The Children And Families Court Advisory And Support Service (Cafcass) has announced details of new tools to asses cases featuring domestic abuse, a common feature in much of their casework.
Explaining work in this area Sarah Parsons, Cafcass Principal Social Worker and Assistant Director, says: “Cafcass practitioners will assess the risk of harm to children in cases where domestic abuse is a concern, including harm from witnessing or hearing the ill-treatment within families. We use a range of evidence informed practice tools to consider whether these behaviours may be present and the level of risk.
“These provide a structure in which to assess the impact on the individual children involved, bringing focus to our enquiries. It’s critically important we get this assessment right. Use of the tools strengthens our recommendations to court on how children’s welfare can be safeguarded, ensuring these are clearly rooted in the ‘evidence’ gathered.”
Existing tools include the domestic abuse tool, ‘What we need to know’, the Safe Lives DASH checklist and Banardo’s Domestic Violence Risk Identification matrix (DV RIM). Two new tools, featured below, were introduced following the review to further support thorough assessment of the risks for children where domestic abuse is a factor.
Sarah adds: “We worked with relevant partner-organisations and referred to current legislation and research, to ensure our tools reflect the most up-to-date practice and understanding around domestic abuse.”
Domestic Abuse Pathway
The pathway assists with the systematic analysis of domestic abuse cases, without being overly risk averse. Linda Nelmes, Service Manager, National Commissioning Team, who led on the development of the DA tools, says: “The pathway provides practitioners with a structured, focused and stepped framework for assessing risk in cases featuring domestic abuse. It helps practitioners identify key risk factors and stimulates critical thinking.
“Working on the idea of a ‘golden thread’, it supports practitioners to establish a clear connection between their initial lines of enquiry and the final order. It also helps draw out the impact of domestic abuse on children so practitioners can evidence this confidently.”
Assessment of Coercive Control tool
Another introduction is the Assessment of Coercive Control tool, which should be used where the Safe Lives Dash assessment has identified elements of coercive or controlling behaviour.
Coercive control is now recognised in law as being an aspect of the domestic abuse. This change reflects growing understanding around the extent and range of domestic abuse behaviours, many not relating to a single event but a pattern which takes place over time, with one person exerting power, control or coercion over another.
The tool highlights features that are often present with coercive control and supports practitioners to assess this dynamic more fully within the context of applications. “It helps to delve deeper and assess the nature and intensity of behaviours,” says Linda.