The Scrutiny Support Officer presented a report to provide the Community Safety and Leisure Scrutiny Panel with an outline of the purpose and format of the meeting.
The Principal Homelessness and Domestic Violence (DV) Co-ordinator was in attendance at the Panel to provide further information in relation to the Councils Strategy for DV, funding arrangements, the current level of Domestic Violence (DV) in Middlesbrough and partnership working arrangements.
New guidelines had been issued by the Government on what constituted Domestic Violence (DV). The guidelines on DV had now been extended to include 16 and 17 year olds. Previously teenagers were not necessarily deemed within the criminal justice system to be victims.
The updated definition of DV was 'Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who were or had been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This could encompass, but was not limited to, the following types of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, financial, and emotional.'
Domestic violence and abuse generally took place between people who knew each other and were in a relationship. Data from Co-ordinated Action against Domestic Abuse (CAADA) included in the submitted report stated that two women per week were killed by their current or ex-partner and estimated that there were 100,000 victims at high risk of serious harm or murder and 130,000 children living with them. Where children were present in the family home when DV was committed, approximately 50% would become victims of abuse, either directly as a result of that relationship or in separate incidents.
As a crime incident, DV was difficult to measure because there was no single criminal offence of DV. It was difficult get data because incidents were not always reported and DV was often included with other offences. It was highlighted that obtaining reliable data on DV was an issue and had been for a number of years.
The level of reported DV in Middlesbrough was consistently high and one of the highest in the country. Data from Cleveland Police indicated that there was a much higher incident rate where they had drilled down beyond violence against the person to see what DV incidents were. There were approximately 4000 incidents last year and the rate of repeat offences was 40%. The number of incidents between the same perpetrator and victim was quite high in comparison to other areas. It was highlighted that there were good services for reporting in Middlesbrough and this could play a part in the high rates recorded.
A number of measures were used to measure the impact of DV including loss of accommodation. Typically someone fleeing a DV situation would choose to leave home and 80% of Middlesbroughs homeless cases involved someone fleeing DV.
The Sanctuary Scheme enabled victims of DV in Middlesbrough who wanted to remain in their family home to do so. Target hardening measures such as the installation of door locks, security alarms and extra lighting as well as support agencies keeping in regular contact with victims enabled them to remain in their homes.
An analysis of the data available indicated that Middlesbrough did have a problem with DV. However, there was a good, although not complete, range of provision to respond to the issues. There did appear to be a potential imbalance with responsive work weighted more heavily against prevention work. Other areas with high deprivation rates did not appear to have the same issues with DV.
The strategic and commissioning approach had been centred on the priorities of preventing abuse, protecting and assisting victims and assisting perpetrators. Some good partnership work had taken place and there had been a number of awareness raising campaigns including an International Womens Day. Partnership work had taken place with Substance Misuse services as there was a cohort of complex vulnerable people in Middlesbrough who suffered very serious abuse and exploitation.
It was noted that there was currently little support for perpetrators and awareness raising of the resources available was a critical issue. Perpetrators who were homeless would often go on to other homes and a single perpetrator could have more than five victims.
The ongoing challenges in Middlesbrough were detailed in the submitted report. Healthy relationship work with children and young people was a priority. This had become more difficult because of social media and some of the cultural influences that young people were exposed to. Identifying and using opportunities outside of school to engage with young people was important. It was suggested that some schools had concerns about discussing DV with pupils. However this had also been the case in the past with topics such as bullying, substance misuse and teenage pregnancy which were now tackled by schools. It was suggested that Middlesbrough schools could be asked whether the topic of DV was included in their curriculums.
A number of organisations including the Police, Thirteen Housing, Teesside University, Middlesbrough College and the Council provided training for frontline staff. However sometimes front line knowledge was lost through staff turnover. There needed to be a commitment from key organisations to provide training on DV and to ensure work place policies were in place.
A new strategy was under development which would ensure vision, framework and co-ordination and strengthen prevention measures within local provision. More information on presentations and disclosures to health services from victims and perpetrators of domestic violence as well as provision for perpetrators would be included.
Middlesbrough Council took a lead role in co-ordinating the local partnership in respect of DV and chaired the Domestic Abuse Strategic Partnership (DASP). The key partners were detailed on page seven of the submitted report.
Development work in respect of the new Preventing Domestic Abuse Strategy had commenced and needed to continue, along with associated commission. DASP agencies had been involved in workshops and discussions to consult on preferred operating models, particularly in relation to ensuring good communication with the Police and health agencies.
The Strategic Priorities to reduce DV in Middlesbrough were to: prevent offending, prevent re-offending, support victims and monitor and challenge.
From analysis of Police data there appeared to be areas of the town where the rates of DV were higher. Further links with the Community Policing Teams in those areas would be useful as would better links with health professionals. First disclosures by DV victims were often made to GPs, health visitors, midwives and other health workers.
It was highlighted that many of the programmes offered to perpetrators through the Courts were very good but unfortunately not all incidents of DV resulted in a Court appearance. Some victims of DV were very complex individuals themselves and alcohol and substance misuse were often part of their problems.
In response to a query regarding DV towards parents and the elderly, it was clarified that this did occur but was not as prevalent as within the 25-44 year old age group. This type of abuse would be picked up in adult safeguarding services.
National research had shown a connection with the socio economic climate and although DV was cross-cutting across all ages and cultures there was a clear link between the austerity measures and a rise in DV.
Young people from homes with DV sometimes presented themselves to the Homeless Team or 0-19 Services. Help would be offered to provide them with age appropriate accommodation and other support including for their emotional wellbeing.
With regard to funding, DV was now included in the Supporting Communities Outcome and it had been identified that whilst a lot of reactive services were commissioned the emphasis needed to be shifted to more preventative services.
AGREED that the information provided was received and noted.