Hertfordshire County Council – 'We wanted to understand what victims and survivors needed to be safe but also have a good life'

Hertfordshire County Council’s Strategic Partnerships Team identified that there needed to be a stronger representation of voices from victims and survivors of domestic abuse within their approach to commissioning domestic abuse services.


Context

Hertfordshire County Council are part of the county’s Domestic Abuse Partnership, alongside the Hertfordshire Office of the Police Crime Commissioner (OPCC), both Hertfordshire Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), the ten District and Borough Councils and agencies from the voluntary and community sector (VCS). The Strategic Partnerships Team, on behalf of the Domestic Abuse Partnership, are leading the development of the county’s new strategy for domestic abuse (to be enacted in the autumn of 2021).

Hertfordshire has a well-established approach to domestic abuse, with its Domestic Abuse Partnership Board being set-up five years ago. This involved pioneering an integrated way of working with the OPCC, health colleagues, Public Health, Tier two local authorities and housing before it became a requirement as specified within the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. There are a number of multi-agency sub-groups that help deliver the county’s domestic abuse strategy that report into the partnership board, focusing on specific issues such as quality and innovation and partnership working and risk management.

Despite a comprehensive approach to domestic abuse, Hertfordshire recognised that to improve its support offer, a victim and survivor informed strategy with measurable outcomes would be necessary. In partnership with Public Health, the Strategic Partnerships Team undertook the ‘Pathways Project’, an extensive engagement and consultation exercise with victims and survivors to understand the type of support they require and the sorts of barriers they’ve encountered in trying to get help.

We wanted to understand what victims and survivors needed to be safe but also have a good life."

- Katie Dawtry - Development Manager, Strategic Partnerships Team, Adult Care Services

What did they do?

Hertfordshire first wanted to understand how their existing services aligned with the needs of victims and survivors and therefore began mapping their services provision.  Hertfordshire conducted a literature review and surveyed 160 practitioners within housing, and social care, but also within community services, such as banks and hairdressers. The inclusion of the latter was based on the insight that victims of domestic abuse are often more likely to tell someone in their local community about the abuse than the police or a specialist domestic abuse service.

To understand the needs and experiences of victims and survivors, Hertfordshire conducted a public survey targeted at those experiencing, or who had previously experienced domestic abuse in the past. They conducted a comprehensive communications campaign to advertise the survey, working with a range of stakeholders to ensure a high response rate. For instance, they took the opportunity of utilising existing forums such as the neighbourhood watch network (via the OPCC) and community providers and developed a dedicated social media campaign. The approach led to 641 responses, offering rich insights into the lived experience of victims and survivors of domestic abuse and what their needs were.

Hertfordshire followed up with a sample of participants to conduct qualitative research to ensure depth of insights. They conducted ten telephone interviews to understand more about people’s experiences and what they felt they needed in terms of help and support.

Hertfordshire wanted to ensure they had a diverse set of experiences by interviewing underrepresented groups from the survey results such as BAME, LGBTQ+, older people, those with disabilities and male victims and survivors of domestic abuse.

Impact and outcomes

Hertfordshire’s analysis offered key insights into the tactics used by perpetrators; the needs of victims and survivors; perceived barriers to receiving support; help seeking behaviour of victims and survivors (i.e. who do they report domestic abuse to); and the demographic profiles of victims and survivors.

This also led to the identification of unmet needs such as;

  • Counselling and therapeutic support - was needed by 48 per cent of victims and survivors at the time of, or following, the abuse, with some saying they had received the wrong sort of support (such as the wrong type of counselling or medication for them).
  • Legal support – 31 per cent of victims said they needed legal support, which is likely linked to a lack of affordable legal help.
  • Financial support - was needed by many, with numerous victims having to sell their houses and use their savings to live free from abuse, especially if they had experienced economic abuse.
  • Tackling the behaviour of the perpetrator - through practical measures such as better perpetrator management and support improving home security.

Other insights included victims and survivors mistrusting statutory services and instead choosing alternative reporting routes. Some victims and survivors also reported that perpetrators, in their experience, had continually breached bail conditions but with no consequence; victims did not feel safe nor supported.

The insights from the Pathways Project will be utilised to complement the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) to inform recommendations and subsequently Hertfordshire’s Domestic Abuse strategy.

Hertfordshire’s Pathway Project will go beyond just one-off engagement and will place victims and survivors at the centre of their approach to domestic abuse through working with ‘Experts by Experience’. They will help shape the ongoing strategic and operational delivery of Hertfordshire’s Domestic Abuse strategy. The Experts by Experience model will include:

  • A shadow board - made up of victims and survivors which will work as part of Hertfordshire’s governance structure to feed into all decisions made locally in relation to the response to domestic abuse.
  • An Experts by Experience network - made up of anyone in Hertfordshire who has experienced domestic abuse. The network underpins the shadow board to ensure there is a collective authentic voice guiding the work of the partnership.

Lessons learnt

It takes dedicated time and resources to carry out a thorough engagement with victims and survivors

Hertfordshire initially planned to have one staff member to carry out the ‘Pathways Project’ but recognised that a dedicated project team of approximately three staff would be required to do this work properly. 

Don’t underestimate the practical considerations for governance - and challenges related to ethics, legal issues and GDPR

For example, there were no information sharing agreements between agencies which would allow Hertfordshire to undertake case studies, which they wanted to do to map out the victim’s experience and journey through throughout the system.

Contact

Katie Dawtry, Development Manager, Strategic Partnerships Team, Adult Care Services Hertfordshire County Council (katie.dawtry@hertfordshire.gov.uk)

Danielle Davis, Senior Development Manager, Strategic Partnerships Team, Adult Care Services Hertfordshire County Council (Danielle.Davis@hertfordshire.gov.uk)