January 11, 2015

As we approach the election, how about ‘yes and’ rather than ‘either/or’?

As we get closer to the next election, the pressure to present the case for funding specialist domestic abuse services gets ever more pressing. There have begun to be some of the ‘either/or’ arguments sneaking into the debate. I think that there are three problems with this line of thinking.

Firstly, we must not forget that domestic abuse remains one of the most under-funded sectors in this country. We started CAADA when several charities working in the children’s sector told me that domestic abuse was the biggest human problem in this country that was the hardest to raise money for. Things have improved since then but there is still a long way to go. The ‘either/or’ argument loses sight of the reality which is ‘not enough’. We need the services we have. We need them to be delivered to a high standard and in strong partnerships.

Secondly, the either/or argument risks some muddled thinking. For example, there is some talk of ‘either’ early intervention ‘or’ working with high risk cases. Actually, our data shows that we reach high risk victims earlier than medium or standard risk. But clearly we need to try and respond to all levels of risk. There is the ‘either’ refuge ‘or’ community based provision question. Women and children need both. Or ‘either’ MARAC ‘or’ MASH’. Again, a misunderstanding about how they work and what families need.

Finally, ‘either/or’ stifles innovation. I would be tempted to say that there is no one working in our sector who thinks that we have all the answers. If there someone out there, shout loudly. ‘Yes, and…’ encourages us to aim higher and build on what we know works today but develop it still further as well as look at other sectors too and learn from their work.

So, please, let’s look at a ‘yes, and’ model rather than an ‘either/or’ one. As pressures on funding increase further, let’s use our creativity to reconfigure and improve our response – building domestic abuse into services more broadly so that we multiply the impact of what we spend today rather than step back to an ever more siloed approach which won’t make families safer.

October 5, 2014

More evidence on why early intervention matters

We have two long term goals at CAADA.  One is to halve the number of high risk victims of domestic abuse and the other is to halve the time it takes for them to get effective help.  Surprisingly to many people, our evidence confirms that we actually support high risk victims at an earlier stage than other levels of risk – in part because the combination of violence and abuse that they suffer makes them more visible to both the police, health practitioners and others.  Our focus on reducing the time that victims live with abuse has two aims – to support them but also to limit the amount of time that their children are living with it too.

A new working paper published from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University entitled ‘Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain’ underlines just how important this is.  It describes how exposure of young children to toxic stress – namely strong, frequent or prolonged stress – can impact the development of those parts of the brain that manage fear, anxiety and impulsive responses.  This is just the sort of stress experienced by children, particularly very young children, living with domestic abuse.  The long term impacts include a range of stress related disorders depression, alcoholism and drug abuse and physical disorders including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and stroke. (http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/reports_and_working_papers/working_papers/wp3/ )

More optimistically, the paper argues that responses to early stress vary dramatically with positive early care-giving being crucial to decrease the likelihood of adverse outcomes.  This links to another paper, published in June this year in the journal of Early Child Development and Care, entitled ‘Early childhood education as a resilience intervention for maltreated children’ (Ellenbogen, Klein and Wekerle), which argues for the value of high quality early childhood education, particularly for disadvantaged and vulnerable families.

There is no question that the vast majority of children growing up with domestic abuse experience the kind of toxic stress that the Harvard team outlined.  Our children’s Insights data highlights how much children benefit from early support and what difference it can make to their view of the world and of themselves.  The most basic example of 60% of the children in our research being unable to fall asleep says it all for me.  Are we surprised if they don’t perform well at school the next day? And find it hard to make friends?  And then display ‘behavioural difficulties’? We need not just more specialist support for children, but also universal practitioners, friends and family to understand the impact of domestic abuse on their lives and how we can help build their resilience.

August 14, 2014

Coercive Control – how should MARACs respond?

Last month we held our regular national MARAC Scrutiny Panel where we examined a number of anonymised cases which involved high levels of coercive control and risk.  Tomorrow we will publish on our website (and I am sure on Twitter as well) the guidance that we prepared together with all the experts who attended the Panel.  There is advice for IDVAs, MARAC chairs and partner agencies both before and at the MARAC.

Coercive control may be part of the vast majority of cases that IDVAs and other DV specialists deal with (it is called the Power and Control Wheel after all), but it is not so obvious to other agencies who might deal with cases on an incident based approach rather than looking at patterns of behaviour.  Equally, the impact of growing up in a climate of coercion and fear is sometimes missed by those focusing on the adult victim of abuse (Marianne Hester’s planets sneak in again…).

Our briefing seeks to address this in just 2 pages.  Ok, the font is very small….

Go to our website tomorrow to download it.  As ever, all feedback welcome – we really want every MARAC in the country to use it.  Any questions, please ask your MARAC Development Officer.  To remind yourself who they are go to: http://www.caada.org.uk/marac/Regional_support_for_MARACs.html 

August 13, 2014

Please answer our call


Pretty much every year for the past 9 years we have promised ourselves that we will do a proper count of how many practising IDVAs there are across the country.  The terms ‘back of the envelope calculation’ and ‘guesstimate’ are beginning to wear a bit thin, so we have finally decided to take a step forwards and actually find out exactly the figure.

Over the next week, every member of the CAADA team will be calling every single IDVA service in the country to find out how many IDVAs they employ, how many are qualified and some brief details about the profile of victims that they work with.  We will be reporting this back to the Home Secretary in September as part of her HMIC National Oversight Group.  So if you get a call from CAADA in the next week….please answer.

Many thanks 




May 23, 2014

Important new guidance on defences to homicide? – A view from the Joanna Simpson Foundation

I am delighted and honoured for my first guest blogger to be Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, Chair of the Joanna Simpson Foundation (www.joannasimpsonfoundation.org.uk ).  She writes:

“Last week saw the publication of new legal guidance by the CPS on prosecuting Domestic Homicide.  An important step, brought about by extensive discussions with us, the family and friends of Joanna Simpson who was killed by her estranged husband in 2010.  Despite preparing a grave beforehand, her killer could be acquitted of murder due to diminished responsibility.

What are the changes and why are they important?

This guidance requires far more extensive understanding and consideration of the history of domestic abuse, and critically a thorough investigation into the character of the defendant and the victim.  It guards against acceptance of manslaughter pleas using the partial defences of diminished responsibility and loss of self-control.  And it requires prosecutors to engage with expert witnesses (typically psychiatrists) on the broader profile of the defendant rather than just the psychiatric assessment of the defendant through interview.

If properly adopted this will have a significant impact on the quality of convictions in these crimes.  Partial defences are commonly used in domestic homicide (our research showed it being used in 50% of cases).  We talk a great deal about there being no excuses for domestic abuse, and yet when the worst happens the law provides exactly that.  Of course, there are some great examples of prosecutions where past history and character has been very carefully and effectively considered.  There are also examples where circumstances are such that a partial defence is entirely appropriate.   This new guidance is designed to ensure those strong examples become the norm, and that partial defences are only used by the most deserving cases.

Partial defences run on the basis that the offender is not somehow responsible, and offenders who use it typically show little remorse and are in fact running a defence which says it was either because of their state of mind or the circumstances, often citing the character and actions of the victim as the reason for that.  A claim of this kind is accepted at plea without a trial in just fewer than 50% of cases.  Successful or not, victims families have to suffer trials or plea acceptance which often assassinate the character of the victim, poorly challenged by the prosecution.  Where successful they are left with the incomprehensible sense that their loved one has not had a fair trial and the perpetrator has literally got away with murder.  Our research showed that ¼ of all convicted offenders was successful in a defence of this kind.

And what of disposal?  The discount in tariff can be substantial and it is not unusual for those convicted of manslaughter to be released from custody within 5 years of the crime.  Sometimes they get a hospital order and come under the mental health tribunal process, and again it is not unusual for them to be released within 3 years.  It is notable to understand that where the perpetrator is the parent of bereaved children, they still retain parental rights.  The repercussions continue when the family courts look on access requests more favorably where the offender was found not guilty to murder.

So tightening the criminal justice system through this guidance to avoid exploitation of the loopholes in homicide is fundamental if we believe we should send the message that domestic abuse is unacceptable, if we want to give victims’ families the chance to find a way forward, and critically if we want to protect the innocent child victims who live in fear of a violent perpetrator and deserve time to grow and repair in peace.


May 14, 2014

Would I know one if I fell over one?

I am talking about an ‘abridged Cochrane systematic review with meta-analysis’. And honestly I don’t think I would. Thankfully, the research paper in the BMJ from a range of experts (O’Doherty, Taft, Hegarty, Ramsay, Davidson and Feder) is clear and well explained.

The paper analyses several studies which assess the impact of screening women for intimate partner violence in healthcare settings. It even includes a brief video (blogging skills don’t permit me to embed it here…) setting out the main findings. The researchers found that while screening results in higher identification of domestic abuse, it was still well below the prevalence estimates in the population. Further it did not clearly lead to higher referrals to specialist domestic abuse services. Screening did not appear to cause harm.

In short, my view would be in a far less scientific way, that asking the question routinely to every woman in a health care setting without having a clear and effective referral pathway does not make a material difference to the support she receives and is not a good use of resource. In a more measured way, the researchers concluded: ‘As the primary studies did not detect improved outcomes for women screened for intimate partner violence, there is insufficient evidence for screening in healthcare settings.’

But, if you have a dedicated DV practitioner either on site or clearly identified and linked to the practice/hospital, then that makes all the difference…

March 27, 2014

Still a Second Class Crime


So the HMIC report is now landing on the desks of Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners across the land and it won’t make comfortable reading for most of them.  The failings that the Inspector has identified are in the basic elements of the police response.  One would assume that there would be a consistent approach to arrests when a crime is committed.  Apparently not.  Or gathering evidence.  Or showing empathy to victims.  Or correctly identifying the level of risk a victim faces.  Or defining a repeat incident.  The list goes on.

I hope we are not naïve in this that this is stuff that is not so hard to fix.  It doesn’t cost more to investigate properly, or show empathy.  Taking proper statements and referring to the local IDVA service or helpline should be the minimum we can expect.  Arguably, if the initial response was more effective, then it might save costs in terms of repeat callouts.

We are fortunate to be working with some Chief Constables and PCCs who really do take domestic abuse seriously – and the difference is striking.  We accept that there are a lot of competing priorities but a shift in attitudes of the leadership within the Police is essential for the report to have a real impact.  The report is crystal clear about what needs to change.  As an organisation, we will do everything we can to support them to make this a reality.


What a prize that would be…

March 23, 2014

HMIC – Again

In September 2013, I posted the following piece and I just thought it was worth re-posting ahead of the HMIC report being published this week.  It will be interesting to see what comes out….see below…

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.

March 1, 2014

Thoughts from Michael Johnson’s work – Practical Implications

We had a terrific keynote speech from Professor Mike Johnson at our National Conference on Wednesday.  He explained his work around typologies of relationship in domestic abuse.  He highlighted three main types (see http://www.caada.org.uk/events/CAADA_conference_2014.htm for more info) – Intimate Partner Terrorism where one partner – usually a man in heterosexual relationships – ‘terrorises’ the other, Situational Couple Violence where there is typically an equal split between male and female victims and perpetrators (although not necessarily in terms of impact) and finally ‘Violent Resistance’, where the partner of an ‘intimate terrorist’ will try and defend themselves in a violent way.  The first category is much smaller in number than the second, but with a much higher percentage of high risk cases because of the persistent existence of coercive control.  The second is by far the largest in terms of number of cases but most of these never come to the attention of public or specialist agencies such as police, IDVAs, refuges etc because the level of severity is typically much lower – although a significant percentage (about a quarter) do involve severe violence albeit without coercion and control.  The last category is very small.

So what are the implications of his research?  Firstly, it gives us a clear way to unlock the prevalence debate around 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men.  Both figures are right.  But the bulk of the violence where men are victims fits into the Situational Couple Violence category and we need to treat it in a different way.  In Situational Couple Violence, Mike’s research shows that about one third of cases involve men being violent to women, one third involve women being violent to men and one third are bi-directional.  Most do not involve patterns of violence and none involve coercion.  These are typically arguments and conflict that get out of control and where there is a violent incident.  In many cases this is a one off.  This is borne out by the crime survey for England and Wales which shows that about a third (I quote from memory) of cases are resolved in a month.  This is not the sort of coercion, violence and control that we see in our work.

Secondly, it has clear implications for the family courts in particular in relation to children.  Mike describes the impact of Intimate Partner Terrorism as the ‘poison’ that infects a family and leaves children exposed to constant stress.  You will all be familiar with the literature about the impact of this on the neurological development of small children.  The courts and those arranging contact between children and their parents need to get real clarity around this.

Thirdly, at a time when the police and others are reviewing the use of risk assessment, does this have a message for front line officers?  My sense is no.  There is a level of sophistication in distinguishing between different types of relationship which probably won’t be done most effectively at 3 in the morning. Front line officers need to collect evidence, safeguard the parties involved in an incident and manage the immediate risk that they are faced with.

Does it have implications for the work of specialists in the field?  My sense is yes.  At its most basic, many people in our field still speak about high risk as if it didn’t include coercion and control.  I feel as if there can’t be anyone left who doesn’t understand that coercion is totally linked to risk – as well of course as significant physical violence.  However, apparently there are!  When I listen to people saying: “Half of the homicide reviews were of standard risk cases” I do want to say that they really were NOT!  But they might have been hidden to public agencies or we didn’t spot the coercion and control because there was little or no physical violence disclosed, or because the person doing the risk assessment didn’t understand its significance.  I really would commend to practitioners the severity of abuse grid that we have put in the IDVA version of the DASH checklist (http://www.caada.org.uk/dvservices/RIC_and_severity_of_abuse_grid_and_IDVA_practice_guidance.pdf  see pages 8 and 9).  Look at the examples of coercion and control included under sexual abuse, stalking and harassment and jealous and controlling behaviour.  As an aside, we are in favour of streamlining the DASH tool for police – but anxious not to confuse the tool itself from the training and supervision required to implement ANY tool effectively.  College of Policing please note!!

More broadly, I think that the options we offer those in Intimate Partner Terrorism relationships are broadly appropriate.  However, we offer the same interventions to those experiencing Situational Couple Violence – and Mike argued very convincingly that the dynamics are not the same.  Our data show that only about 15% of victims supported by IDVA services do not disclose jealous and controlling behaviour – perhaps they are in  situational couple violence relationships? Mike’s research shows that a significant percentage of these do not want to split up – but this is broadly the only option we are offering them today.  I say this with great caution – BUT – if someone is genuinely in a Situational Couple Violence relationship, surely we should be looking at work with the couple and even anger management?  These are all interventions that are traditionally seen as unsafe where Intimate Partner Terrorism is involved.

Mike was very clear that our starting point must be to assume Intimate Partner Terrorism and safety plan as if this was the case.  However, his analysis does give us a few more options if, and only if, a real risk expert, with a capital ‘E’, establishes that this is not the case.

March 1, 2014

Michael Johnson on different typologies of domestic violence

Brief excerpt of Michael Johnson’s speech for the CAADA National Conference 2014 including implications for children. See more on our website at http://www.caada.org.uk/events/CAADA_conference_2014.htm