The new research into multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARACs) by Manchester Metropolitan University makes sobering reading, as outlined in this article in the Guardian on Tuesday.
It confirms what Women's Aid has heard over and over again from women who have experienced domestic violence and the response of public agencies, and from local specialist services who struggle to advocate for women and support their long-term recovery and independence.
It should be obvious that if you gather a group of managers from various agencies around a table with the objective of managing risk, without inviting the individual they are actually talking about (or even informing her clearly, in many cases), you are not likely to make a difference to her long-term well-being. If you want to develop a goal shared between survivor and professionals, meeting her needs and building on the strengths and resources she already has available, the MARAC is not the place to start.
Interestingly, the huge difference between sharing information between agencies - which is self-evidently vital - and actually providing a service has been recognised in the related world of adult safeguarding, where the Local Government's Association's guidance and toolkit, Making Safeguarding Personal, aims to identify the individual's needs and respond to them.
The introduction to the toolkit states: "It is vital that all organisations recognise that adult safeguarding arrangements are there to protect individuals. We all have different preferences, histories, circumstances and life-styles, so it is unhelpful to prescribe a process that must be followed whenever a concern is raised. Safeguarding should be person-led and outcome-focused. It engages the person in a conversation about how best to respond to their safeguarding situation in a way that enhances involvement, choice and control as well as improving quality of life, wellbeing and safety."
I have never heard even the most passionate advocate of MARACs describe them in this way. To do so would be utterly unrealistic.
Change is long overdue. That's why Women's Aid has developed Change that Lasts: a new response to women and children experiencing or escaping domestic violence and abuse. Change that Lasts opens up earlier opportunities for safe disclosure; ensures that the individual's strengths and needs are understood and that agencies plan for outcomes in partnership with the individual survivor; and provides support in navigating the bewildering array of agencies to the extent that the survivor's own needs and resources require.
Managing risk is simply the wrong objective when it comes to working with survivors. If you want to manage risk, deal with perpetrators more effectively. For a survivor, her safety and that of her children is a fundamental need - one among many others. Meeting those needs in a way that builds resilience and promotes independence must be the objective shared between the individual and all agencies involved. If you meet needs, you will address risk. But you can manage risk without meeting needs - as the current system shows all too clearly.