'A duty to protect residents from abuse should sit at the heart of our service.'
Karen Allsop from Bolton at Home, one of the first organisations to sign up for our new Make a Stand campaign, explains what her organisation is doing to help residents experiencing domestic abuse.
Each year, more domestic abuse victims ask us for help. Yet the fact there are more disclosures doesn't necessarily reflect that there is more domestic abuse happening in our neighbourhoods, or even that people are more willing to come forward. It does show that our tenants know that they can come to us.
It still surprises me that we continue to be one of the few social housing providers to have a specialist DAV team in-house. Why is this?
I can't help but feel certain assumptions can influence decision makers to leave domestic abuse to specialist agencies or deal with it as part of anti-social behaviour services. We could all assume that victims will want to move house and that, in addition to paying more staff, comes at a big cost.
Our experience at Bolton at Home challenges these assumptions and might just help give you a more compelling case to consider a specialist team, or by strengthening networks with referral pathways into domestic abuse specialist services working in local authorities.
We created our first domestic violence officer role in 2004. Now we have two full-time officers, a part-time domestic violence administration officer and a new enforcement role to work with perpetrators in partnership with the police and probation.
Our focus hasn't changed in the last 14 years, we continue to work with victims to achieve their aims and we work more than ever with support agencies across Bolton to get the right outcomes for people who need help.
We work with specialist victim support services in Bolton, such as Fortalice and Endeavour, Bolton Councils' Community Safety and Children's Services. We are also on multi agency steering groups, including MARAC and the Domestic Abuse and Violence Partnership.
Whilst some things haven't changed, there has been a major difference that we have needed to learn from and respond to. More victims want to stay where they are.
There were 4,162 properties flagged for domestic abuse or violence in Bolton last year. This figure has more than doubled in three years. However the number of management moves that we have arranged has consistently decreased, down to just six cases last year. More people are choosing not to leave their home and family support networks, and don't want to disturb their children's routines or be stressed by moving to an unfamiliar place.
We have listened and adapted our approach, especially in terms of personal security and target hardening within the home. Once our offer was window and door locks, now we can consider security lights and silent alarms with trained staff listening in and ready to alert the police if needed. And where there is a joint tenancy we will support the victim to access legal advice in relation to occupancy orders and dissolving the joint tenancy.
There can be no sweeping approach. We must respond to each person's circumstances and we don't believe it is appropriate to measure performance when it comes to helping victims. However the evidence shows us that providing more specialist support in this area has resulted in fewer transfers and void properties, a significant return on investment in our team.
Our team is skilled, experienced and committed, however we continue to invest, recognising the work they do and support they require. We have recently introduced clinical supervision. It gives our officers opportunities to sit down with a clinical supervisor and discuss anything that could be a cause for concern or stress, and to reflect on cases.
We feel a duty to support our victims beyond protection and recovery from abuse, and our team is part of our wider tenancy support and sustainment service. So when our specialist support for domestic abuse is coming to an end, our officers connect our tenants with other colleagues in the organisation who offer information, guidance and support - such as money advice - all geared towards helping people move from crisis and vulnerability to tenancy sustainability.
It is reassuring that tenants know to come to us for safety as victims of domestic abuse. It shows that we have made progress when they choose to remain engaged with us for a brighter future.
Karen Allsop is housing support and sustainment manager at Bolton a Home.