There are over 28,000 incidents of domestic abuse reported to Essex Police each year and an estimated additional 100,000 unreported. Domestic abuse is an issue that cuts across all social, geographical and cultural groups. The impact of abuse can be huge for victims, their families and their communities and there are significant costs for public agencies seeking to support victims and prevent abuse.
Essex Partners have been working together to tackle domestic abuse since 2012 and have delivered improved multi-agency information sharing, risk assessment and safety planning through the introduction of Joint Domestic Abuse Triage Teams (JDATTs), Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARAC) and a Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) in Thurrock.
In addition, in 2014 partners jointly commissioned an Essex-wide Independent Domestic Violence Adviser (IDVA) service, expanding IDVA provision significantly to a level of universal and consistent countywide provision for all high risk victims., providing each victim with individual support.
In July 2016 a new Domestic Abuse Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Team (MARAT) came into effect to build upon the success of the countywide community MARACs and JDATTs and to ensure new domestic abuse cases are handled quickly and efficiently – under the new model every high level case is heard at MARAC within two weeks of being reported. The ambition of this new model was to increase agency representation, reduce duplication, improve information sharing and make actions clearer and more accountable.
The new MARAT teams are made up of a stable membership of representatives from:
- Essex Police
- Adult and Children's Social Care
- Health (including Mental Health)
- Essex Community Rehabilitation Company
- Substance Misuse
- National Probation Service (where relevant)
- And in Southend & Thurrock some additional services
Each of the approaches bring together professionals from different agencies to facilitate better information sharing, joined-up working and decision making, prevention and coordinated intervention to identify and address domestic abuse.
Making People Safer
The Essex JDATT staff co-located into a single location and commenced operating with a revised process from February 2015. By October 2015 1,640 high risk incidents had been triaged by the Essex JDATT. Once triaged these cases either went to a full community MARAC meeting for partners to discuss appropriate interventions or this was undertaken virtually/electronically. Prior to co-location and process improvements there would often be a backlog in MARAC (i.e. cases not discussed within six weeks). Eliminating these backlogs, and the associated unacceptable delay for the victim, has reduced the risk of further serious injury or death and likewise the cost to the public purse.
Part-funded by pooling budgets across the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) for Essex, Essex County Council, Southend Borough Council and Thurrock Borough Council, the IDVA contract increased specialist domestic abuse provision and there are now 24 Independent Domestic Violence Advocates (IDVAs) in the county. The service provides crucial support to victims of domestic abuse who are at the highest risk of serious injury or murder by: creating safety plans and carrying out risk assessments; accompanying victims to court; supporting them as they give evidence and write statements; and requesting special measures in court to enable them to provide best evidence and support the criminal justice process.
Due to success of the IDVA service since it commenced 2 years ago, the Southend, Essex and Thurrock Domestic Abuse Joint Commissioning Group and Board have both agreed to extend the current contract through to March 2019.
Domestic Abuse can be a contributor to causes of ill health and poor wellbeing in local communities. As well as the personal cost, domestic abuse imposes a considerable financial burden on local healthcare systems. It has been identified through the Southend Essex Thurrock Domestic Abuse Partnership that significant health inequalities are experienced by people who are at risk of causing abuse, at risk of experiencing abuse, and victims of abuse. Exposure to violence as a child has 14 particularly negative impacts, not only increasing the risks of involvement in future abuse but of substance abuse, poor mental health and chronic illness in later life. Violence is preventable through appropriate targeted interventions, especially in childhood.
Domestic abuse, mental ill health and substance misuse have all been identified as common features where harm in families occurs. Children who are exposed to the domestic abuse of a parent are often found to have greater behavioural and emotional problems when compared to other children. They can suffer from issues such as depression, anxiety, aggression and anti-sociable behaviour.
Relocation of victims away from their community support networks, friends, family, neighbours etc., is not always effective at breaking the cycle of abuse or repeat victimisation. Many victims report that relocating often leaves them with feelings of isolation. Relocation has also raised concerns on the impact to children’s education, along with access to health services. Where possible it is often more appropriate to keep victims within the same locality with services wrapped around them to enable them to live independently.
A pilot to procure and implement a domestic abuse housing database began with the Chelmer Housing Partnership in 2015/16. The organisations using the DA Housing Database will have the ability to record information, interactions, actions and intelligence around a domestic abuse victim and perpetrator, in a secure manner. The database will provide an invaluable way of helping improve the service and support, not just to those who are directly affected by domestic abuse by streamlining their opportunities to move when necessary in a way that reduces delay, but also helping other agencies involved with the care, support and protection of those at risk.
Although still in its early stages, the pilot is already providing a better network between housing professionals to help manage risk and work more effectively, something that is increasingly important as demand for housing in Essex continues to increase. The objective of the project is to reduce homelessness through improved information sharing and better coordination of services across housing agencies.
Domestic Abuse Strategy
Tackling domestic abuse remains one of the key priorities within Essex. Whilst the numbers of domestic abuse incidents remain high, evidence shows that the services delivered by partners are providing real impact in keeping victims safe and offering help and support to those who have suffered abuse, both victims and their families.
The Southend, Essex and Thurrock Domestic Abuse Boards (SETDAB) purpose is to deliver against its vision of everyone living a life free from domestic abuse. The Board is responsible for designing and implementing the Joint Domestic Abuse Strategy for Greater Essex. SETDAB provides strategic leadership to address domestic abuse by providing a multi-agency framework, common ethos and co-ordinated approach to innovate, drive change and address domestic abuse across Essex, Southend and Thurrock.
The focus of the Board this year has included: Young people and healthy relationships; increasing victim safety; timely information sharing and case hearing via the new static multi-agency risk assessment conferences; supporting victims in health settings; housing and community service options to increase independence and recovery from domestic abuse; preventative work for perpetrators of domestic abuse; domestic abuse training and raising awareness of domestic abuse amongst the Greater Essex communities.
Whilst focusing on support for victims will remain of up most importance, attempting to break the cycle of domestic abuse is crucial. This includes more educational programmes and appropriate programmes for perpetrators, providing every opportunity for them to change their abusive behaviour. The ultimate aim of this Strategy is to lead to consistent and coordinated action bringing our collective resources together to address the issue of Domestic Abuse. The Domestic Abuse Board will continue to closely monitor the performance against the strategy until 2020 via the underpinning action/ delivery plans.