This report presents findings from a pilot evaluation of the We Can Talk About Domestic Abuse (WCTADA) programme, an initiative designed and delivered by the Wirral Council. The programme aims to develop new ways of working to improve the experience of social care processes for those parents and children affected by domestic abuse so that they feel believed, supported and empowered, whilst being appropriately safeguarded.
The project established a small team of eight subject-matter experts who can provide challenge and support to social workers in their daily practice (i.e. 1 Manager, 3 Domestic Abuse Practice Professionals (DAPPs), 3 Domestic Abuse Family Advocates (DAFAs) and 1 Project Officer).
Three streams of work were developed focusing on:
- Whole family approach and active participation
- Reflective practice among professional(s) supporting them
- System change
The pilot was took place during the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a significant impact on delivery and the evaluation. This is an important caveat to the findings.
The evaluation was designed to answer the following key research questions:
Evidence of feasibility:
- Is the intervention delivered as intended, responsive to survivors and practitioners’ needs, innovative and well accepted by all stakeholders?
Evidence of promise:
- For each activity identified in the theory of change, are the outputs anticipated produced to the extent envisaged and do outcome indicators change in the direction anticipated?
Readiness for trial:
- What elements of the programme might be amenable to randomisation (what experimental contrasts, if any, are feasible), or how might natural variation in exposure to the programme among those at which it is targeted be exploited quasi-experimentally?
The pilot evaluation adopted a mixed methods approach to address the research questions, which involved:
- Theory of Change workshops
- Interviews with survivors and staff
- Surveys with survivors
- Analysis of administrative and monitoring data.
Evidence of feasibility
- Programme activities were significantly adjusted to better address the survivors’ needs, understand the key gaps in service provision and challenges hindering implementation
- The programme moved away from engaging children, incorporated a new focus on perpetrators, and made changes to the Voice Forum
- Programme was well accepted by the survivors, including the focus on perpetrators
- The role of DAFA and DAPP shifted to respond to gaps in provision (perpetrators), increase social workers’ engagement, survivors’ needs (coercive control) and build upon DAFAs’ successful engagement with families
- The DAFA pathway was identified as a critical element of the programme by several stakeholders, the WCTADA team, survivors and external agencies
- Social workers generally engaged well with the programme and change their practice accordingly
- Very few survivors were involved in the Voice Form group, and its delivery changed significantly over time
- The learning events were implemented as planned and well received from social workers as well as external stakeholders.
Evidence of promise
- Level of engagement among families was overall good. However, not all families were offered a DAFA due to capacity issues
- There was some evidence that professionals engaged regularly with planned activities. Due to the lack of systematic recording of those activities, however, engagement levels could not be monitored
- Some survivors reported an increase in confidence and agency (social workers and externals too) which was attributed to DAFA
- The programme supported survivors to be involved in their safety plans and helped to build supportive networks around survivors
- The programme supported social workers to make greater use the domestic abuse risk assessment tools and better understand domestic abuse.
Readiness for trial
- Theory of Change refinements
- Suggest a design for a pilot trial or a quasi-experimental design that focuses on the impact of the DAFA role or some element of WCTADA.
The findings suggest a few refinements to address issues of feasibility and plausibility:
- To stabilize the operating model, which has continued to develop during the evaluation
- To improve exit strategies for families
- To clarify the criteria for working with perpetrators
- To clarify purpose and importance of the Voice Forum
- To improve awareness around the role of DAFA with survivors in order to build trust
- To improve data collection systems and processes.