Posts tagged ‘MARAC’

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: 

November 9, 2013

Blog Posts….like buses, they come in pairs…please read this one!

I wrote in July about our first MARAC Scrutiny Panel, where we looked at how to improve our response to perpetrators at MARAC.  At the time I promised to flag when we produced our guidance on this.  Somehow this managed to slip off the list…but never too late.

We have produced a 2 page summary on MARAC and Perpetrators which you can access at

Obviously I am biassed, but I do think that this is really practical and really important.  Somewhere, in our desire to ensure that victims of abuse are supported at MARAC, we have sometimes lost sight of the importance of managing the perpetrators’ behaviour.  Without this we won’t be successful in safeguarding either the adult or children who are suffering the impacts of domestic abuse.  So if you are part of your local MARAC and there is one thing that you read this week, please make it this briefing.  And if this is not your area of responsibility, please highlight it to your local MARAC team – especially the Chair.  Thank you.

November 9, 2013

Making the Links….DV and Safeguarding

I am slightly appalled that my ‘weekly’ blog has slipped to a ‘6 weekly’ event but won’t make excuses – rather just try and get started again.

Various things came together this week about our work which I just wanted to capture here.  In general, following a number of serious case reviews (Daniel Pelka, Baby T and others), it seems like we still can’t take for granted that the two issues of domestic abuse and risk to children will be systematically linked in practice.  We are really clear that whenever there is domestic abuse identified, we need to look for risk to children – whatever the level of risk to the mother.  Research by my former colleague Emma Howarth, showed that the risk of harm to children is not neatly correlated with the risk to the parent, and that children living with ‘standard’ risk domestic abuse can still be very vulnerable to physical and psychological harm.

So what were the things that I would like to highlight here:

1. It is all about the quality of implementation – 1: the Baby T Serious Case Review highlighted ‘poor implementation of the Hackney model’ and we frequently see variable implementation of the MARAC model, when agency representatives change or funding is cut.  If in doubt about what fidelity to the model looks like for the IDVA-MARAC approach, please do look at the resources on our website, talk to our team or contact our help desk.  We hope that everything we recommend is practical and do-able.

2. It is all about the quality of Implementation -2: a call to Commissioners: there are clear, independently verified, standards for risk led services through our Leading Lights programme and a robust outcomes measurement service that we provide through our Insights Programme.  These two tools can give you confidence that the funding you are making in this area is effective, and that the services provided meet the standards achieved in other regions.  Our MARAC team are working across all MARACs to support them in ensuring that local implementation stays faithful to the evaluated model.

3. The smallest possible thing to make the biggest possible difference: I was really struck by the simplicity and potential impact of Operation Encompass, where schools are notified in the morning when there has been a police call out for domestic abuse.  It would be great to hear from areas who are using this – it sounds a terrific idea.  Presumably this could extend to children’s centres too to cover younger children?

Lastly, I just hope – as I am sure all of you do too – that this is the ‘tipping point’ when DV and safeguarding stop being so siloed and that we do all make those links.


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 1, 2013

MARAC and Perpetrators

We recently held our first National MARAC Scrutiny Panel, chaired by the Home Office and with attendance from a very wide range of expert practitioners and policy leads.  Although I say it myself, it was a simply fascinating morning.

One the privileges of working for CAADA, is that we get lots of feedback (I mean lots) from local practitioners about ‘what needs to happen’.  Sadly, we still haven’t found the magic wand to make it all happen, but one theme that has been coming through pretty loudly in the past few months, is that the victim focus at MARAC has sometimes meant that, in some areas, the perpetrator has become pretty invisible.  Obviously, without addressing the behaviour of the perpetrator (you know what I am going to say next) we cannot assure the safety of the current victim and children, nor of future partners and their children.

So the aim of the morning was to review a number of cases where the response to the victim had been good, but where the perpetrator had somehow ‘slipped through’. We owe a big thank you to the areas who contributed the cases – not the most comfortable moment to have 20 experts scrutinise your cases, with three times as much time as usual to think in!  We explored a few themes.  Firstly we looked at whether existing powers allow us to address these cases effectively or do we need new measures or policies?  What other practical options can be used to manage perpetrator behaviour?  Can we learn from programmes such as Troubled Families?

We will be publishing more formally our findings and recommendations and will make sure that the very practical conclusions that came from the session are communicated with all of you who attend MARACs through our eNews, website and of course the MARAC Development Officers.  However, some of the headlines included:

  • We need to ensure that relevant and proportionate information about perpetrators is brought to MARAC so that a partners have a clear picture of risk and that the safety plan is comprehensive;
  • The right people need to be round the table.  Without mental health and substance use experts at the meeting, we cannot make effective safety plans.
  • We need to stay really proactive with perpetrators whether by engaging them through an Integrated Offender Management programme, or by what the police call ‘disruption’.  
  • We need to make sure that the links with MAPPA are working well.

More broadly, there were several calls for MARAC to be placed on a statutory footing as participants felt it would help secure attendance and resources for the process.

I really commend the Scrutiny Panel process to you as a great way of reflecting on practice – both for practitioners and strategic leads – stepping back and seeing patterns in our response and allowing us to improve it before there is a tragedy.  We will be publishing more from this panel in the coming weeks and months so please keep an eye on our e-News and website for more details.  We hope to run another one in 6 months, so let me know what theme or issue you think we should look at.

April 6, 2013

The Philpott Case – separating the exceptional from the ‘normal’

A friend emailed me yesterday saying: “Shouldn’t you be writing something about the Philpott case and domestic abuse?” In one sense it is understandable that the domestic abuse has not been central to the media coverage of this terrible tragedy – focusing rightly on the awful loss of six children’s lives. But, the domestic abuse was there of course – in terms of coercion and control, violence and abuse.

There is no question that the final outcome of the web of abusive relationships around Mick Philpott was extreme and hopefully exceptional but the information that has been made public about his behaviour is chillingly ‘normal’ in the context of high risk domestic abuse. Based just on what we know from the papers, his girlfriend would almost certainly have been deemed to meet the MARAC referral threshold. Thinking of the questions on the CAADA DASH risk checklist – separation, conflict around child contact, coercion, sexual abuse, financial abuse, history of violence to previous partners, attempted suicide, victim fear, escalation – the list goes on. Every single day, IDVAs all around the country receive referrals where women are living with all these risks, and for every one that is referred for help, there is another invisible woman who is not identified (in this case his wife?), tells no one and suffers alone.

There is much talk in the domestic abuse field about homicide prevention. Of course we want to prevent and reduce homicides. But let’s not fool ourselves that the ‘typical’ homicide looks so very different to the typical high risk case. It just doesn’t. There are 100,000 high risk families in this country. About half of those cases are heard at a MARAC each year. With the exception of the number of children involved – and the unusual cohabitation arrangements – many look very similar to this case. It is essential that we fund adequate services for these families and that we are clear that homicide reduction will only happen if we address high risk cases much more widely.

Similarly, we need to be clear about a few things if, as a society we want to protect our children. Social care professionals talk about domestic abuse ‘impairing parenting capacity’. It feels like a terrible understatement in this case but yes, domestic abuse does ‘impair parenting capacity’. This was a very extreme example, but if we don’t acknowledge this, and support women who suffer domestic abuse to parent and protect their children, then we are failing those children. This has to start with links being made between risks to children and risks to women and vice versa.

I go back to the last question on the CAADA DASH risk checklist, that list of questions that needs to be asked every time someone discloses domestic abuse. It reads: “Do you believe that there are risks facing the children in the family? If yes, please confirm if you have made a referral to safeguard the children?” Let’s make sure we never overlook this one.

Finally I would like to acknowledge the extraordinary work done by specialist DV practitioners, IDVAs and their MARAC partners every day – working to prevent tragedies like this. The tragedy avoided does not create headlines but it does save lives.

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February 27, 2013

What a day! #CAADAconf

Just winding down after the CAADA National Conference that we held in London today which I felt was a great success thanks to some terrific speakers, workshop leaders and a really engaged audience.  We focused in particular on young people experiencing different forms of abuse and were very pleased to be able to announce our new Young People’s Violence Advocacy Programme (yes, as usual we have managed to create an accurate albeit long winded name of one of our programmes!), which will be funded by the Dept for Education.   More on that in future posts!

The morning featured our key note speaker, Prof Jenny Pearce from the University of Bedfordshire who spoke with extraordinary insight and compassion about the experiences of young people – particularly in relation to sexual abuse, but also more widely in relation to gang violence, domestic abuse and wider forms of violence.  She really brought alive the reality for many young people and the extent to which they are often failed by statutory services today.  She invited us all to think through how we can try and change this and urged us to ensure that we listen to young people as we do this.  You can find out more about her work and her publications at 

Jenny was followed by the courageous parents of Carly Fairhurst who was murdered by her boyfriend when she was just 19.  I can’t begin to capture the power of their words – suffice to say that there was not a dry eye in the room.  As one of the members of the audience said, their words re-energised us all and reminded us why we do this work.

In the afternoon we had real insights from Robert McCulloch-Graham, seconded from his role as Director of Children’s Services in Barnet to the Troubled Families Unit.  He focused on the value of partnership working, MARAC and the need for dedicated lead workers for families – with the clear impact this has on outcomes.  No surprise perhaps to the audience – but he confirmed that almost all the families who are getting support via the Troubled Families programme have had domestic abuse as a feature at some point.

As if we had not had enough to get us all thinking, the terrific Certain Curtain theatre company did a production of their beautiful play, Mocking Bird High.  Tracing the impact of domestic abuse on two teenage children and their mother, they really touched the audience.  Everyone was transfixed.

We had great workshops on homicide reviews, perpetrator work, substance use, HBV, stalking and working with children living with domestic abuse.  I hope all who attended enjoyed it as much as I did.  It almost feels like we should get going on the next one….

January 23, 2013

The Slippery Slope (and I don’t mean the snow)

ACPO’s announcement this week about a pilot to reduce police bureaucracy through discretionary use of risk assessment at domestic incidents’ feels like a very slippery slope in terms of the safety of victims and children.  It sends a very different message than those coming from other experts about the importance of addressing domestic abuse.  

Let’s start with Chief Superintendent John Sutherland of the Met Police.  At a recent conference on Tackling Britain’s Gang Culture he said: “I think we’ve barely begun to understand the secondary impact that violence has on these people whose homes it’s happening in.  I promise you, it’s having a devastating effect. I regard domestic violence is the single greatest cause of harm in society.”  We would agree with that – all those working with children, women or young people constantly see domestic abuse at the centre of the suffering and dysfunction that they are dealing with.  

Similarly, the Home Office has just extended the definition of domestic abuse to include 16 and 17-year-olds and also patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour.  This recognises the risks not just in physical and sexual violence, but also in coercion, stalking and control –  as well as specifically highlighting the typical characteristics of an abusive relationship which includes a pattern of behaviour and escalation in severity.

Finally, the IPCC ( Independent Police Complaints Commission) has highlighted in a number of domestic homicides, the need for consistent and high quality risk assessment even in cases where the victim is minimising what has happened to her. For those who want to read more see the reports on the murders of Casey Brittle and Christine and Shania Chambers.  In the case of Casey Brittle, the Commissioner wrote about the response of the police, saying that it “was borne of a lack of knowledge and a willingness to accept the word of a woman who had suffered years of abuse when she said she did not want or need their help.” 

So why are we so worried about ACPO’s announcement?  Some parts are perfectly sensible – the risk identification checklist which we developed together with ACPO was not designed to be used in cases of ‘two brothers fighting over a remote control’.  Indeed, we didn’t think that anyone would call the police in such a situation but obviously we were wrong!  But the other areas such as ‘one off incidents reported by a neighbour’, no previous history or no record of violence in the relationship simply go against everything we know about domestic abuse.  We estimate that in the highest risk cases only about 50% of people tell the police.  Where the risk is lower, the level of reporting to the police falls sharply.  Our research shows that about 10% of MARAC cases have never told the police about their abuse despite they, and their children, being at risk of murder or serious harm.  A significant number of women who are killed have never called the police.  How are we going to spot which ones those are, if they do decide to seek help that way?

Secondly, the focus on bureaucracy misses two crucial points.  The checklist was developed in the first place because it was clear that the police did not feel competent to judge and assess risk without it.  It just isn’t bureaucracy – it is a practical tool that allows officers to do their job better in a world where resources for training and supervision are shrinking. Every question on the list relates to a risk factor for domestic homicide.  The real issue is how well the checklist is completed, how the information is used and what other services are brought in to support the family.  The quality of risk assessments has been variable and in some cases left much to be desired – see the Christine and Shania Chambers IPCC report for more on this.  But describing the process as bureaucratic is missing the point – paper only gets shuffled when the information on it is of poor quality.  We see risk assessments forming a central role in safety planning in many areas – in others people whisper that they are ‘filled out in the back of the car’  This is a supervision issue, not bureaucracy.

So back to the slippery slope…Hampshire police is now moving on to allow officers complete discretion in when they judge it worth asking the risk questions and we are really concerned that other forces might follow.  This is a big step backwards and goes against everything that we are striving to achieve in terms of helping families in sooner and using a multi agency approach to ensure that public resources are put to best effect.  

To quote the IPCC once more: “Victims of domestic violence are frequently most at risk from a coercive and controlling partner when they seek external help or try to end the relationship.”

Safety or bureaucracy?  You choose.

November 20, 2012

A Place of Greater Safety – Insights 1

It was a proud moment today when we published our first major policy report ‘A Place of Greater Safety’, using data collected by domestic abuse practitioners all around the country.  It is important because:

  1. It includes data from about 2500 victims and their children – highlighting the type of abuse they suffer and putting the real experience of victims at the heart of our recommendations, of practice and of policy.
  2. It makes the case for mainstreaming funding for IDVAs and MARACs
  3. It shows how putting IDVAs in hospital settings could help identify 10,000 high risk victims and their children who are getting no support today
  4. It includes the first substantial information on the abuse suffered by teenagers – a group who will become more visible with the change in the definition of domestic abuse to include 16 and 17 year olds.
  5. It highlights the impact of domestic abuse on children and gives commissioners simple actions to address this.
  6. It is aimed at local commissioners – those with the responsibility and the funding to address the problems.
  7. It gives clear objective evidence which we hope will underpin local and national policy.
  8. And it is part of a body of data that is growing every year so there is CAADA Insights 2, 2013 to look forward to!

I would really like to thank those practitioners who use the CAADA Insights service and our early funders who had the vision to back this approach before its benefits and value were really visible.  And also the fantastic team at CAADA who have worked day (and all too often at night) to put this together.

Please make sure your local commissioners know that this is now available – it could make all the difference.  You can download the report from our website at

Despite my best efforts #aPOGS may not be trending yet on Twitter…but there is still time….

November 1, 2012

Risk Assessment in Domestic Violence – Bringing the focus onto perpetrators

There was a helpful article in Community Care last month, written by Thangam Debonnaire (who is a real expert in this area) about the use of risk assessments in domestic abuse.  It highlights the role of MARAC, the importance of not holding the victim responsible for the abuse and the need for multi-agency training on risk.  We have always talked about a ‘common language of risk’, meaning that all front line professionals would recognise all risk factors – not just those linked to their profession.  Thus, midwives would see not just pregnancy but also separation as a risk, and police officers would see not just weapons but also extreme levels of control.

It also raises the following important point: “It is also important that practitioners focus less on the victim’s agency and behaviour and more on those of the perpetrator, and for risk management and multi-agency work to include engaging with perpetrators through programmes and other interventions that support both victims and perpetrators in change.”

Lack of engagement with perpetrators is a constant feature in all our work and one that organisations such as Respect have worked hard to get us all to focus on.  It would be really interesting to hear of any local examples – either single agency or multi-agency – that you have used to improve engagement and what you feel the results have been – particularly within the MARAC context.  Thanks in advance for your help!

If you want to read the full article, go to