Home Help for Battered Families ; Government Investment Reflects the Increasing Role That Social Workers Play in the Prevention of and Response to Domestic Violence. by KATE HILPERN
Hilpern, Kate, The Independent (London, England)
Rachel was the envy of many women that knew her. Her husband's job meant they could live in a big house, take several holidays a year and she could afford to stay at home and look after their three children. Behind closed doors, however, Rachel was regularly beaten and belittled by her husband. She wanted to leave, but he threatened her with even more severe violence if she ever attempted to go.
Last year, with the help of her social worker, Rachel was able to take out an injunction against her husband, banning him from their home. Also with the help of her social worker, she is currently rebuilding her and her children's lives, free from abuse.
Rachel's story is a reflection of the increasing involvement that social workers have in both preventing and responding to domestic violence. Among the duties they carry out are writing supporting statements about what has happened for any court proceedings, providing ongoing support to women and children, and offering information on and referring to specialist domestic violence support services such as advice centres, counselling and refuges.
In fact, the Lord Chancellor's department recently announced that social workers - along with nurses and health visitors - are to be given specific guidance on how to tell those experiencing domestic violence how they can use the law against violent partners. Meanwhile, last month saw home secretary David Blunkett, allocating pounds 14m over three years to help tackle domestic violence. The Home Office is also financing a new co-ordinator to be based at the Local Government Association, to work with local authorities and the police to address local domestic violence effectively.
"There has been growing recognition about the existence of domestic violence in some families' lives," says Eoin Rush, principal manager for family support and child protection at Kingston upon Thames social services (see below). "Alongside this has been a growing recognition that without a comprehensive understanding of the complex ways in which domestic violence impacts on children and their families, social workers' interventions can exacerbate the problem rather than solve it."
Consequently social workers who come across domestic violence in the course of their work are more likely than ever to be given additional training and guidance. "A typical element of this training is a focus on patterns, attitudes, values and responses to domestic violence," says Rush. For example, social workers are taught that pregnancy can mean the start of domestic violence for some women and that recent research suggests the long-term impact on children who witness domestic violence is much greater than previously suspected.
Tina Hall, strategic development manager at crime rehabilitation charity Nacro, believes such training is crucial. "Not least because there is an assumption that domestic violence is class-related and it doesn't happen to people in professional jobs," she says. "In reality, violence in the home can affect any woman from every walk of life."
Stephen Fitzgerald, national organiser of men's civil rights charity Mankind, adds that a further common myth is that sufferers are exclusively female. "Last year, I personally took 700 calls from men suffering domestic violence," he says.
Most likely to be heavily involved in domestic violence are social workers who work in child protection teams, says David Beehan, president of the Association of Directors of Social Services (ADSS). Indeed, research shows that 27 per cent of child protection cases involve domestic violence. Studies also show that if there is domestic violence, there is a 50 per cent chance that any children are also being abused. In fact, reports Barnardo's, even witnessing assaults is likely to have long-lasting and pervasive emotional impact on children.
Because domestic violence can be linked to a range of social problems, social workers in other areas - such as drug and alcohol teams and mental health teams - may also be called upon to deal with the issue. …