The Government’s response to the Review of Children’s Social Care proposes increasing family assistance and expanding the role of practitioners responsible for children in need. It also emphasizes the importance of strengthening the skills of these professionals, particularly regarding understanding of domestic abuse within the Early Help and Family Support workforces. This is aligned with the Government’s Plan for Tackling Domestic Abuse (2022) and the NICE (2014) Guidance on Domestic Violence and Abuse, which emphasize the significance of training frontline professionals in various health and social care services to identify and respond to Domestic Abuse (DA).
WWEICSC has commissioned a consortium led by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) in partnership with King College London (KCL) to conduct this research piece which aims to provide evidence about the knowledge, understanding, and skills of the Early Help and Family Support workforces in England in respect of domestic abuse.
The Early Help and Family Support (EH/FS) workforces have high levels of contact with families who are known to be at risk of experiencing DA, and local authorities (LAs) in England are increasingly providing casework services at an Early Help threshold in response to increased numbers of referral. Early Help and Family Support services can play an important role in reducing the risk of statutory social care interventions, improving family relationships, and signposting, and increasing the take-up of additional support services to meet families’ needs.
Case reviews highlight the need for professionals to have a deeper understanding of the dynamics and impact of domestic abuse on children, including post-separation contact. However, limited evidence exists regarding the knowledge and practice of Early Help/Family Support workers in general and specifically regarding families affected by domestic abuse.
For the purposes of this study, ‘Early Help and Family Support Practitioners’ refers to professionals who have the role of being case-holders or conducting assessments, providing support services to children and families, and delivering group work programmes. Practitioners may be located in a range of settings – this study will reach those practitioners employed directly by local authorities and those working in commissioned EH/FS services in the third/voluntary sector. This study will not include qualified social workers working in statutory services.
The research questions for this study are as follows:
- What are the skills and knowledge of domestic abuse in the early help/family support workforces?
- What training/Continuing Professional Development (CPD) on domestic abuse is currently provided to the early help/family support workforces?
- How are the current identification/referral/knowledge /skills/ and understanding of domestic abuse assessed?
- What are the gaps in the knowledge/skills/understanding of domestic abuse in the early help/family support workforces?
- What specific domestic abuse topics/skills need to be included in training/development for the early help/family support workforces?
- How do specialist domestic abuse staff interact with the early help/family support workforces?
- What multi-agency practice models are currently used in early help/family support domestic abuse work?
The research will be undertaken in up to 12 Local Authorities. A case study approach will be undertaken with 5 LAs where both quantitative and qualitative data will be collected. They comprise Lancashire, Hertfordshire, Luton, Lewisham, and Nottingham City. Seven additional LAs will only implement the survey element to ensure a sufficiently high number of completions to allow for analysis using key factors such as participants’ age, gender, ethnicity, level of experience, and job setting. A diverse sample of Local Authorities (LAs) has been chosen for this study, considering factors such as geographical spread, urban/rural settings, ethnicity, and social deprivation. The data collection will involve a quantitative survey of Early Help and Family Support Practitioners, as well as qualitative interviews with practitioners, managers, and service heads. Additionally, documentary analysis and interviews with national stakeholders knowledgeable in domestic abuse will be conducted.
The final report is planned to be completed by October 2023.