Barking and Dagenham Council – Giving victims and survivors control over where they live

In 2019, Barking and Dagenham set up the ‘Barking and Dagenham Domestic Abuse Commission’ (BDDAC) to examine the attitudes in the local community around domestic abuse, review the council’s service provision in response to domestic abuse and create a blueprint for other local authorities to follow.


Context

In 2019, Barking and Dagenham set up the ‘Barking and Dagenham Domestic Abuse Commission’ (BDDAC) to examine the attitudes in the local community around domestic abuse, review the council’s service provision in response to domestic abuse and create a blueprint for other local authorities to follow. At the heart of the BDDAC and Barking and Dagenham’s domestic abuse strategy was giving back power to victims and survivors. BDDAC’s report was co-produced and led by survivors of domestic abuse.

We wanted to give victims and survivors control over how they moved on with their lives. In practice, this meant turning the way we think about domestic abuse on its head"

- Hazel North Stephens, Domestic Abuse Commissioning Manager, Barking and Dagenham

Barking and Dagenham recognised domestic abuse was and still is a significant challenge locally. In 2019 it had the highest reported incidents of domestic abuse to the police in London. A survey, in 2017 and again in 2019, revealed that 26 per cent of young people thought it was sometimes acceptable to hit your partner. Additionally, prior to 2019, service provision within Barking and Dagenham was limited, with only one service available and limited data monitoring to determine whether it was meeting the needs of victims and survivors.

Starting with a blank canvas, the BDDAC discussed the possibility, as part of a wider workshop which explored housing opportunities for survivors, of whether the perpetrator should be the one to move out of the family home. In the current system, victims and survivors are expected to leave the home which further reinforces the loss of control and agency they had experienced at the hands of the perpetrator. Barking and Dagenham were particularly interested in the possibility of providing short-term accommodation to the perpetrator alongside an evidence-informed programme of behaviour change work.

What did they do?

In recognition that this was a new way of looking at the problem but recognising that the safety of victims and survivors was the priority, Barking Dagenham designed an innovative programme informed through co-design. They brought together professionals and partners utilising their skills, knowledge and experience from across the system. They involved victims and survivors, as well as potential service users to inform the model.

The key learnings from the co-design process were:

  • A strict criterion would be required to determine which perpetrators would be appropriate for short-term accommodation. For example, if the perpetrator’s behaviour was stalking, or any correlation to stalking, it could put the victim and survivor and children at more risk. Therefore, they built a strong assessment process; the first part of which was conducted by a specialist provider; the second part was a review by a multi-agency panel to determine whether the referral was appropriate.
  • A financial assessment of the victim and survivor would need to be carried out following the perpetrator vacating the property.  For example, if the perpetrator was the only source of income for the household it could leave victims and survivors financially vulnerable. Therefore, they created a financial assessment to determine whether targeted financial support towards the existing home would be required.

For the accommodation itself, Barking and Dagenham used property they had nomination rights for with the addition of twenty-four-hour security and a site manager. This was to ensure the safety of practitioners visiting the perpetrator. They could offer up to ten places over twelve months. Perpetrators would be offered a six-month tenancy agreement on the condition that they engaged with the behaviour change programme. In certain circumstances, Barking and Dagenham would consider paying for the accommodation if there was strong engagement from the perpetrator. 

The behaviour change programme could offer support for up to 100 perpetrators and would be based on one to one case management. It would be delivered by a team of three case managers, a service manager and a partner support service.

The entire service would be overseen by a steering group with all parties, which included the children safeguarding lead linking into the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub.

Impact and outcomes

The programme has so far had 58 referrals for the behaviour change programme and the council has offered two perpetrators short term accommodation.

A couple of perpetrators were staying in their cars. We hope the accommodation will enable them to fully engage with the behaviour change programme."

- Florence Henry ‘Domestic Abuse Commission Programme Manager’ Barking and Dagenham

The programme will be independently evaluated at the end of the 12-month period. Initial indications suggest the programme had enabled victims and survivors to have more choice over where they want to be. For example, one survivor whose perpetrator was housed mentioned that she had the first night’s sleep in years after he was moved into short-term accommodation.

The programme has also offered the opportunity to change the behaviour of perpetrators and subsequently their relationships, potentially leading to fewer children being taken into care with better longer-term outcomes for the whole family.

Barking and Dagenham have also seen a positive impact on the multi-agency approach to tackling domestic abuse, for example:

  • Social workers have reported that it has helped them work with the survivor, alongside the roll out of Safe and Together training which promotes understanding the perpetrators patterns of behaviour. It provides the language to build an alliance with the survivor and to hold the perpetrator accountable – keeping the children safe.
  • It has contributed to higher levels of trust between agencies, as it has fostered an environment wherein the whole family situation which includes the perpetrator can be discussed.

Lessons learnt

Gathering the evidence to convince commissioners to keep units for perpetrators in council nominated accommodation is critical

Barking and Dagenham have recognised the critical need to continually gather evidence to justify offering perpetrators short term accommodation, versus those who the council does have a duty to house. This is in addition to the programme evaluation which will inform a potential long-term case for housing perpetrators in short term accommodation.

Increasing awareness of the programme to increase referrals

Barking and Dagenham have found finding the appropriate cohort when developing an innovative programme takes at least twelve months and requires significant awareness building.

Adopt an agile way of working

With each case, Barking and Dagenham analysed what worked well and what didn’t to inform and develop the model, meeting weekly to discuss this.

Contact

Hazel North Stephens, Domestic Abuse Commissioning Manager (Hazel.NorthStephens@lbbd.gov.uk)