CAADA eNews - September/October 2012
CAADA speaks to Vera Baird QC about the introduction of Police and Crime
Local Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) will be elected on 15 November. CAADA recently spoke to Vera Baird QC, Labour candidate for the PCC role in Northumbria, to get her take on how domestic abuse services should be preparing for their introduction.
1. Why are you standing as a Police and Crime Commissioner and what is your interest in the violence against women and girls (VAWG) area?
One of the main reasons I am standing as a candidate is to ensure that Violence Against Women Services are safeguarded. There are threats to those services from the new Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) representatives, who will have wide budgetary responsibility and their own individual priorities. For this reason there is work to be done by the VAWG sector nationwide and I'm interested in being a part of it.
2. What opportunities do you think the introduction of PCCs will bring for specialist domestic abuse services?
Labour has developed five pledges (see below), on violence against women, which all Labour PCC candidates are committed to. Two of those pledges, I would suggest, are of particular relevance to CAADA. The first is a commitment to developing and rolling out an integrated local action plan on violence against women and girls in year one. PCCs are to deliver this plan and make sure it is prioritised in the local policing and crime plan.
Another of the pledges is to maintain specialist domestic violence and public protection units (PPUs) within the police service, as well as maintaining the network of independent advisors and advocates for women survivors.
A third pledge includes training commissioners of VAWG services. At the moment, there are people commissioning violence against women services with no or little experience of the sector and how it works, and many co-ordinator roles have been cut from local authorities. Stakeholder evidence sessions are needed in local areas to find out what ought to be being commissioned.
This pledge means that Labour PCCs will bring understanding of the sector and make sure commissioning is done properly. They will work with local authorities, the health sector, as well as Health and Wellbeing Boards, to drive training and therefore decent levels of comprehension.
I intend to work in a ‘total place' structure, ie with a pooled budget, to do joint commissioning, and I will use my leverage to drive training up the agenda.
3. What should high risk domestic abuse services, eg IDVAs and MARACs, be doing to prepare for the introduction of PCCs?
National organisations like CAADA should be looking at how to localise nationally based services to put IDVAs and MARACs onto the local agenda, since the cash for much of their work will now be in the hands of local PCCs. In the future this might involve streamlining or working with partner organisations.
But local services will also need to make sure that the work they undertake is on the agenda of their PCC. I would say that IDVAs may be better understood than MARACs, because it is easy to understand how a person in a vulnerable position ought to have a personal “adviser” to support them. The concept of regular multi-agency meetings to manage potentially dangerous situations is less straightforward and I would say that MARACs will have to ensure that they make new PCCs fully aware of their importance and their success so far.
4. CAADA's view is that IDVAs and MARACs are about ensuring someone's safety, by offering a victim the full range of safety options – including both the criminal justice system and family courts. 60% of MARAC referrals come from the police now, which means that 40% are coming through other means, for example health visitors who are identifying vulnerable women. What's your take on this?
This is good news. PCCs are likely to see MARACs and IDVAs as part of the criminal justice system, linked in particular to Specialist Domestic Violence Courts (SDVCs), though this is just a percentage of what they do. SDVCs are in decline through cuts pressure and if organisations like CAADA can ensure that IDVAs and MARACs are understood by PCCs to be important and get them well-resourced that may help to re-boost SDVCs.
5. CAADA is aware that there is currently around two thirds of the necessary capacity in terms of the number of IDVAs needed across England, Wales and NI. How can PCCs improve this situation? What would you do to ensure that specialist services, including IDVA and MARAC services, are maintained in Northumbria?
I see both IDVAs and MARACs as integral to a modern welfare state. It's about measuring need, not about calling their importance into question. But that isn't straightforward. Public protection units (PPUs) are trying to address domestic abuse properly so that victims build the confidence to report, but then there may be a need for greater capacity if more people feel enabled to report. So it's difficult to predict demand and what's realistic to commission. In Northumbria, the Chief Constable has committed to protecting frontline police officers, which means that centralising some specialist units which will reduce services. That might put the confidence building process into reverse or mean that demand can't be met, which is a hopeless position generated by funding cuts, and PCCs must be lobbied to tackle this.
6. The government has outlined the requirement for strong collaborative work between PCCs and other commissioner partners. CAADA believes that one of the key criteria for assessing outcomes for domestic abuse victims should be their safety and wellbeing. How will PCCs work with local authority commissioners to make sure specialist services demonstrate that they make a difference to the safety and wellbeing of victims in their area?
Local services will have to demonstrate outcomes, quantify them and show value for money.
The wellbeing of victims is vital and PCCs will be trying to join the health sector in commissioning services which meet that need whilst improving criminal justice outcomes where appropriate.
7. The local commissioning landscape is rapidly evolving and changing. There's evidence to suggest that some commissioners and public policy partners, including local councillors, do not have experience of commissioning a domestic abuse service and indeed, may have very little understanding of the issue. What will you do to get local partners and commissioners ‘on board'?
One real hazard for suppliers of violence against women services in this changing commissioning landscape is a mix-up between domestic violence and violence against women.
Further, the dynamics of domestic violence are little understood as can be seen by local authorities who commission domestic violence services from housing suppliers who deal with “vulnerable people”, including sex offenders coming out of prison, perpetrators of violence against women, people on drugs rehabilitation programmes. This is so worrying, we're going backwards. There's a huge job to do to drive intelligent commissioning, and this is what we're so interested in.
8. What's your take on the government's announced change of the definition of domestic violence, to include teenagers?
I'm broadly supportive of this – there's strong research which suggests that this is a highly relevant age.
Labour's Five Pledges on violence against women
Develop and roll out an integrated local action plan to tackle violence against women and girls in the first year of office appointing a lead specialist to deliver it and ensuring it is incorporated and prioritised in the local Crime and Policing plan
Tackle the culture of violence against women and girls, working with schools local authorities and community-based organisations to change attitudes and behaviour
Maintain specialist domestic violence and public protection units within the police service and maintain the important existing network of independent advisors and advocates to women survivors of violence
Deliver specialist training in domestic and sexual violence – as well as other forms of violence against women and girls, for neighbourhood police officers, for those in specialist protection units and for those involved in commissioning services for the survivors of violence
Pilot a preventative policing project in Northumbria – to promote the active monitoring and management of serial perpetrators of domestic and sexual violence.
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