Up to now, the statutory welfare services have represented less of a success story for women’s safety than refuges and related provision. Social workers have typically had a bad press as regards men abusing women, often being seen as not knowing how to respond or as having other priorities—typically child care. (Parallels in probation family court practice will be seen in Chapter 7.) Probation officers, equally, are seen as focusing on the men and ignoring women’s safety (their record will be examined in Chapter 8; see also McWilliams and McKiernan, 1993, p.96).
According to any abused woman or women’s activist one chooses to ask, the picture in practice is one of inconsistency, ranging from those practitioners who have somehow remained oblivious or become inured to the extent and degree of violence inflicted on women—and who see it as irrelevant to their work or some other agency’s problem—through others who reflect the negative and unenlightened attitudes that blame women for their own abuse, to those individuals who are not only concerned for the women they meet in the course of their professional work but who also devote considerable amounts of their own time to working with Women’s Aid or other women’s groups to improve the help available in the community. Those workers who recognise that men’s abuse of women is endemic and who believe that social work should respond to it are, however, in a minority (McWilliams and McKiernan, 1993, p.66). Greater consistency will come only through a co-ordinated approach to training and an overall departmental or organisational lead; but this is slow to happen. Even now, with domestic abuse currently receiving a high public profile, social services departments are not in the forefront of inter-agency responses (see Chapter 10, this volume). Probation services are rather more in evidence but their progress is patchy. This is not because woman abuse is rarely seen by professionals, either in duty referrals or in allocated cases.
In fact, abused women seek help from social workers in large numbers. Improvements in the ability of social services to offer them practical assistance and emotional support, and to help prevent further violence, would therefore have an immediate impact. This chapter sets the scene by