Working to Reduce Domestic Abuse in Portsmouth: Evaluation of the Identify - Assess, Support, Challenge, Change project

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

Abstract

Background: There is uncertainty about how to address the increasingly recognised problem of domestic violence/abuse (DVA). A polarising ‘perpetrator/victim’ paradigm dominates this area. Consequently, children and families are not receiving targeted or assessment-led support to help remediate intimate partner relationship issues before they escalate. The extent to which couple dynamics reflect or contradict this paradigm in a social care context is unknown. The current study sought to answer this with a formative evaluation of a new initiative, I-ASCC, in an early stage of its implementation. The I-ASCC (Identify – Assess, Support, Challenge, Change) project was designed to improve services’ response to DVA, and practitioner training focusses on identifying patterns of behaviour rather than taking the perpetrator/victim dichotomy. Given the background of professional uncertainty among frontline practitioners, a second objective of the current study was to understand the perceived impact of the training on practitioner confidence, competence and outcomes for clients.

Approach: The evaluation consisted of two parts which corresponded to the above two questions. First, to understand the diversity of clients’ behaviours and characteristics, Part A examined 30 I-ASCC Part 1 assessments completed by frontline social care practitioners as part of their routine practice. Second in Part B, in-depth qualitative inquiry was used to understand the impact of I-ASCC training on practitioners and their clients. Seven professionals were interviewed, and trained practitioners also submitted case information; including case studies of impact.

Findings: Information from the I-ASCC Part 1s indicated that the majority (61%) of behaviour was assessed as symmetrical between partners; often reflecting mutual unhealthy behaviour below the level of abuse. On average couples exhibited four types of problematic behaviour: most commonly emotional/psychological and verbal abuse, although physical abuse and using children against the other partner were not uncommon. Where there was evidence of unidirectional abuse, i.e. where one partner behaves abusively and the other does not, in all but two cases there were identifiable unhealthy behaviours by the non-abusive partner. Regarding practitioner competence and confidence, shining through practitioners’ accounts was a clear overarching theme: the non-blaming family systems focus supports client engagement. This was supported by two subthemes including that the structured assessment supports evidence-based judgement, and that the intervention resources were helpful and easy to apply. The accounts were unanimous that the I-ASCC process was ‘depersonalised’ focussing instead on the family situation and behaviours, and that this facilitated client engagement and practitioner confidence. Case studies indicated a range of benefits of this engagement including changes in family behaviour, improved responsibility-taking, and efficiencies in service delivery.

Conclusions: In a children’s services context, findings from professional records indicated that patterns of partner behaviour are situated in a family dynamic, and so require a family solution which I-ASCC intervention can supply. For practitioners and clients, the appeal of this novel approach appears to lie in its foundation in evidence (actual partner behaviour) and restorative ethos. Compared to the traditional ‘perpetrator/victim’ model I-ASCC supports practitioners in working alongside families most of whom want to make amends and stay together.

Recommendations: The early stage of implementation of this ambitious project saw challenges in completion of I-ASCC Part 1s, hence fewer were received for analysis than anticipated. A successful remediation was additional on-site support by the I-ASCC training team, which helped to model the intended process and so support its integration into routine practice. There has been more demand for this clinical support than available supply. A key recommendation is therefore to resource the continuation, and expansion, of this clinical support. As a longer-term measure and to minimise dependency on the trainers, key frontline staff may be supported into the equivalent role of I-ASCC clinical supervisor. Since embedding practices depends on having the opportunity to try, fail, and improve, there is merit in screening training participants to ensure they have adequate opportunities and support for implementation. Finally, to ensure that I-ASCC implementation is integrated and normalised it is recommended that the existing steering group oversees regular clinical audits with appropriate follow-up reflection and action.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherHome Office
Commissioning bodyHome Office
Number of pages48
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sep 2022

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