7.1 The chair invited Jackie Cook, head of social work improvement and quality assurance, to present. The officer explained that the initiative was jointly commissioned by the Safer Southwark Partnership, and worked on research and promoting good practice. A scrutiny review on Domestic Abuse was being produced by the Housing, Environment, and Transport & Community Safety Scrutiny Sub-Committee and was nearing completion.
7.2 The officer referred to the presentation and explained that domestic abuse was defined as,”any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality”. The officer explained that the main characteristic of domestic violence was that the behaviour was intentional and calculated to exercise power and control within a relationship.
7.3 The officer explained that the majority of perpetrators were male and heterosexual. Domestic abuse accounted for approximately 6.5 - 7% of all recorded crime in Southwark. About 20% of recorded crime in Southwark was classified as violence against the person. One in every four of these violent crimes was linked to domestic abuse. Research suggested that a victim would experience thirty-five incidents until the first report.
7.4 In Southwark, 40% of Merlin referrals were domestic abuse related. A Merlin referral takes place from the police to social services. These referrals represented a massive proportion of Southwark Council’s overall referrals. 30% of these referrals triggered initial assessments. The council did not have the capacity to look at all the referrals. Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARACs) looked at the most serious cases; there were 254 children and young people that the council was extremely concerned about.
7.5 The officer referred to research that indicated that domestic abuse was linked with poor outcomes, and the longer the abuse continued the more this impacted on the children.
7.6 The officer spoke about the people involved and explained that the majority of perpetrators were men, and where men were victims, or women were perpetrators, this was usually in a homosexual relationship. There were only usually about two incidents a year of women acting as perpetrators in heterosexual relationships. African Caribbeans were over represented in recent Southwark figures as both victims and perpetrators of abuse. However the new domestic abuse service was carrying out careful monitoring and would eventually give the council a more precise measure of this.
7.7 Research indicated that around 52% of children on child protection plans had experienced domestic abuse. Domestic abuse, substance misuse and mental ill health were the ‘toxic trio’ and the three key factors most likely to feature in child deaths and serious injuries. Domestic abuse was the single most common factor.
7.8 The Safer Southwark Partnership, the local community safety partnership, had a duty to tackle crime and disorder in the local area, including domestic violence (Crime and Disorder Act 1998).
7.9 The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act and the Children’s Act (2004) placed a duty of care on local authorities to provide services to victims of domestic abuse, including children. Duties had recently increased to include a duty to conduct domestic violence homicide reviews. The officer commented that they were doing a review now of a death and the woman involved was highly mobile - moving every three months. The officer explained that the Housing Act 1996 allowed local authorities to prevent domestic violence in the context of housing management functions and it also placed duties on the council which could be extremely expensive for councils.
7.10 The officer outlined the new service. Southwark Advocacy and Support Services (SASS) – run by Solace Women’s Aid provides the Domestic Abuse service from April 1 2012. This included:
- A borough wide service, with a new centre for domestic violence and a single point of entry – one phone number, one email
- 24/7 access to the service
- Improved response time to high risk victims
- Improved outcomes in reducing victimisation and risk
- A perpetrator programme
- Specialist support programmes for children and young people
- Other benefits including a service user forum and a volunteer programme
7.11 The chair asked the officer if children could use the telephone service. The head of social work improvement and quality assurance responded that young people aged 16 – 18 might well use the service and that there was growing concern about violence in relationships between young people.
7.12 Shelley Burke, head of scrutiny, commented that work was done with mothers and the officer explained that this was to get knowledge from survivors to improve outcomes. The officer explained that around 10% of the budget went on this. She went on to explain that there was a perpetrator programme involving fathers in child protection plans more effectively.
7.13 The officer explained that that they were seeking champions from each department to champion the service and monitoring the outcomes monthly. She reported that initially they had received a high number of referrals but this appeared to be calming down a little. The project was aiming to improve the quality of MARAC decision making and improve the Merlin referral and assessment process. The service was aiming to refer perpetrators to programmes.
7.14 The officer referred to two programmes started through successful bidding for Daphne funding: Safe Healthy and Equal Relationships (SHER) and the Hedgehogs Project. The projects supported young people in preventing domestic/dating abuse and sexual exploitation respectively. The Hedgehogs Project has had a very positive evaluation and the service intended to roll this out.
7.15 The officer said that the Domestic Abuse programme was also working on the ‘troubled families’ initiative’ which was particularly aimed at families not in work. Eric Pickles had reported that ‘troubled families’ cost the tax payer 9 billion pounds a year. There was also a small grant to support work with Youth Clubs to raise awareness around domestic abuse.
7.16 The chair invited members to ask questions. A member asked about early intervention and the officer responded that the service worked with teenagers to encourage good relationships. She commented that 20% of all women experience abuse and that the service worked with those cases that were referred to social workers or the police.
7.17 A member asked if the service was working with faith groups and commented that economic pressures were raising the likelihood of violence. The officer responded that the initiative was looking to involve more faith community representatives in the working group.
7.18 A member noted that raising awareness was very important, particularly of the psychological impact within ethnic minority communities, as domestic abuse could be a hidden problem inside the home. The officer commented that domestic abuse was spread evenly, however some groups were particularly vulnerable, for example women who had no leave to remain in the country.
7.19 The officer was asked if the service tracked children removed from school and he was assured that they did, and that there was an active group looking at this. The vast majority were tracked down, however around 10% were not and these were put on a central schools’ list.
7.20 A member requested that the officer return to the slide with the definition of domestic abuse. He said that he accepted that this was a Home Office definition but asked for a clarification of the term “economic abuse”. The head of social work improvement and quality assurance explained this was about the withholding of money and one of the reasons child benefit was paid to women.
7.21 The member went on to comment that while he thought some ‘outbursts’ could be calculated, did the officer agree that sometimes an outburst might be an angry response to provocation? Another member said that she would certainly challenge that. The officer responded that evidence, such as the DVIP research, indicated that people did have control over their actions; for example, the vast majority of domestic abuse incidents occured in the home, and this suggested that the perpetrator had a degree of control. The member commented that some perpetrators might not be able to prevent themselves – it might be a spur of the moment reaction as part of a row between a couple; for example a slap or similar. He then asked how the officer would distinguish between domestic violence and bullying and asked if the term bullying might be better applied in some cases. The officer responded that domestic abuse was about power and reminded the sub-committee of the different types of abuse: physical, economic, emotional, financial and psychological.
7.22 The member went on to ask about violence that happened outside the home. Another member commented that she did not think it mattered if the violence was a one off issue or a pattern of abuse; if someone is not in control they should be in a mental institution. She felt that the member should apologise to the officer.
7.23 The member then said that she wanted to pose a question about the likelihood of childhood victims becoming perpetrators. The officer said that there was no firm evidence of a correlation. There was some research and anecdotal evidence that if there was violence in the family then there was more likelihood of a victim becoming a perpetrator, however it could also have the opposite effect.
7.24 A member of the public said that he had not expected to hear such comments in a council meeting. He added that if abuse was defined like this was then it went on in every home. He then said that on the estate where he worked, economic power was shifting to women and this could make men angry
7.25 A member asked whether the Safer Southwark Partnership put out literature advising victims on how to spot the signs of possible domestic abuse and avoid it and giving step-by-step instructions to take action.
7.26 The officer said it was not that simple. She also noted that women in vulnerable situations were most likely to be abused and that it was when women decided to seek help that they were most at risk and therefore most in need of support .
7.27 The chair thanked the head of social work improvement and quality assurance for her presentation and invited her to return in six months time.
There will be an update on Domestic Abuse in 6 months. The scrutiny report on Domestic Abuse, produced by the Housing, Environment, Transport & Community Safety Scrutiny Sub-Committee, will be circulated, alongside the cabinet response.