Archive for ‘Home Office’

September 8, 2013

Just Imagine…

…That you are the Chief Inspector of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.

How would you respond to the Home Secretary’s announcement of an inspection by HMIC on standards of policing domestic violence in England and Wales?  In particular she has asked the Chief Inspector to focus on:

  • the effectiveness of the police approach to domestic violence and abuse, focusing on the outcomes for victims;
  • whether risks to victims of domestic violence and abuse are adequately managed;
  • identifying lessons learnt from how the police approach domestic violence and abuse;
  • making any necessary recommendations in relation to these findings when considered alongside current practice.

I will set out some thoughts over the coming weeks- but would love to hear yours first.

I think that the last thematic inspection by HMIC (someone is going to tell me I am wrong) was in 2004 together with the CPS inspectorate, the HMCPSI.  This inspection looked at the ‘care pathway’ from first police callout through to the end of a court case.  I quickly re-read parts of their report and a few things struck me.  Firstly, there are phrases which sadly still resonate with all of us today.  For me one big theme remains about the quality of leadership and implementation.  For example, “many police forces have appropriate policies…however, in practice implementation is far from universal.”  In a similar vein, “Inspectors came across considerable amounts of good practice and good work in the Areas visited….Overall, the priority given to domestic violence locally was variable and depended heavily upon local initiatives and commitment.” Plus ça change….

The report also called for local Chief Constables, Chief Crown Prosecutors and Local Criminal Justice Boards to develop effective performance management arrangements.  We have seen real progress in this regard from the CPS but perhaps less consistently from the police, perhaps in part reflecting the challenge of achieving this focus across so many forces.

Secondly, I was struck by what wasn’t mentioned in the 2004 report.  There is no mention of course of either the work of Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs) or Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences – since neither really existed other than in a very few local areas at that time.  The spirit of the 2004 report is one of the criminal justice system working much more in isolation than today, with only limited references to the need to liaise with support agencies such as Victim Support and local Women’s Aid services.  This looks very different today with MARACs operating in every area of England and Wales, IDVAs supporting victims through the court process and at MARAC, and now with the growing introduction of Multi Agency Safeguarding Hubs (MASH).  However, before we get too smug, we need to remember the conclusions of the HMIC team in Essex recently who wrote: “We found poor communication between those providing victim care, investigators and voluntary sector support workers.”  So no chance of retiring just yet.

Let me know what you think the answers to the Home Secretary’s questions might be.  I definitely believe that they should include a mix of practical recommendations around multi agency work and MARAC, in particular with links to specialist support for victims.  We also need a focus not only on consistency, quality, accountability and leadership, but also we should highlight the need for solid evidence.  This can be used not only to identify best practice, but also to keep learning.  Wouldn’t it be great if there was clear evidence for every Force of both safety and justice outcomes that was produced annually which allowed us, not to take a snapshot of practice once every 10 years, but rather drove a focus on constant, practical, realistic improvement?  Evidence which could be used by every PCC and Chief Constable to inform their response?  And most crucially, evidence that would start to bring down the rates of repeat victimisation, shorten the time that victims suffer before they call the police and reduce the risk that they, and their children, face.  Without this, the police response risks remaining too reactive when there is a real opportunity to take a much more positive approach.

August 4, 2012

Can someone explain? £5 vs £0.30p a head…

I have a pile of papers marked ‘To Read at the Weekend’.  It doesn’t always get read.  I have been carrying around for a couple of weekends the press release from the Scottish Government about their funding for Violence Against Women and Girls.  They announced funding of £34.5m for the next 3 years – £11.5m a year or £5 per woman over the age of 16 in the population.  I looked again at the figures for funding for VAWG services in England and Wales….£7m a year or £0.30p a head.

When I started working on domestic abuse in 2003, it was because several people told me that it was ‘the biggest human problem that was the hardest to raise money for.’  It seems like not much has changed south of the border.

Can anyone explain?

July 15, 2012

Outnumbered….working with MARACs this year

We recently finalised our plans for working with all 260 MARACs across England and Wales this year.  We do feel a bit outnumbered – 260 MARACs, over 55,000 adult cases and 75,000 children’s cases heard annually and a mighty CAADA team of 5 MARAC development officers based around England and Wales – each supporting about 50 MARACs.  A challenge?  Of course.

So how will we make it work? Our plan is to make the most of our assets which we think include:

a)     a full time focus on MARAC activity and information – agency representatives are engaged with their ‘day jobs’,

b)     an overview position – developed from engaging with MARACs across the region and country,

c)      reach – which enables us to disseminate learning points, models of good practice and outcomes to all the MARACs, and

d)     influence – in being able to channel upwards to Government consolidated MARAC information from across the country

Each MARAC Development Officer (MDO in CAADA-speak) will work in several different ways with the MARACs in their region.  Firstly, they will each have a specific time-limited project which can be shared for all MARACs to learn from e.g. reviewing the challenges & successes of referrals for disabled victims and/or minority ethnic victims.  They will also visit the MARACs in their region, and support some in the use of the new CAADA self assessment tool which is currently being piloted.  (Thank you to those MARACs who are part of this pilot).  All will continue to have access to our workshops for IDVAs, Coordinators and Chairs in their region as well as the option of working directly with the MDO on specific issues either arising from practice or policy.

All of this will be complimented by our continued commitment to the use of data to inform this work.  You will be aware of our recent outcome analysis, looking at police data for 350 cases at 15 different MARACs for 12 months pre and post MARAC.  We are now working to develop this further both by extending the number of MARACs where we do the analysis and by adding more agencies to the outcome analysis.  Our MARAC help desk (marac@caada.org.uk ) is available for all practitioners to use.  If we don’t have the answer, we usually can find someone who does. Finally, we hope you have noticed the best practice examples that we are including in our e-newsletter.  These will continue, so please tell us if you feel you are doing something particularly well at your MARAC.  We are also exploring social media as a way of linking MARAC practitioners…but I am not sure that is official yet so I had better stop there!

For more information about the programme, do go to our website at http://www.caada.org.uk/marac/Information_about_MARACs.html

And do please share your best ideas….and if anyone has the answer to rising volume, and complex repeat cases, we would love to hear from you!

March 8, 2012

Important Progress on Stalking

After many years of campaigning to change the law, Tricia Bernal and Carol Faruqui, both of whose daughters were killed by stalkers, are now on their way to achieving their goal.  I have met Tricia and Carol many times – they are tremendously courageous and positive – dedicated to avoiding for others, the terrible fate that befell their daughters.  They have spent many hours patiently explaining to me why this is so important. And slowly, slowly, I have caught up.  The Prime Minister announced this morning that the law will be changed to introduce a specific offence of stalking, with a potential custodial sentence of up to 5 years.

I think that there are a few reasons why this is important.  The first is about risk.  Many, many people are stalked and we are all familiar with how much easier it is to stalk someone now via email, Facebook, Twitter etc.  Of course, not every stalker is truly dangerous – although they might all be truly frightening.  But this focus on stalking will help highlight the types of stalking behaviour that are truly dangerous.  These include constant/obsessive phone calls, texts or emails; uninvited visits to home, workplace etc or loitering. It includes where someone destroys or vandalises property; pursues the victim after separation, or where the stalker threatens suicide/homicide to victim and other family members.  Other examples include where there are threats of sexual violence or involvement of others in the stalking behaviour.  Friends, family and professionals need to acknowledge the degree of risk involved in such behaviours because they are the ones that could result in a murder.

Secondly, the proposed changes to the legislation don’t limit who the stalker is and what relationship the victim has with them. Those of us working in the domestic abuse field have been heard to say: “It isn’t stalking, it is just part of the domestic abuse, part of the controlling behaviour.”  Whether we are right or wrong doesn’t matter – what is more important is that we must talk to victims and their families in language that they recognise.  Even in the most extreme controlling situations with many different forms of abuse, victims will very rarely describe themselves as suffering domestic abuse.  Stalking is language that we can all relate to – I very much hope that this helps to give people the confidence to come forward and seek help.  It is likely that a large percentage of cases will involve a current or former partner.  The current Protection from Harassment Act is the only piece of legislation in our field that recognises the impact of a course of conduct.  This is so important and it is really positive that we can build on it.

Finally, the proposed changes from the Select Committee include psychiatric assessments for stalkers.  Certainly, many of the cases I have looked at include what looks like someone with mental health problems to an untrained eye.  Combined with the stronger sentencing guidelines, these assessments appear crucial.

We have seen a huge surge in the use of restraining orders in cases of domestic abuse, and increasing use of the harassment legislation. Whoever the stalker is, let’s hope that these revisions will meet Tricia and Carol’s goals to keeping more victims safe in future.

November 26, 2011

Does your service or your MARAC support under-18’s experiencing domestic abuse?

The Home Office is considering amending the definition of domestic abuse to include young people between 16-18.  In the latest VAWG newsletter (http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/crime/vawg-newsletters/vawg-winter-2011?view=Binary ) they are asking for feedback about the provision of support to young people experiencing domestic abuse – so if your service, IDVA team or MARAC work directly with this age group, please respond by 31st December 2011.

October 26, 2011

Clare’s Law – consultation open – what do you think?

Following the tragic murder of Clare Wood, calls have come about for the right of victims to ask for information about the ‘history’ of their new partners in terms of whether they have been abusive in a previous relationship and for the police to proactively disclose information about their partner’s previous DV history.  The Home Office announced yesterday that there will be a consultation to pilot a new Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme.  The options for consideration include:

  1. Continuing with the current arrangements – these allow any member of the public to ask the police for information about a third party’s violent history, and the police have the discretion to share this information if it is proportionate to prevent further crime.
  2. ‘Right to Ask’ – this could potentially create a statutory right for the public to ask for information about a partner’s previous history.  In these cases, the case would be referred to MARAC where a decision could be made about disclosure and the offer of support from an IDVA would be made.
  3. ‘Right to Know’ – in this option, the police would take information about an alleged perpetrator to MARAC, where a decision would be taken about disclosure to a new partner, or other vulnerable parties such as family members.  Again, support would be offered from the IDVA.

The proposed shape of the DV Disclosure rules has changed and we think for the better.  The focus is now on ensuring that disclosures are based on risk, that they cover the victim and other vulnerable people (children, other family members), that support is consistently offered to the victim when a disclosure is made and that consideration is given in a multi agency setting.  For those of you who loyally follow our MARAC guidance on information sharing, you will know that we have always included sharing information with new partners and other family members as an action to consider for MARACs.  (More on this on our website http://www.caada.org.uk/Practitioner_resources/Disclosure_of_Info_at_MARAC_FAQs.pdf ).

Our concerns about the initial proposal was that it was too focused on the criminal justice system – we know that victims of abuse will often not contact the CJS – and that there was a real risk of false ‘positives’, i.e. that victims would gain false reassurance if someone had no convictions.  Many of the most serious DV offenders do not have convictions for a DV related offence.  We will obviously be thinking more about this and will publish our response to the consultation on our website.

But your thoughts and reflections would be most welcome.  You can find out more at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/domestic-violence-disclosure/

May 20, 2011

Criminalising Forced Marriage?

The Home Affairs Select Committee announced yesterday that it supported the criminalising of forced marriage while maintaining the civil offence.  This has some relevance to the EU convention on Violence Against Women which our Government has been cautious about endorsing.  The main reason for the caution I understand, is because the convention sees Forced Marriage as a criminal offence.   It is potentially very important for the wider policy and funding for VAW services if this convention is implemented here, so watch this space.

Family Law.

March 8, 2011

A glimpse at community safety….

Last week I was very privileged to be invited to speak to a group of community safety officers and local authority and police leaders. The Home Office published a ‘New Approach to Fighting Crime’ and the Home Secretary led the conference, supported  by Nick Herbert, Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice and James Brokenshire Minister for Crime Prevention. I was asked to speak on the role that the voluntary sector can play in working in partnership with statutory agencies.

read more »

November 25, 2010

First Post….

25th Nov 2010- Nerve wracking start to blogging but here goes.

We got GOOD NEWS this morning from the Home Office strategy to address Violence against Women and Girls.  Key points include a clear prioritisation of high risk victims, emphasis on MARAC and a 4 year commitment to funding.  Our view has long been that high risk cases are an area which is clearly one which government needs to address, and that without joining up specialist services with universal services, victims will not get effective help.  And a four year commitment to funding is a real step forward.  What will fundraisers do for the 3 months of the year that they used to spend writing applications?!

Also, importantly the clear focus and medium term commitment gives us all time to plan.  There is lots to be done to ensure that victims are identified earlier, that quality of provision becomes more consistent and that funding is clearly linked to outcomes.  It leaves many questions unanswered in terms of wider domestic abuse services which remain dependent on local funding decisions – but at a time of considerable cutbacks, this is a strong statement about the importance of the work that we all are part of.

I did two TV interviews this morning (will try and find the links and post them).  Main focus of questioning was on GO orders.  These will be piloted next summer in 3 areas.  Our reservations are threefold:

a. will there be immediate provision of support services for victims during the GO order period?

b. will officers be clear when to use them?  Is there a risk that criminal behaviour is ‘downgraded’?

c. is it enforceable to make someone homeless who has not committed a crime?

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