Northumberland County Council – A reflection on their journey towards improving the use of data at a multi-agency level

In 2018, Northumberland County Council identified significant gaps in their multi-agency approach to tackling Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (DAandSV).


Context

In 2018, Northumberland County Council identified significant gaps in their multi-agency approach to tackling Domestic Abuse and  Sexual Violence (DAandSV). Recognising that not one agency alone could be the answer to domestic abuse, and acknowledging the need for infrastructure and capacity, the council hired a coordinator who reinvigorated a DAandSV multi-agency Business Group in 2018.

This Business Group reports to the Community Safety Partnership. Take part in this group: Police, Public Health, Clinical Commissioning Group, Housing, Children’s Social Care, Adult Social Care, Education, Early Help, Community Rehabilitation Company, Crown Prosecution Service as well as the voluntary sector (DA&SV providers). 

The key objectives of this group were to ensure:

  • early identification of domestic abuse and sexual violence
  • high quality provision, and
  • an appropriate justice response, underpinned by effective partnership working.

A key challenge for the group was the lack of data sharing between agencies, and therefore the inability to take data-informed decisions.

What did they do?

Partners acknowledged the critical need to share data to inform Northumberland’s approach, recognising that domestic abuse is a cross cutting issue. In 2018, the Business Group completed a domestic abuse needs assessment, pulling together data from the Police, Children’s Social Care, Adult Social Care and domestic abuse specialist providers, to build a shared comprehensive picture of what was happening.

We wanted to improve our use of data to inform what’s working and what’s not, to make us query things”

- Lesley Pyle - DA&SV Coordinator

Since 2018, partners have been sharing and pulling together their  DAandSVdata analysis quarterly, supporting the group’s operational and strategic thinking. For example, the group identified where in the county domestic abuse was most likely to be underreported based on the level of referrals per area. Northumberland is 97 per cent rural, and the local authority wanted to understand the level of reporting in particularly isolated areas, where there is limited access to services and support, as well as understanding which services could potentially identify and refer victims and survivors.

Although the data is now systemically being shared by partners, the group has identified its next challenge. To make the process of data analysis more efficient, they want to go a step further in data integration. Analysing data from different agencies can indeed be resource intensive and challenging. For example, data fields and/or formats are inconsistent, with data stored on different systems.

Northumberland’s next steps are to progress towards a shared performance dashboard. They intend to use a software that will automate multi-agency data analysis and produce a shared dashboard on domestic abuse. It will analyse and report demographics, services use, referral sources, and will aim to incorporate outcomes data. Such automation of data analysis will be reliant on partners working together to harmonise data fields and reporting across their services to ensure data can be analysed and effectively compared.

The performance team has been given dedicated time to develop the dashboard, including time for multi-agency consultation, to ensure it captures accurate, meaningful information and enables to answer the questions that matter.

Outcomes and impact

The multi-agency data analysis carried out by the Business Group since 2018 gave them a deeper understanding of what was happening in the county. It enabled them, among other things, to identify where the level of referrals were low, both by geography and by agency. 

For instance, it uncovered low levels of referrals coming from Accident and Emergency (A&E). The council worked with the local A&E department to find ways to raise awareness among staff. They provided training and introduced new forms which included specific prompt questions to ensure A&E staff considered domestic abuse when assessing patients.  Following these changes, Northumberland started to see an increase in referrals.

Additionally, the data analysis identified the areas of Northumberland where there was likely to be underreporting of domestic abuse. Northumberland Council responded by implementing targeted multi-agency training and awareness raising campaigns, involving community agencies such as schools and health services within identified areas.

Better data sharing across agencies is also supporting the implementation in Northumberland of the Domestic Abuse Whole System Approach (DAWSA), rolled out across the six councils in the Northumbria police force area since 2020. This approach focuses on three main themes: effective working within the criminal justice system, partnership work with civil and family courts, and multi-agency victim support and offender management. As part of that third workstream, Northumberland has recently implemented Drive, an intervention which works with high-risk, high harm and serial perpetrators to prevent their abusive behaviour and protect victims.

Having a common dashboard will enable Northumberland’s partners in the future to anchor further data analysis in the strategic decision-making process. The dashboard will be presented at the quarterly Domestic Abuse Partnership Board and will play a crucial role in supporting the partnership identify trends, gaps, and inform the domestic abuse strategy and the commissioning of services. It will also help the council review its needs assessment annually, as stated by the Domestic Abuse Bill 2021.

Lessons learnt

Data’s value is to trigger questions at least as much as to answer them

As the process of data analysis can lead to more questions which can be difficult to answer, given gaps in data. For instance, does a low level of referrals suggest a problem with the referral pathway, or a problem with reporting? Councils have to triangulate quantitative data with case studies and consultations to uncover responses to these questions.

Strong engagement with partner agencies and their data teams was key

Northumberland outlining a clear vision and how the data is used to inform the partnership’s work and the service commissioning was key to getting their buy in and agreement to share their data.

Multi-agency collaboration requires capacity

The DAandSV coordinator in Northumberland was pleased to see that MHCLG has acknowledged that some of the funding has to be allocated to the administration of the new duties of the DA bill.  Time and resources are needed for cross-agencies collaboration to be effective. 

Improving the use of data by the partnership is a long journey

Given limited capacity of partners, we need to be realistic and recognise that it takes time, progress step by step and celebrate milestones.

Contact

Lesley Pyle, Northumberland and North Tyneside Domestic Abuse and  Sexual Violence Coordinator, Wellbeing and Community Health Services, Northumberland County Council (lesley.pyle@northumberland.gov.uk)