Domestic Abuse: Early Intervention


If you are designing or delivering an intervention in the criminal justice system you must consider not only what the offer is but also when the best time to offer it to your intended audience is.

If an intervention is too soon, it may be too costly trying to reach a wide audience, not sufficiently targeted  failing to reach those in greatest need or inadequately taken up for failing to hit key trigger points for the intended audience to seek help or intervention. 

In community safety circles, we have long talked about early intervention.

In the context of Domestic Abuse what does early intervention mean and do we know if it works? For the purpose of this week’s blog, I will look at early intervention at the point of crisis, ie when the police have been called. 

Given that by the time most women contact the police they have already experienced in the order of 35 incidents of abuse, one could question whether this is indeed EARLY intervention at all. It is nevertheless early intervention by agencies where the crisis point is their first point of contact with a victim of abuse.

Consideration of prevention and interventions which are necessarily more universal in nature is for another blog on another day!

Lessons from Cumbria and Gateshead:

University of Sunderland and Leeds Metropolitan University researcher supported by the Northern Rock Foundation studied two programmes of early intervention at crisis from 2004 – 2009.

These programmes were new in 2004 and were multi agency partnership interventions providing one to one support for victims, one to one and group work for children and perpetrator programmes. The Police were the sole referrer in Gateshead and the primary referrer inCumbriaand in both locations, Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs) risk and need assessed, undertook safety planning, made referrals to agencies, acted as advocate with agencies and provided emotional and practical support. The interventions were different in length and nature for different victims according to the risk and needs assessed.

Gateshead– victims and survivors

  • 12% police incidents referred
  • 61% engaged with programme
  • 96% referrals who engaged had no further referral during the evaluation period and 59% repeat referrals engaged with the project
  • Higher engagement for standard – medium risk cases
  • Victims enabled to recognise their experience as domestic violence
  • 61% had reduced risk measurement
  • Victims/survivors received 3-5 multi agency interventions and risk was reduced for higher risk cases
  • Interview results included
    • 86% reported reduced risk
    • 100% reported a good or excellent service
    • 62% reported better health
    • 83% felt safer
    • 68 % felt more confident contacting support services

Gateshead– children

  • 69% victims rated the service for their children and good or excellent
  • Victims (Mostly mothers) were reluctant to talk about the impact of domestic violence on children

 Gateshead– Perpetrators

  • Number of cases finalised at court increased from 180 in 2005/06 – 393 in 2008/09
  • Work with perpetrators was stalled due to lack of credibility afforded the work from within the criminal justice system and fears that intentions to participate with a voluntary perpetrator programme (VPP) would be used in mitigation
  • this aspect of the work the most difficult to promote

 Cumbria– victims and survivors

  • 100% police incidents referred (which was 66% of all referrals) 34% police referrals engaged (including siblings, and parent child incidents) and 40% of police referrals of adult couples engaged
  • Including all referral sources 40% engaged with programme
  • 57% incidents reported to the police had only one report in the evaluation period
  • Victims enabled to recognise their experience as domestic violence
  • Risk was reduced in the majority of cases. However, trends in risk reduction or increase correlate to different groups. Changes in risk from lower to higher correlates to the following groups 1. females experience violence from male partner, 2. females experiencing violence from male partners with complex needs (related to male or family), 3. same sex relationships
  • Victims/survivors received 4-7 multi agency interventions. There was not correlation between support given and risk reduction.
  • Interview results included
    • 57% reported reduced risk
    • 96% reported a good or excellent service
    • 80% felt health improved
    • 80% felt safer
    • 63% felt more confident contacting support services

 Cumbria– children

  • 91% victims rated the service for their children and good or excellent
  • 80% reported children’s health and wellbeing improved

 Cumbria– Perpetrators

  • Number of cases finalised at court increased from 29 in 2006 – 111 in 2008

 Conclusions from the Research

  •  There was evidence that the early intervention, specialist model was effective in Gateshead in terms of its impact on victim/survivors and, through the work of the police and CPS, perpetrator accountability.
  • The numbers of children provided a service by the Projects indicated that the children’s services were filling an important gap in provision and should be maintained.
  • Early identification of Complex and Atypical victim/survivors using a needs assessment checklist could benefit strategic, funding and operational agendas
  • Training should be developed to build confidence in practitioners to motivate and undertake preparatory work with perpetrators so that they engage with voluntary perpetrator programmes.
  • Monitoring and evaluation systems should be agreed and embedded in new initiatives as early as possible, and management and practitioners should be encouraged to recognise the usefulness of monitoring for operational as well as strategic, funding and evaluation agendas.
  • MA initiatives wishing to monitor and evidence the impact of complex issues such as domestic violence should explore ways of ‘stitching together’ and tracking cases across as well as within agencies to facilitate monitoring the trajectory of cases both individually and globally.

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