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Changing the landscape of domestic violence

Source: PSE - April/ May 16

In 2014, Manchester City Council committed to tackle domestic violence by reshaping and streamlining major services. The local authority’s strategic director for adult social care, Hazel Summers, explains what this reform means for the city’s public bodies.

Two years ago, 10 councils were handed up to £100,000 each to help transform specific public services under the ‘Delivering Differently’ programme. One of the winners, Manchester City Council, pledged an overhaul of its domestic violence services – not because there was something inherently wrong with them, but because services were more reactive than proactive, Hazel Summers, the council’s strategic director for adult social care, told PSE. 

As part of the project, consultants from the DCLG analysed the council’s existing work and produced a 90-page report pitching suggestions on how to reform and streamline its domestic violence and abuse (DV&A) services. While there were a number of successful DV&A services in Manchester, most of the programmes commissioned across the health, social care and police sectors were failing to focus on early identification and prevention. 

In February last year, the council agreed that the budget for these services would not be subject to cuts and embarked on a four-month review process of all its commissioned DV&A programmes. The gaps identified in the review are being tackled in major service reforms and will be formally addressed in the council’s upcoming domestic violence strategy, set to be published in May or June. 

According to Summers, who said some of the recommendations in the consultants’ report have already been implemented, the council has been working closely with the city’s police and crime commissioner and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to bring in a series of different and integrated interventions.

Early intervention 

One of these is the planned extension of the IRIS (Identification and Referral to Improve Safety) project, funded predominantly by CCGs but helped by the council. In it, GPs are trained to recognise signs of domestic abuse – even if people don’t disclose this – and refer them to specialist DV&A services. 

Another is the decision to place staff in the city’s three maternity wards who are tasked with spotting signs of domestic violence and asking women the right questions. This, Summers said, is part of the council’s push to ensure its services are “all about early identification”. 

The development of Early Health Hubs across Manchester has also been key to this ambition. “This is where we get to people earlier, before issues become complex and they need to access expensive care services,” she said. “In each of those Early Help Hubs, we have trained all the staff around domestic violence: what to do, where to signpost and what interventions to drawdown on – and that is a key part of our public service reform programme.” 

Working with the voluntary sector 

The next steps in the DV&A services reform is advancing work with multi-agency safeguarding hubs – which deals with children affected by domestic abuse in their families – and MARAC (Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference) procedures, a police-run process. 

“The second thing is launching the strategy, and to make sure we keep up to date, making sure we train people and really evaluate to see whether the interventions we put in place are the right ones,” said Summers. 

She highlighted the contribution of the voluntary and community sector (VCS) to streamlining DV&A services. While this has been of particular note since the DCLG consultants published their report, Manchester’s VCS has long been hailed for its positive contribution in the DV&A field. However, DV&A service providers have more formally come together in the last year, helping turn major reform ambitions into a “long co-production exercise” between the public and voluntary sectors. 

Reaping the rewards of devolution 

But co-production hasn’t stopped there. “We’ve all been learning from each other as we are putting these programmes together,” she explained. “Our Delivering Differently programme hasn’t sat in a vacuum over to one side; it’s been an integral part of what we’re developing under public service reform.” 

This has also extended to public cash pots. While not formally establishing pooled budgets, groups involved in the D&VA reform have combined their funding to achieve the service needed. Summers hailed this form of integrated commissioning between public bodies as the essence of devolution, and hoped that, as devolved services become more integrated and efficient, Greater Manchester can develop a more consistent approach to the way it delivers services.

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