Ofsted criticises lack of action to prevent domestic abuse

By Neil Puffett

| 19 September 2017

Not enough is being done to prevent domestic abuse and address the impact it has on children, Ofsted has warned.

Ofsted has called for action to be taken earlier to prevent domestic abuse. Picture: David McCullough

A report on the way agencies respond to children living with domestic abuse found that social workers, the police, health professionals and other agencies such as youth offending teams and probation services are often doing a good job to protect victims.

But the watchdog said "far too little" is being done to prevent domestic abuse in the first place, and to repair the damage it causes afterwards.

According to the Office for National Statistics, seven women every month are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales and 130,000 children live in homes where there is "high risk" domestic abuse.

Eleanor Schooling, Ofsted national director for social care, said the sheer scale of domestic abuse means that it can be all too easy for police, health professionals and social workers to focus on short-term responses to incidents, but said the best teams "are able to see the bigger picture".

"There is a lot of good work being done to protect victims of domestic violence - emergency services are particularly effective," she said.

"But we're not so good when it comes to helping victims deal with the aftermath and get on with their lives. The justice system must play a role, but there is work to do to stop it happening in the first place."

Schooling said schools have an essential role in educating children about domestic abuse. Teaching children about healthy relationships is already part of the curriculum, but Schooling said it is often not prioritised by schools.

"I want to see a new approach to tackling domestic abuse - one which focuses more on prevention and repairing long-term damage to child victims," she said.

"Agencies can address these complex challenges but due to the endemic nature of domestic abuse they cannot do it alone. A widespread public service message is needed to shift behaviour on a wide scale."

The report also said that the focus on the immediate crisis leads agencies to consider only those people and children at immediate risk. It added that agencies are not always looking at the right things and, in particular, not focusing enough on the perpetrator.

Meanwhile, there is still a lack of clarity about "how to navigate the complexities of information sharing", and there needs to be greater consistency in the definition of harm, and in the understanding of whose rights to prioritise.

The report is based on joint targeted area inspections focusing of Bradford, Hampshire, Hounslow, Lincolnshire, Salford and Wiltshire, focusing on the way agencies respond to domestic abuse. The inspections were conducted jointly by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, and HM Inspectorate of Probation.

Professor Steve Field, chief inspector at the Care Quality Commission, said: "When children and young people are at risk of, suffering from, or rebuilding their lives after domestic violence, a number of services have the opportunity to intervene or help.

"Fortunately, we have seen evidence of services understanding the unique position they each have to start important conversations and work together to support individuals and families, such as delicate screening tools for midwives talking to expectant mothers."

Anne Longfield, the children's commissioner for England, said domestic abuse causes long-term emotional and psychological damage to children.

"While good work is being done to protect children and victims, the report makes clear that the welfare of children is often an afterthought, and that some children who don't need immediate medical attention for physical injuries are going unnoticed by health professionals and social services," she said.

"Focusing on the needs of children affected, and at risk of being affected by domestic abuse, must be a higher priority. More should be done to make sure agencies share information, and schools should play a leading role in educating children about healthy relationships. Children must be put at the heart of strategies to tackle domestic violence."

Alison Michalska, president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said domestic abuse is the most common factor in situations where children are at risk of serious harm.

She said that due to the "terrifying scale" of the issue, agencies have had to focus virtually all of their available resources on protecting children and victims from the immediate risk of harm, rather than on prevention.

"Some councils have had to cut back on non-statutory services, as our funding reduces, which means that vital support services for victims of domestic abuse aren't always available or accessible despite the clear need for these services," she said.

"The report rightly highlights the need for a long-term strategy to reduce the prevalence of domestic abuse and we strongly support the call for a public health approach to tackling domestic abuse, including the development of a national public service campaign aimed at raising awareness of domestic abuse and violence.

"But we will not see the necessary shift from intervention at the point of crisis to prevention that we need to see without sufficient, sustainable funding from government. A shift to a more systematic focus on prevention and changing perpetrator behaviours is long overdue and the government must lead this endeavour from the front as a matter of urgency."

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