DV-ACT was saddened to hear that a social worker was attacked along with police officers while undertaking a welfare check in Haringey. In this post we discuss the importance of welfare checks for domestic abuse victims and children with key insight from our expert social workers on how to keep safe.
On August 6th a social worker in Haringey London was stabbed while trying to 'defuse a situation' involving 2 young children. While we are pleased to hear that the social worker and police officers are expected to make a full recovery this case highlights what chief social worker for children and families Isabelle Trowler described as “...the reality of child protection practice.” While it is positive that there are no reports of any injuries to the children involved it can be assumed that this event will have a significant impact on their well being.
The importance of welfare checks
Welfare checks often happen when concerns have escalated to the point where a social worker feels that there is an urgent need to ensure that a child is safe and well. Beforehand there will usually have been a background of concerns relating to their care and safety with particular focus on the presence of risk due to adults in the child’s environment. Several years of serious case reviews have demonstrated that seeing a vulnerable child within the home environment is crucial to understanding the risks to them. While the more obvious welfare concerns can be picked up in other settings such as schools or nursery's there is no substitute for visiting the home in order to understand a child’s world.
One of the biggest concerns expressed by social workers during the lockdown has been the lack of access to the homes of vulnerable children. The NSPCC report "Isolated and struggling: Social isolation and the risk of child maltreatment, in lockdown and beyond" highlighted this as being a serious child protection concern. The report indicates that any weakening to the services that we rely on for detecting, preventing, and responding to maltreatment will increase the risk to vulnerable children.
We know that when home visiting or parenting programmes (particularly those comprising a mixture of family support, preschool education, childcare, and community development) are provided to families at risk of abuse and neglect, this lowers the incidence of neglect and potentially of other types of abuse, and results in parents developing lower levels of ‘risk abuse potential’ (NICE, 2017: ES1, ES2, ES6, ES18) - NSPCC
Emerging research into the effects of the pandemic has shown that an increase in financial stress and uncertainty around employment alongside isolation from sources of support have worked to increase the risk to domestic abuse victims, particularly those with children. A recent survey by the Childhood Trust found that their beneficiaries experienced greater abuse at home during lockdowns with workers reporting that it was difficult to maintain contact with vulnerable children due to a lack of technology and face-to-face interaction. The combined impact of increased stressors on parents and increased child vulnerability means that home welfare checks are critical at this time and any reduction in safeguards has the potential for new and recurring cases of abuse.
Domestic abuse and welfare checks
The police play a crucial role in ensuring care professionals can gain access to vulnerable children where there is a concern about the presence of a potential perpetrator of violence or abuse and while many assaults such as the one which occurred over the weekend do come out of the blue it is vital that everything possible is done to ensure that the risks are properly assessed and based on the most reliable methods.
The dynamics of domestic abuse need to be considered, for example, many care professionals will feel intimidated by individuals who present as obstreperous, difficult and angry, indeed this alone can be harmful and it is important to protect against routine abusive behaviour towards frontline workers, however, in an assessment of potential lethal danger or serious harm it is vital to look at previous history. A calm, polite and charming parent may seem to present as much safer than one who is emotionally volatile and uncontained yet in domestic abuse cases this presentation can be highly deceptive. The angry client may have a history of using threatening and insulting behaviour while the charming likable client may have a history of severe violence. A golden rule of risk assessment is that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour unless substantial change has taken place.
Care professionals should be supported to identify risks and create safety plans for themselves when visiting children whose parents or carers present a lethal danger to them. As well as following local or team guidance on home visits, when domestic abuse is a concern step one of any safety plan is to share information. While there are often difficulties in accessing information, procedures are in place to allow for the sharing of information when it is part of a child protection procedure. Arming yourself with all the information is the most effective form of safety planning. Secondly, recognise that history is important. Although courts and legal processes consider some behaviours as 'historical' and can therefore be disregarded, this is never the case in risk assessment. The fact that a perpetrator last committed an assault up to 4 years ago and has not come to the attention of the authorities since then, does not mean that the previous behaviour can be dismissed.
Detailed guidance for social workers on how to complete safety planning with families can be found in our post How to complete safety planning with families with specific risk management strategies for children included in the post How can children be protected from abuse post lockdown? Blog posts on this site also features guidance and expert insight to support social work in domestic abuse including coercive control, early intervention and domestic abuse treatment programmes for perpetrators and victims. DV-ACT experts also offer free consultations and bite-size training to social work professionals.
Helplines and online support
Helplines are available in the UK as follows:
National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 2000 247
The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327
Respect phoneline for perpetrators of domestic abuse - 0808 8024040
Childline - 0800 1111 you can also go to https://www.childline.org.uk/get-support/
NSPCC (Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends) - 0808 800 5000 or Contact counsellors 24 hours a day by email or online reporting form email@example.com
999 silent solution - when 999 is called, if the caller is unable to speak they need to press 55, but there is a procedure that needs to be followed and the limitations of this need to be made clear -https://www.policeconduct.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Documents/research-learning/Silent_solution_guide.pdf
DV-ACT are a team of domestic abuse experts, available throughout the UK, who provide assessments, programmes, consultancy and training to local authorities and the family courts. Our experts have decades of experience working directly with domestic abuse perpetrators and victims, as specialist assessors and as expert witnesses in the family courts.
DV-ACT was formed with the aim of using our expertise to help safeguard children from abuse, this is at the heart of everything that we do. To read more about us please visit our post - Who are DV-ACT?