Some social services departments have begun to recognise domestic abuse as an issue in its own right and to take action to help social workers, and the whole department, to make a more appropriate response. Clearly, the research summarised in Chapter 3 has shown over a period of time that there is a desperate need for this, but, in fact, it has largely had to wait for pressure from local authority women’s units and from inter-agency groupings before any change has been put in hand. That the profession of social work is not taking a lead is illustrated by the disgracefully thin Memorandum of Evidence submitted by the British Association of Social Workers to the Home Affairs Committee (House of Commons, 1992b, Memorandum 9). This makes only six points, including two aimed at other agencies and one about elder abuse. It says nothing whatsoever about what social workers can do to confront abuse or assist women, and admits responsibility only for cases involving children and older people.
Typically, those social services departments which have taken a more positive approach have started with the introduction of an overall policy (for example in the context of community care planning or a corporate stance on taking domestic violence seriously) and/or a set of guidelines that outlines good practice and gives an indication of the standard of service women should expect to receive. A range of examples will be given in this chapter. Coherent policies and consistent guidelines represent a major advance over individual workers either ignoring the problem entirely, or taking inappropriate action, or happening to be able to give useful assistance but without consistent support from their agency. There have been moves within the Department of Health’s Social Services Inspectorate (SSI) to encourage such progress. Two conferences were held during March 1995, in London and Leeds, to urge social services directors to take an urgent and co-ordinated approach to the issue of domestic abuse (Ball, 1995).
After exploring agency-wide developments, this chapter will go on to consider what good practice looks like in duty and child care settings. Further attention will be paid to the needs of children in Chapter 6 and, in relation to family court welfare work, in Chapter 7. Prior to that, other