20 Sep, 2021

RMA Blog: Supporting victim safety

OLR Case Worker Hayley Warburton is dedicated to supporting victims of domestic abuse. Hayley has experience of working for a specialist independent domestic abuse advocacy service in Scotland and she’s worked with a Family Safeguarding Team in a Domestic Abuse (Probation) Officer role in England.

In 2020, Hayley began the Professional Development Award available to practitioners working in Scotland as an Independent Domestic Abuse Advocate (IDAA). Here, she tells us about her experience of the training and how her new skills support her role as OLR Case Worker with the RMA.

Having worked as a Probation Officer in England for over 15 years, I’ve always held a keen interest in public protection, specifically the response to victims of domestic abuse. The impact for a victim can be so complex, wide-ranging and deeply traumatic.  The nature and level of risk presented to victims of domestic abuse on a daily basis reflects epidemic proportions.  Victim safety should therefore always be at the heart of our justice system.

In 2020 I was motivated to gain the IDAA qualification to build on my previous experience, and to update my knowledge of current legislation, policy, and practice in relation to domestic abuse. The IDAA training is delivered in partnership with ASSIST, Safelives and Scottish Women’s Aid and aims to equip practitioners with the knowledge and skills to offer a consistent, safe and effective response to high risk victims of domestic abuse.

The RMA is so uniquely placed in the criminal justice system, and ensuring that victim safety remains central to the work that we do is a key priority. The RMA has a specific responsibility for ensuring that robust risk assessment and risk management practices are in place to reduce the risk of serious harm posed by individuals subject to an Order for Lifelong Restriction (OLR).  Victim safety planning is a critical management strategy within Risk Management Plans for individuals subject to an OLR. In my role as OLR case worker, I have responsibility for evaluating victim safety planning strategies and actions to ensure compliance with RMA Standards and Guidelines. Through the IDAA training, I’ve been able to develop a more detailed knowledge of the dynamics of domestic abuse, the impact for victims, and best practice in terms of supporting victims to increase their safety.

Having completed the first two modules (of four) just before the pandemic hit, the course then had to be suspended.  I was then able to complete the final two modules earlier this year through online delivery (a first for the IDAA course in Scotland!). It was brilliant to link in again with other course members whose contributions and shared experiences were hugely valuable and inspiring.

I often felt in awe of the level of skill, knowledge, expertise and dedication in the room (both physical and virtual!) from practitioners collectively striving to meet the very best practice in terms of victim safety.

The course included contributions from a range of guest speakers, including the Procurator Fiscal for Domestic Abuse and representatives from the Police Domestic Abuse Coordination Unit. The joint protocol between Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service outlines best practice in terms of investigation and prosecution in domestic abuse cases, and sets out the standards of service that victims can expect.

Completing the course during the pandemic highlighted the escalated risks presented to victims of domestic abuse, and the additional challenges experienced by the services who support them. Sentencing outcomes during this period have seen fewer perpetrators remanded in custody for repeated breaches of bail, an increase in Fines as sentencing disposals and fewer Non Harassment Orders granted.  Lengthy delays to court cases have also been well documented, significantly increasing the level of distress and trauma experienced by victims.

One of the most powerful learning points for me from my experience of undertaking the course is the strength of passion, commitment and determination within the field to advocate for change and reform to improve the safety of those who experience domestic abuse.

Another key learning point for me is the critical importance of partnership working.  A multi-agency response is integral to managing the risks presented to victims of domestic abuse. Involvement in multi-agency partnerships, such as the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC), provides the opportunity for information, knowledge and expertise to be shared from a range of services to ensure effective and efficient safety planning for victims of domestic abuse and their children. Individual agencies may hold relevant information/insight that is critical to informing robust safety planning, for example, information regarding perpetrators from Criminal Justice Social Work or Police. Important information can also be held by other statutory agencies in relation to children and vulnerable adults.

These partnership arrangements also allow the IDAA to share pertinent, relevant information with such agencies to ensure that the perspective of the client (in relation to their safety and individual circumstances) is represented.   Sharing this information within agreed protocols ensures that the ‘complete picture’* of risk is identified and understood.  Gaps in information can escalate risk and therefore the management of risk should not be the responsibility of any single agency in isolation. Each agency has a specific role to play in holistic and defensible decision making in terms of safety planning.

A priority for the RMA this year is to work with victim agencies and to undertake research with a view to evaluating our Standards and Guidelines and Risk Management Plans, including victim safety planning.  By developing our understanding of the impact on victims, we aim to identify areas where our Standards and Guidelines and Risk Management Plans can be adapted to better support victim safety planning.

The IDAA training and qualification has increased my contact and links with victim support agencies. I look forward to building on these relationships and putting what I’ve learned into practice.  For me, anything I can do to contribute to improving practice in this field – even if it helps just one person – will have made a difference.

Hayley Warburton
OLR Case Worker

Hayley joined the RMA in September 2017 as an OLR Case Worker. She qualified as a Probation Officer (England and Wales) in 2001 and was employed with Merseyside and Cheshire Probation Trusts before relocating to Scotland in 2012. Hayley is passionate about victim safety and supporting victims of domestic abuse; she has recently attained her PDA in Domestic Abuse Advocacy (IDAA).

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