NBeresford presented the new Domestic Abuse Policy, noting that the papers and policy have been through a number of consultation and engagement sessions through the police committees, the member briefing sessions, in Cabinet and SLT. They have also been scrutinised externally with extensive feedback from partners across the country.
NBeresford advised that they are introducing two new policies, (1) a dedicated policy for employees and (2) a policy for residents, tenants and members. These policies are in line with the DAHA framework recommended good practice and they outline a number of clear expectations and the approach to tackling domestic abuse in Dacorum. The accompanying paper documents DBC's ongoing commitment to achieving overarching DAHA accreditation. NBeresford noted that the work has been led by JBartlett to ensure that services are exemplar.
Cllr Pringle commended the proactive steps being taken and noted how having immediate help will positively benefit outcomes for families.
Cllr Johnson asked for further clarification regarding the Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Order. JBartlett advised that these are the lead provisions with notices translating into an order and will provide immediate protection to families and victims in the aftermath of an incident with police intervention potentially translating into an order. The aim is this will be simplified legal protection for victims and will take into account other existing processes, such as injunctions. JBartlett advised that they have liaised with local police and put in an internal process to respond to them with the expectation that the police will notify DBC when there has been an issue to a Dacorum resident and steps will then be proactively taken. This is work in progress and this will be reviewed to monitor how well the process works.
Cllr Pringle asked if they would be consulting victims, their families and social services and how they will get feedback. JBartlett explained that they are looking to gather feedback from survivors as well as look at case closure processes. Feedback processes are built into the work and JBartlett confirmed that this would be done in a way that will not be too onerous on the victim.
Cllr Pringle queried if matters would automatically be referred to DBC. NBeresford advised that she will also be responsible for Community Safety as part of her new remit and that they do work through the responsibilities of officer groups to identify where serious case reviews are required, which will be identified and recommended by the Safeguarding Board at county level. This recommendation is then submitted to the Chief Executive.
Cllr Pringle requested that an automatic review take place of any serious incidents that take place in DBC properties. Cllr Pringle noted that whilst not all domestic cases are reported, incidents may come to light through property reports. NBeresford agreed, noting that this is part of the lessons learned process and how to identify cases earlier. NBeresford noted JBartlett's work that allows them to implement processes and procedures through contract management and attendance of repair activity at properties to help with identification. On the lessons learned process, the Community Safety Team will lead a strategic assessment implementation and engagement activity with partners. JBartlett added that the case management aspect of the work strongly advocates regular reflective practice and that she is currently undertaking a sample case review against the accreditation framework they are assessed against. As this is built into processes, reflective practice will be ongoing.
Cllr Harden commented on internal damage to properties as a result of domestic abuse and asked about the process of repairing damage and how the individual is treated. NBeresford advised that this would depend on how the incident is reported. Where there is a serious crime or incident, there is a response turnaround that ensures the repair takes place within an emergency period. If an incident occurs during a working day or is identified as a potential crime or incident that may be identified as domestic abuse, these are flagged sensitively by staff internally. NBeresford noted the importance of not making assumptions and that officers will have the appropriate information available to them to identify potential indicators of domestic abuse or other activity to then provide the right level of support or signposting.
Cllr Harden noted that some damage can be caused by victims out of frustration. NBeresford agreed and noted that additional layers of support being built into the service are around interventions for safe practice of staff, such as trauma-informed support and trauma-informed case management. It was noted that JBartlett is also exploring initiatives that enable DBC to consider how funding can be covered for legal services and addressing issues regarding costs where damage has been caused that may not have been known as domestic abuse in the first instance.
Cllr Stevens asked if there is a way for neighbours to report abuse of victims without their identities being disclosed. JBartlett advised that there are ways to report cases anonymously and that the police have processes in place to ensure this can take place. The team will ensure they are proactive with information reported to them and understanding that noise or nuisance complaints could be indicators of domestic abuse.
Cllr Harden noted that the national helplines are very useful and recommended that these also be used.
Cllr Pringle asked that further details be recorded when noise complaints are being made and recommended that staff be trained to ensure they are recording this information. NBeresford confirmed that they have a domestic violence IFA (ph) who is based within the service once a week to enable all staff to take cases where there are concerns to this individual to discuss the most effective form of approach. This is funded through existing funding frameworks across the service. There is also a dedicated casework management review panel where officers can seek guidance on next steps. The panel is attended by officers of varying levels and receives senior management and safeguarding input. NBeresford stated that there are arrangements in place to support staff and that everything embedded in the service is interlinked with the Community Safety Partnership Framework with the Domestic Abuse Lead Officer and IFAs and is also overseen by the Safeguarding Lead Officer who can give consideration to other areas around safeguarding.
Cllr Pringle noted the importance of public awareness and advised that this could be promoted in and around nurseries and primary schools as this is often the one journey that those who are being coerced and controlled can make each day. Other parents should be educated in what a coercively controlled person looks like and encouraging human curiosity could lead to help for victims. Cllr Pringle stated that the general awareness in the community is far behind professional awareness. NBeresford agreed and advised that JBartlett has led a number of campaigns. JBartlett confirmed that she held a drop-in event with the library to raise awareness of domestic abuse. It is hoped that this partnership will be continued and can be replicated across the borough. There will also be an internal comms plan to ensure awareness is promoted internally. JBartlett reflected on the importance of highlighting domestic abuse and that this will help people engaging with these discussions. It was also noted that JBartlett went on Radio Dacorum in collaboration with Hertfordshire Domestic Abuse Helpline to discuss the 60 Days of Action. It was agreed that this would be included in the next Members' News.
Cllr Barry-Mears commented on the policy for residents, tenants and members and asked if this would be sent to residents and tenants. It was noted that it would be available on the website. Cllr Barry-Mears advised that she has called the police regarding a domestic incident and that they were told it has to be reported by the victim. It was noted that the policy would therefore help empower people when reporting incidents. NBeresford confirmed that there would be a communication launch once the policy has been signed off by Cabinet to ensure awareness amongst residents and tenants. NBeresford clarified that the information that Cllr Barry-Mears received on reporting a domestic violence incident was incorrect and asked that further examples of this be sent to her to look into further. JBartlett added that the policy would also be promoted through tenancy sign-up packs and will be referred to in the tenancy agreement. Appendices will be available and information will be clearly signposted on the website.
NBeresford noted that information would be made available to members and asked that they contact the team with any concerns.
Cllr Adeleke asked how widespread domestic violence is within Dacorum compared to national levels and asked if victims are coming forward more compared to the last two years. NBeresford advised that it is difficult to compare Dacorum to the national average as domestic abuse statistic figures are still fairly new, though there has been a spike in reporting since the Domestic Abuse Act was brought in and this is accepted to grow. There was a large spike in reporting throughout the World Cup given the proactive media reporting. NBeresford noted that domestic abuse is not always initially identified as such and stated that figures are not higher or lower than any other local authorities, though Dacorum is rated third out of ten in terms of domestic abuse reporting with particularly high levels seen in some wards. NBeresford confirmed that further details could be provided and that there are quarterly reports through the Dacorum Policing Unit. JBartlett added that whilst there has been a spike in reporting, it is too soon to see if this was due to an increased prevalence or an increase in awareness.
The Chair referred to the list of what is classed as domestic abuse on page 35 of the report and asked if this would be considered for future campaigns. The Chair commented on the time it takes for domestic abuse to be reported and asked how this could be improved. Cllr Griffiths agreed, noting that they need to highlight other forms of domestic abuse.
It was noted that schools should be looking at raising awareness around domestic abuse. NBeresford agreed, adding that they need to look at how to reach more hard-to-reach communities. NBeresford advised that they deliver Home Truths sessions, as funded through Homeless Prevention grant funding, and that this goes into schools. These sessions touch on a number of difficult areas around drug misuse and activities that may lead to or relate to financial abuse, isolation, peer pressure and unhealthy relationships. Commitment is required from all schools to take these sessions on board and it was noted that not all schools want these sessions delivered.
Cllr Dhyani asked if information could be included in the resident newsletters to help raise general awareness. It was stated that information could be given on what steps to take if people want to report domestic abuse. JBartlett noted that a domestic abuse statement was recently circulated. The importance of getting the message to schools was noted.
The Chair asked how people should proceed if the victim does not want to press charges. NBeresford advised that whilst people can continue to report, they can't force someone to report or seek advice and help that is being offered. It is important to continue to discuss what help is available and ensuring that safeguarding is prioritised, including additional monitoring with schools and target hardening of the home.
It was noted that culture has changed over time and that the police will conduct a risk assessment. If there is enough evidence to proceed without the involvement of the victim, this will frequently take place and therefore this relies on building a case. It was stated that creating logs of evidence is therefore crucial to help the police establish an offence.
Cllr Dhyani queried if police officers receive specific training or if DBC can run any training to ensure that the police have more confidence to take action. JBartlett advised that there is training as part of the Domestic Abuse Act and that a Perpetrator Strategy is due to be published. It was noted all police should be trained and the effectiveness of this is dependent on the culture of the particular police force. NBeresford added that DBC have an accredited internal programme available to all staff and members. This programme is continually reviewed and this information will feed into the Community Safety Partnership recommendations made.
Cllr Dhyani asked if DBC will be informed in the early stages of reporting. JBartlett suggested that information would be received by the Community Safety team. NBeresford advised that the new Housing Service and Safe Community structure has been developed to allow the team to work more strategically with services.
It was noted that NBeresford was successful at interview and is now Assistant Director for Housing Operations and Safe Communities.