Why we need new guidance to tackle rising domestic violence

Rebekah Pierre
Friday, April 30, 2021

BASW England’s new domestic abuse guidance comes at a critical time; over the past 12 months, social workers have witnessed a double epidemic of coronavirus and skyrocketing domestic abuse.

According to the BASW Covid-19 surveys in April 2020 and January 2021, domestic violence escalated during the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Over a 1000 social workers responded to both surveys, and both reported over two-thirds agreeing that domestic violence had increased beyond figures they were seeing before the pandemic struck.

Whilst the pandemic does not cause abuse (only perpetrators are responsible for that), abusers have weaponised lockdown conditions to isolate victim-survivors, monitor their time and activities, control finances, restrict access to basic needs, threaten, humiliate, and cause untold physical and emotional harm.

Social workers are all too familiar with the devastating impact of domestic abuse; everyone of us can testify to the domino effect on physical and mental health, education, relationships, child sexual exploitation, vulnerability to gang exploitation, and more. 

The impact of all the above cannot be understated, and can transcend generations without timely intervention. Yet social workers consistently report feeling overwhelmed and under equipped to deal effectively with domestic abuse. 

This guide is an excellent starting point for time-poor social workers, who, with access to the right support, have the potential to be true agents of change. 

Intersectional approach

In recent months, social workers across the country have risen up to challenge western-centric curriculums, which have traditionally taught a one-size-fits-all approach to care. 

Practitioners everywhere are realising that social work must be as diverse as the communities it serves.

That is why an intersectional approach is adopted throughout the guide, which weaves together the voices of survivors and specialist services representing marginalised groups. It recognises the interconnecting forms of oppression on survivor’s including race, gender and gender identity, culture, religion, culture, immigration status, deafness, disability, LGBT+ rights, mental health, multiple disadvantage (including substance use and addiction) and poverty.

Sadly, we know that domestic abuse is endemic across all aspects of society – but the way it manifests differs hugely according to intersecting identities.

No two survivor stories are the same – and neither is their route to safety. Some may face multilayered oppression which means that not only does the abuse they face differ, but so does the level of support they will receive from services (if they can even access them in the first place). 

For example, if a Black Muslim woman tried to seek support from services, she would be at risk of systemic racism, islamaphobia and misogyny before she even approached the front door. 

That is why we have partnered with Women’s Aid Federation England, Galop, Southall Black Sisters, AVA Project, Ann Craft Trust, Sign Health, Respect UK, and Dr Michaela Rogers, to provide social workers with much-needed understanding of patterns of domestic abuse within marginalised groups.

What can social workers expect from the guide? 

  • An overview of domestic abuse, ideal for students or anyone hoping to update their understanding in line with evolving legislation. This includes psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional abuse, coercive control, Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG), so-called honour-based abuse, forced marriage, and FGM. 

  • Information on how best to support marginalised communities including LGBT+, Black and Minoritised, Deaf, Disabled survivors, as well perspectives on mental health, poverty and multiple disadvantage. 

  • Best practice, starting from assessments and beyond, looking at typical barriers and how to overcome them. It covers how to respond to disclosures, multi-agency working, how to engage perpetrators, strengths led-needs-based approaches, trauma-informed practice, record keeping, and more.

  • An outline of good practice and current research. The two models that are focused on in the guide are The Safe & Together™ Model as well as a Change that Lasts, both of which are evidenced based and rooted in anti-oppressive practice. 

  • Survivor-Led ‘Top-Tips’ for practice, including video footage created by and for survivors from diverse backgrounds.

  • Child-centred safety plans and tools social workers can use in direct work 

  • An overview of what to expect in the upcoming Domestic Abuse Bill

How can it be used in practice? 

  • As a quick reference tool for busy social workers 

  • To supplement ongoing training and continued professional development 

  • To benchmark interventions against during supervision, reflective discussions 

  • To evidence learning and growth across the PCF, KSS, and Regulatory Professional Standards 

  • Visual tools and child-centred safety plans can be used in direct work with children and families 

  • To support practice educators and lecturers who are trying to teach this highly complex area in increasingly difficult, virtual conditions. 

We invite social workers of diverse identities to join us as we continue to advocate for a culture shift to eradicate domestic abuse. If you are interested in becoming an early implementer of the guide, please contact england@basw.co.uk 

We extend heartfelt gratitude to all who contributed, especially to victim-survivors who shared their experiences with such courage - as we very much hope you will read for yourselves. 

Rebekah Pierre is a professional officer at BASW England

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