Whole-system change needed to tackle crime epidemic against women and girls

Radical cross-sector reform and better multi-agency working to protect women and girls from violent offences is needed immediately, an interim report has found.

20/07/21

Whole-system change needed to tackle crime epidemic against women and girls

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) says fundamental system-wide change is needed to tackle an epidemic of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG), despite improvements in police responses.

The inspectorate said there is an epidemic of offending against women and girls with an estimated 1.6 million women in England and Wales experiencing domestic abuse in the 12 months to March 2020.

HMICFRS said a whole-system approach is needed to tackle the problem, involving not only the police but also other partners such as the health, social care, the Crown Prosecution Service, and education.

The findings are part of the inspectorate’s interim report, which aims to help inform the Government’s VAWG strategy, with its final report to be published in September. It reviewed evidence from previous inspections, consulted with experts from policing, Government and victim support organisations, and analysed the progress made by the police.

The report criticised a lack of funding across services, saying the Government, police, criminal justice system and public sector should immediately and unequivocally commit to prioritising the response to violence against women and girls, and support it with sufficient funding to achieve its mandated responsibilities. It further argued that funding and structures should be put in place to ensure victims receive tailored and consistent support.

There was a lack of clarity around the roles and responsibilities of partners in multi-agency working, as well as a lack of consistency, the report found.

“Each partner agency – whether local authority, health, social care or education – needs to have clear responsibilities and play an active role in the partnership,” the report stated.

“There are some examples where this happens, but usually on a small scale and without enough funding to achieve longer-term goals.”

It said one such example is the multi-agency risk assessment conference: locally held meetings where statutory and voluntary agency representatives come together and share information about high-risk domestic abuse victims.

However, by their very nature, these conferences only ever consider the highest-risk cases, and the report found that while referrals can come from police or other agencies, there is not often a joined-up approach between the various groups who take part. Within one family, the adult victim’s case and some elements of a child’s case may be considered through one multi-agency process and other elements of the child’s case through another. This can result in the doubling of effort and, occasionally, gaps in provision.

The report also praised innovative multi-agency working examples, like the Harm Reduction Unit (HRU) run by Cheshire Constabulary, the Probation Service, Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, and Cheshire and Wirral Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which aims to manage the risks associated with stalking and serial domestic abuse, and to provide specialist independent advocacy support for victims.

“The victim-centred approach enables the HRU to shine a spotlight on both the victim and the behaviour of serial perpetrators through a range of evidence-based interventions aimed at holding the perpetrator to account. The HRU’s multi-agency working enables it to make sure the victim is fully supported, and the day-to-day management of the perpetrator is co-ordinated, seamless and responsive, giving them the best opportunity to overcome and change their thinking and behaviour.”

Zoë Billingham, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, said we are living during a national epidemic of violence against women and girls.

“The prevalence and range of offending and harm is stark and shocking. We are clear that the police have made great progress over the last decade against a backdrop of greater demand, and we want forces to maintain this momentum and build on these improvements. But there is still evidence of inconsistent support for victims and low prosecution rates.

“Offending against women and girls is deep-rooted and pervasive in our society. Urgent action is needed to uproot and address this and police cannot solve this alone. There must be a seamless approach to preventing and tackling violence against women and girls across the whole system, including education, local authorities, health, social care and those from across the criminal justice system – with all agencies working together.

“A radical and immediate change in approach is needed, supported by sustained funding and mandated responsibilities, potentially through a new statutory framework.”

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