In 2019, Central Bedfordshire identified that domestic abuse was part of a complex picture of need, with at least 30 per cent of all children’s services assessments carried out having an element of domestic abuse.
Early intervention and prevention has been central to Central Bedfordshire’s most recent Domestic Abuse strategy. In 2019, Central Bedfordshire identified that domestic abuse was part of a complex picture of need, with at least 30 per cent of all children’s services assessments carried out having an element of domestic abuse. Central Bedfordshire recognised that if support could be provided early enough which met all a family’s needs then it could prevent escalation to statutory services and enable the family to stay together.
As part of their preventative approach, Central Bedfordshire also developed an education programme focused on healthy relationships, for young people aged 16+. The aim of the programme was to ensure young people identified the signs of an unhealthy relationship and had the confidence to talk about it openly with their peers.
What did they do?
Recognising that domestic abuse was a safeguarding issue, Central Bedfordshire placed their domestic abuse service into children’s safeguarding. They did this because:
1) early intervention in the family context was a model already adopted by children’s safeguarding
2) they could identify the needs of families earlier through information sharing and integrated working. The domestic abuse service also worked to ensure it worked with those without children – for instance, it worked closely with Housing and Adult services. This integrated way of working would reduce duplication and improve efficiency across services within the local authority.
To intervene early and tackle domestic abuse within a family context, Central Bedfordshire created their ‘Building Resilience in Families’ (BRIF) panels, a multi-agency panel approach based in seven localities across Central Bedfordshire. The vision of the Building Resilience in Families panel was to work effectively as a multi-agency team to offer early intervention to the whole family.
The BRIF, through multi-agency working and understanding the whole family context, simultaneously provided specific interventions for each member of the family. For example, perpetrators would be challenged to recognise how their behaviour impacts their family through behavioural management, while children would receive therapeutic play therapy to support with their trauma. Through supporting the entire family Central Bedfordshire could prevent and reduce the escalation of incidents being referred into their statutory services.
The BRIF panels provided support where needs were too great for Central Bedfordshire’s early help offer, but did not meet the statutory threshold for intervention. The criterion for referral could be made based on any concern regarding the family, not necessarily exclusively related to domestic abuse. The core agencies that supported the BRIF were: housing, community health services, the police, adult mental health services, local children’s centres, and any other key partner relevant to the family or to the issues prevalent in the locality. Their approach was underpinned by the ‘Strengthening Families model’ which reviews the strengths as well as risks of the family and how they can be supported safely within community services.
In addition to early intervention, Central Bedfordshire have also taken a preventative approach through the post-16 education programme focused on healthy relationships. Central Bedfordshire has worked collaboratively with post-16 colleges and public health colleagues to develop teaching content for Physical, Health and Social Education lessons focusing on different relationships. There was a recognition within Central Bedfordshire that children and young people can be the victims of domestic abuse and may have grown up around unhealthy relationships and may not be adept at recognising abusive behaviour in themselves or others. Therefore, informing and educating young people about healthy relationships is tackling domestic abuse through prevention.
Outcomes and impact
Multi-agency working, facilitated through BRIF, has enabled agencies to interact positively with families. BRIF has supported 66 families between February 2020 and February 2021 and has been an effective pathway where cases have not met the MARAC threshold, preventing and reducing the risk of escalation of harm to the victim.
It is understood anecdotally from practitioners that BRIF has:
- prevented the escalation to children’s safeguarding
- prevented the homelessness of families
- prevented criminality of perpetrators of domestic abuse
- ensured that more children have been supported to remain within school.
BRIF has also been successful at identifying high risk referrals where a statutory response was needed. For example, when information between agencies had been shared the BRIF had identified a higher risk level than initially thought. This has then led to swift statutory intervention with the high-risk referrals being made to MARAC and the Domestic Abuse Perpetrator monthly panel, who discuss appropriate approaches, led by the police, to challenge and disrupt the perpetrators’ behaviour.
The improved outcomes for families through the BRIF have strengthened the commitment to partnership working amongst agencies. The ability to share information, utilise a greater source of expertise and experience, as well as take collective action, has been recognised as a more effective and efficient way of working. The approach has also facilitated the upskilling and knowledge of domestic abuse amongst practitioners across agencies leading to better quality referrals and detection of domestic abuse within families.
Central Bedfordshire’s post 16 education programme has also seen positive outcomes. Young people have offered really positive feedback, and head teachers have reported that the educational programme has prompted some disclosures by young people, which the school has the supported with. Media Students are also creating a film around the subject of’ ‘Consent’ creating more open conversations further highlighting the impact the education programme has had on students, strengthening the messages underpinning healthy relationships and preventing domestic abuse.
- The expertise and commitment of partners is needed
Central Bedfordshire engaged early with partners to utilise their expertise and knowledge to jointly shape the approach. In doing so they gained their partners’ commitment and trust.
- Embed Domestic Abuse across all services
Central Bedfordshire have not allocated new budgets for early intervention - instead they have embedded awareness and knowledge of domestic abuse into all their services, including all of their staff; this includes those in an education setting. They wanted ‘Domestic abuse to be everyone’s business.’
- Ensuring you capture the ‘voice’ of all parties
Central Bedfordshire recognised that the perpetrator of abuse needed to be held accountable for their actions and impact through assessments, safety planning and family meetings.
- Information sharing across agencies is essential to understanding the whole family context
Central Bedfordshire acknowledged information sharing across partners was a key component to supporting a family to have positive change. Bringing together each piece of information held by each partner enables the whole family context to be understood, which has strengthened the plans created to support the whole family.
Joy Piper, Strategic Manager, Domestic Abuse, Children’s Services, Central Bedfordshire Council (firstname.lastname@example.org)