported by children’s social workers. Victims and survivors revealed children’s social workers had advised them to end their relationship with the perpetrator to improve the safety of the home and their children, rather than viewing the perpetrator as the source of risk. Advising a victim of domestic abuse to end their relationship with the perpetrator could be difficult and pose a serious risk to their safety. This approach also didn’t seek to interrupt or prevent the cycle of abuse of the perpetrator.
In 2017, prompted by the consultation, Manchester set out to shift the culture and practice of children’s social care to become more domestic abuse informed and enable practitioners to have greater confidence in challenging the perpetrator and holding them to account. One children’s social worker highlighted their lack of professional confidence in dealing with suspected domestic abuse when assessing the family they were working with.
I don’t ask questions because I am scared of what I will hear, and I don’t know what to do once I have heard it"
- Anonymous, Children’s Social Care Worker
Manchester also wanted to shift the language used from, ‘Why haven’t you left?’ to ‘Has your partner ever interfered with you trying to leave?’
What did they do?
To transform the culture and practice of children’s social workers, Manchester sought to adopt and implement the ‘Safer and Together’ model developed by the Safe and Together Institute. The Safe and Together Model is a perpetrator pattern based, child centred, survivor strengths approach to working with domestic violence. The model is behaviourally focused and highlights how work is carried out practically and with concrete system changes in practice.
Manchester began implementing change by sending twenty children’s social care workers to external training provided by the Safe and Together Institute. However, Manchester found that the one-off training was too limited and wasn’t having a significant impact on practice 12 - months following the training
To properly embed the Safe and Together model within practice, Manchester identified funding for a social work consultancy role who would act as the link between Safe and Together and children’s social workers.
The Social Care Consultant then sought to embed the model through group clinics, as well as one to one case reviews. The clinics were open to any social worker who wanted to discuss a particular family they were working with and determine what tools could be utilised from the Safe and Together model. The clinics also discussed how to approach potentially challenging conversations with either the non-offending parent or the perpetrator.
A key theme of the Safe and Together model was shifting the language used by social workers to ensure the non-offending parent felt supported and not revictimized. The aim of the model was to ensure the partnership between the social worker and the non-offending parent promoted the safety and well-being of the children.
The programme of embedding the Safe and Together model expanded with the recruitment of champions who then ran their own clinics. This enabled more practitioners beyond children social care workers to be included, such as early years practitioners and other professionals working with the family. Clinics would aim, where possible, to bind common dilemmas faced by practitioners and broaden the use of the Safe and Together model when working with families within Manchester.
In the wake of COVID-19, Manchester set up a website on Safe and Together to spread awareness and ran online domestic abuse workshops for all practitioners within multi agency partners in sprints of six weeks in a row - once a week. They focused on specific elements of the model, for example safety planning, being aware that lockdown measures were likely to increase the risk domestic abuse.
The Safe and Together model is now informing the training being undertaken by designated safeguard leads within schools.
Impact and outcomes
The training and the implementation of the Safe and Together model was welcomed by practitioners with over 120 attending either training sessions or clinics.
Anecdotally, children’s social workers highlighted that the training had shifted their way of framing dilemmas. Social work managers began noting an improvement in the assessments being carried out. They also noted the improved use of language and descriptions of behaviour patterns outlining family dynamics while supervising their teams, which offered greater insight and understanding, enabling them to offer more bespoke advice and support to their teams.
Children social workers had also reported that the Safe and Together Model had supported them with specific elements of their work:
- 83 per cent said it had supported them with ‘Partnering with the Survivor’
- 75 per cent said it had supported them with ‘Intervening with perpetrators’
- 92 per cent said it had supported them with ‘Identifying impact on the child’
I enjoyed being able to map out the case from start to finish with each part of the Safe and Together model broken down to allow my understanding to improve"
- Anonymous, Children’s Social Worker
The success of Manchester in shifting culture and practice has been further underscored by the Safe and Together Institute who cite Manchester as a great example of how to implement the Safe and Together model.
- Ensure champions continue to embed system change
Manchester has since reflected that that those who became champions of the Safe and Together model at the start probably needed follow up coaching as well as continued involvement in the training. One-off engagement and labelling someone a champion would not be enough to achieve the systems change required.
- Communicating to partners from the start
Manchester believed that they should have brought partners in sooner when seeking to embed the Safe and Together model to ensure consistency amongst different practitioners. Bringing partners in sooner could have enabled greater roll out of the model, with model being reinforced between practitioners from different agencies.
Stephen Brock, Social Work Consultant. Manchester Children's and Education Services Manchester City Council (email@example.com)