The evidence base around domestic violence and abuse

Published: 10/02/2022

This podcast examines the evidence base around domestic violence and abuse, perpetration and the interface with children’s social care.

Dez Holmes, Director of Research in Practice, talks to Jo Todd Chief Executive of Respect, Kyla Kirkpatrick Director of the Drive Partnership and Dr Olumide Adisa Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Abuse Research at the University of Suffolk about the evidence base around domestic violence and abuse, perpetration and the interface with children’s social care.


This is a Research in Practice podcast supporting evidence -informed practice with children and families, young people and adults.  

Dez: Hello, my name's Dez Holmes I'm the director of Research in Practice and I'm delighted to be joined by Jo Todd, Kyla Kirkpatrick and Olumide Adisa today. We're going to be discussing the nature of the evidence base particularly the evidence base around domestic violence and abuse, the perpetration of that abuse and the interface with children's social care. So let me start by introducing colleagues.  

Jo: I'm Jo Todd, I'm the Chief Exec at Respect, we have a focus on domestic abuse perpetrators on male victims and on young people who cause harm.  

Kyla: I'm Kyla Kirkpatrick, I'm the Director for the Drive partnership which is a partnership between the three organisations, really focusing on responses to perpetrators of domestic abuse and developing those responses.  

Olumide: My name is Olumide Adisa, I'm a senior research fellow and the head of the centre for abuse research at the University of Suffolk and we basically are focused on building a what works everyday list around domestic abuse research and projects as well. So we really have a huge focus on service improvement and actually ensuring that we are building an evidence space, bringing in academics, practitioners and policymakers as well.  

[The whole systems approach of the Drive Partnership and their work with children’s social care] 

Dez: Thank you so much, great to have you all here. Kyla, I think you were going to start by just briefly describing the Drive partnership, the Drive intervention and why you're focusing particularly at this stage around children's social care.  

Kyla: So the Drive partnership came together maybe five, six years ago to take a look at the existing responses to perpetrators of domestic abuse, really looking at what was a long-standing intractable social issue and terms of domestic abuse and how could some of this be approached differently. Social finance is one member organisation and looking at these issues of social justice and particularly building the business case for investment in these areas is a specialism that they bring and they really triggered this debate and discussion and brought in two organisations to provide that expertise in the field. So one being Respect with their expertise in responding to perpetrators of domestic abuse and Safe Lives with their focus on victim-survivors, so the three organisations have worked together over the course of the last five or six years. The very first piece of work was to look at a very particular project, what else could we do and what could we be doing differently to respond to perpetrators and at that time really focusing on addressing issues around high harm, high-risk perpetrators. Perpetrators who otherwise not engaging with services, flying under the radar, not eligible for existing programmes because of complexities around safety, maybe substance misuse, mental health issues and the partnership built a different way of working to work with that very particular cohort.  

Over the course of the last three years, we have expanded that scope and we're looking much more broadly at whole systems around domestic abuse and perpetrators of domestic abuse. So not just focusing on one intervention there's no magic bullet, there's no one size fits all, what needs to change across the whole system in terms of what service delivery but also commissioning and policymaking to really shift the dial on this issue. Briefly the focus here on children's social care came initially from our work with high harm, high-risk perpetrators which take a very multi-agency approach, coordinate response from different services around a case. And we were finding that on individual casework we were making really significant changes when we worked closely with probation, police and children's social care amongst others. And we find that they were really significant changes in high social care who worked with our teams in terms of information sharing, risk management, planning when we were working on a case by case basis. And the Drive case managers were learning from social care, social workers were learning from them and there was fantastic work being done, however, we couldn't shift that into systems change and it was all very focused on individual cases and that particular family at hand. So we really wanted to step into how do we enable this great practice on the ground to meet in the middle with top-down policy and systems change with children's social care. That's what triggered this piece of work specifically looking at what is happening throughout the system for children's social care in relation to the perpetrator of domestic abuse not just focusing on mum and the victim-survivor.  

[What the evidence base tells us about working with people who perpetrate harm] 

Dez: Thank you and it's been a really fascinating piece of work for us at Research in Practice to be a little bit involved in and really chimes with the messages that we hear from children's social care colleagues about that sense of sometimes helplessness, I use that word deliberately, a feeling sometimes described as, 'We don't have anything in our tool kit other than traditional child protection approaches.' Which some would argue almost inherently responsible the parent being harmed which disproportionately is the mother, you know, not exclusively but I think we would all recognise that disproportionately it's mothers who are responsibilised for abuse where children's social care take that approach. So really interesting bit of work and fair to say not an area of work where there was a pre-existing randomised control trial or manualised programme that you could simply role out as the same goes which brings me to the notion of evidence. Olumide, one of the myths that we've sometimes heard in this space is the idea that there's no evidence and I think probably all four of us on this call would disagree with that narrative. I'm interested from your academic perspective what do you think the evidence base or narrative about that evidence base currently tells us about work with people who perpetrate harm?  

Olumide: That's a very interesting question actually, so I think it's to kind of do an overview or, sort of, map how evidence is, sort of, developed in this particular area in the UK. I mean one good place to start is perhaps to look at project Mirabal, I'm sure Jo can say much more about that project because she's involved with that, but I think was a piece of work, research that was done by Professor Nicole Westmoreland and Professor Liz Kelly. I think around 2010 really, so really quite early in terms of the conversations around whether or not we should begin to work with, you know, those who use harmful behaviours. And so in some ways, it was seen as being a very innovative approach to start trying to, sort of, change attitudes in terms of how we should be investing in its area of work and I think another very interesting piece of work actually was looking at this. So Professor Erica Bowen she obviously did this, sort of, meta-analysis of all the studies, I think about ten US (United States)-based studies, to just try to understand how maybe does that type of every day or that type of practice could be translated within the UK (United Kingdom) setting. And she also did find out that there were no published British outcome studies at the time about created programmes, so, you know, I suppose that, sort of, sets apart project Mirabal at the time because it was beginning to ask questions around, you know, can we actually begin to capture new ways or new outcomes in terms of what counts as success. So that was a really interesting piece of work and I know there are reports in 2015 that looked at about twelve Respect accredited domestic violence perpetrator programmes.  

So I think for me I think it's probably still the most comprehensive research on perpetrator programmes in the UK to date, having said that obviously enter Drive and some of what Kyla's been saying and some of the work that they've been doing. You know, the evaluation that they did as well has really contributed to that evidence base and ongoing evidence base, we are seeing much more of a surge of interest in this particular area of work which is really encouraging. And I think that because we now see more research around community-based programmes we're beginning to have a greater understanding of different outcomes that may not necessarily be going to be linked to recidivism but might be linked to outcomes around education, the wellbeing of the victim/survivor. You know, looking at really bigger, greater outcomes that actually do matter in terms of not just tackling domestic abuse but also in terms of preventing domestic abuse as well in the future. So anyway I think that for me, in a nutshell, one of the last pieces of research that I'm going to mention is one that my colleagues did actually. So Professor Emma Bond in 2016 undertook a systematic review of about 53 perpetrator focused interventions and they found that actually that a lot of the evidence was still quite sparse for the UK, but most of them were obviously based on either the Duluth Model or CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) programmes as well. So it does raise a lot of questions around actually because of the underpinning of all of these programmes there is room for us to begin to look at contextual understanding or contextual evidence building rather than just focusing only on our cities if that makes sense?  

Dez: It absolutely does make sense and like you, I was very, very struck by the Mirabal project, it seemed to me it was possibly the first example of really offering a new way of assessing impact, moving beyond recidivism and centring a bit on survivor's voice. Jo, I know that you in respect were central to that I'm interested in your reflections, are you seeing change in the evidence base, do you root that in different approaches to assessing impact?  

Jo: Yes, there's been a huge change I think over the last twenty years so years, change to the just the amount of work that's happening and the amount of interest in perpetrators but then also to measuring success. And I think we were stuck in the early days of a really kind of what works in terms of police call-outs and convictions of perpetrators kind of framework, so a recidivism framework which wasn't terribly helpful, it's a very blunt instrument if you want to understand whether or not an intervention is having a positive impact. So an example of that is, if you just see a measure of success being that there are fewer police call-outs it could be that the survivor is too scared to phone the police or that her experience of phoning the police has been negative so she doesn't bother anymore. So it's not a good tool for really understanding if it's about perpetrator change or not. So you need a much more detailed piece of work, qualitative as well as quantitative, I think that's really important. I think the research that really matters is the research that listens to survivors in a really detailed way, asks really searching questions of the impact of the intervention or the response generally to him, on her, on the children, on her safety, but also on her freedom.  

And I think that's something that as Olumide was saying was really pulled out in Mirabal for the first time and Professor Liz Kelly and Professor Nicole Westmoreland really focused, the six indicators of success were particularly radical I think in talking about the expanded space for action for women. So it was a concept that I think Liz had been working on already but in the perpetrator context was really important. So what that means is if he is on a behaviour changer programme, which is what Mirabal were focused on, does that have an impact on her independence, her individual agency, her space for actions, her space to be a citizen in the world, to make decisions for herself, to be a fully functioning person. And that's really important because it goes so much further than, 'Is he still hitting her?' Into what women really want which is their own freedom and agency, so I think that set for what all research should focus on now is not just safety but freedom and I think that's where I'd like to see the research going. I think it's also really important that as well as listening to survivors that we listen to practitioners. Now I would say that because we're a membership organisation and we represent loads of organisations around the country that have been working for decades with perpetrators and they really know their stuff, they know what works, they also know how diverse the cohort of perpetrators are.  

I mean on behaviour change programmes the assessment process means that it should only be men that are ready, willing and able to change that are on those programmes, so it is a very specific element of the whole perpetrator cohort. But when working with those perpetrators there's still a huge amount of diversity within them, they're from all kinds of backgrounds, all kinds of personality types, some have experienced trauma, some are living in environments where violence is very normalised, some will have experienced it as children and some won't. And so they are working with that diversity and I really think that listening to the voice of those practitioners about how they do it in the room, what's it actually like in a room of perpetrators trying to change their behaviour. How does that actually work is something we're really keen to keep understanding and I just think it's kind of getting get to the nub of what the point of research is, the point of research is several fold but one of the key things is to influence practice. It's that feedback loop so that what happens in these programmes can be evaluated through research, the research will then find things that can then influence how practice develops and I think if we can utilise or kind of make use of research in that way it's really important.  

Dez: You're making some really important points there about practice informed research and we hear much more about research informed practice but I think you're really highlighting the need for reflexivity there. And also strikes me that what you're describing is a congruence between practice values and research methods and impact measures. If our practice values in this space are about disrupting the cohesion, the control, the voicelessness, the constrictions that victim survivors have faced we must surely go about evaluating impact in a way which gives them voice, centres their expertise and creates more freedom. And offers a narrative so really shifting away from that, sort of, passivity that can sometimes pervade the narrative, so I think quite an important call to action about congruence, the way we do our practice should mirror the way we do or research. Olumide, I'm sure you've got lots of reflections to offer on that?  

Olumide: Absolutely, I think those are really very interesting from Jo. I think obviously one of the things that peeked my interest was when she talked about diversity within the programming and also how we develop perpetrator programmes, I mean there is a lot we can say about that because we know that there is a lot of work to still be done in that area. Because when we talk about diversity what do we mean, you know, you can obviously talk about diversity because, you know, the background or trauma that someone might face, but at the same time if we're talking about it in relation to intersectionality then we know that we still have a lot of room to travel in terms of actually how we design programmes. And actually piece of work that myself, Mina and Catherine my colleague here at the university we did, you know, which was, sort of quite sculpted by Kyla and Drive actually was because of that we notice that, you know, the conversations around black and, you know, other racially minoritised communities were just not really happening You know, we're not really seeing that inclusivity that we wanted to see, we're not really seeing that conversation, you know.  

I mean even on ground in one or two of the community based programmes that I'm familiar with, you know, they're turning away people that might need an interpreter because it just made it very difficult to be delivering group sessions with men when you have non-native English speakers within the cohort. And that then raised question about, 'Well, where do those men then go from that point?' If that makes sense? So I think that one of the things around that small piece of research we did was actually we found that there was a need to have culturally sensitive interventions, to actually ensure there's adequate funding to specialist organisations, and actually the work first developed may need to be looked at as well. Obviously, this is things that practitioners did, you know, mention and I think 58% were responses from professionals and practitioners. So, you know, I agree with Jo that we need to listen to practitioners but I also think that we should also be mindful that even within the group of practitioners there is a place for really identifying the gaps and actually ensuring that we are meeting the needs of a diverse group of men as well.  

Dez: And that point about diversity which was comes through again and again and beyond this field of research as well of course I've heard it argued, I have some sympathy for this, but some of the traditional methods of undertaking research and evaluation, traditionally understood to be good quality research they can actually obscure diversity. So you can end up with what some researchers call a meanification that, you know, the numbers of people in this cohort who were from minoritised groups were relatively small so actually they got kind of smoothed out through the aggregation of data. So research methods that don't centre victim survivor voices indeed the voice of those who perpetrate harm and the practitioners who serve them can loose some of the richness that's required to have intersectionally responsive kind of approaches in our work. Jo, would you like to come in on that point?  

[The disaggregation of data and its benefits] 

Jo: Well, disaggregation is our friend isn't it, that's what we need, you know, if we've got data rather than meanifying it to use your word actually doing the opposite, actually drilling down into it. Making sure you're capturing enough in the data to start with and then drilling down because that's what you really want to understand is, you know, just having a one size fits all broad brush view of the whole cohort of perpetrators is not going to get you very far, you need to understand in the data what the differences are and then to try and draw conclusions that are helpful I think. So yes, disaggregation is always helpful. I take Olumide's point about where programmes are at in the UK, I think there's a lot of really interesting work happening in the global south looking at different ways of engaging perpetrators that we need to learn from here in the west. I think that often gets overlooked, so when we look at international research often what comes to the surface is the USA, Australia, Canada, Europe and often what's obscured because sometimes the intervention on the ground don't look like what we're doing here.  

So that it's not necessarily structured behaviour change work, it's not necessarily criminal justice interventions, it's much more community based grass roots approaches to engagement and kind of to shift thinking from the ground up. I think those approaches are really interesting and we need to look much further afield, I know there's interesting work that's happened in Nicaragua, I think they've got some really interesting stats after twenty years of this kind of very grass roots intervention work that are really interesting around perpetration. And that's just taken a more social change view of the issue rather than an individual change view, so that's something at Respect that we're really looking at now is I don't think it's either/or. We want to focus on individual change, systems change, so that's the kind of children's social care, policing, probation, health that, you know, that we've been touching on already, but also what do we need to do to bring about social change. Whether that's across the UK, whether that's in specific communities, whether we're looking particularly at certain ethnic groups, in certain groups within a city or a town, you know, geographical or whether we're looking at religious based ways of engaging and changing. Changing thinking, changing culture and society, I don't think any of that is simple but I think, you know, there's work going on India, in South Africa and I'm sure there's loads that I don't know about that I'd like to find out more about. So I think if we can have that much more kind of let's all just kind of stop looking down into our own little frame works and look up a bit and see what other people are doing that doesn't look like what we're doing but can be, yes we can learn from.  

Dez: What a great call to act on, of course, we can't drill down and disaggregate whilst honouring qualitative methods, engaging people's voices, so I think that does have quite important implications for what we consider to be good research in this territory. And I can see certainly that trying to understand the impact of community-based interventions that necessitates quite a different evaluative approach, so all sorts of challenges and complexities there. Kyla, come on in.  

Kyla: Yes, I just wanted to reflect on what Jo was saying, I think, you know, I couldn't agree more and it just really struck me your point about we need to stop looking down and in and look up and I feel that, you know, actually there's so many factors that play into the ability to do that. And I think the looking down and looking in for many years it needs to be contextualised, so responding to perpetrators of abuse for too long has been, you know, a tiny little corner of work, a tiny little corner of policy and commissioning. So very fragmented funding flowing through to service providers for short periods of time and often a battle for resources, I find that context so important in any discussion about what's the evidence base, how deep is it, how rich is it because it's framed by this context.  

And the reason that it's just so interesting at the minute is we are at a moment where that context is changing and we are able to zoom out and to look at a lot of the discussion from Olumide and Jo has been about the, you know, winding the scope of what measures are important to look at, not just criminal justice but victim-survivor space for action. What are the different cohorts, profiles of perpetrators that need to be considered, we talked about victim-survivor impact and voice equally we can be looking at children's impact and voice. And I think that with the change in public narrative particularly we're at a moment where that we can zoom out and it's zooming out in terms of practice, policy, commissioning and the framing for research. So I think there is a real opportunity to be looking at all of these different layers because they are deep and wide and the sector just has not had the opportunity to have that stretch for many years and hopefully that change is coming.  

[Why we need to think differently about who sets the research agenda, power and impact] 

Dez: It certainly feels like a bit of a moment in time both in terms of how people respect, no pun intended, work with those who cause harm, the national policy attention and message for change for example. Also perhaps an evolution in how we think about evidence, I'm hearing much more kind of discussion around what might work best for whom under which circumstances which are, you know, necessarily less shorthand than what works and I think speaks to a point about diversity within diversity and diverse methods and being more expansive. Is it the case, and Olumide you might have a particular view on this. Is it the case that some of what needs to change is the way people think about impact? As you three colleagues were talking I kept reflecting on notions of power which of course is central to working with people experiencing domestic abuse, but I think is also central to how we think about impact. If a small group of relatively powerful people set the agenda for what effective looks like what does that then do to the sector's ability to innovate or think expansively or make mistakes? I don't have an answer for that myself, but that's the question that's come up to me as you've been talking.  

Olumide: Yes, that's, you know, a fantastic question really. I think one of the things I'm just going to say before I answer the question around power because they're sort of linked is actually that one of the things that I find very encouraging and for me is something that I've been, you know, like, obviously I'm focused on and I know Kyla's talked about really quite at length is around systems change and I know Jo mentioned the need for that as well. Interestingly looking at things to a system change length actually helps us to look up, you know, rather than looking down and particularly for work when we being to look at work globally, looking at work internationally. Because really systems change, you know, kind of when you apply systems thinking to something you're looking at the interconnectedness of things, you're looking at the interconnections of actors, of resources, of communities. You know, all of that stuff really lends itself nicely to sometimes the… maybe their own structures and I put that in quote and quote way that we say that working with perpetrators might manifest to actually is being done in other settings. Which does not necessarily mean that it's not good knowledge, you know, I think it's just really the way we look, you know, if we're kind of open-minded about, you know, the different types of knowledge as valid not just the one whereas I say, RCT (Randomised Control Trials) or is it coming from Europe, is it coming from US, is it coming from Sweden.  

I think if we're much more open-minded we might just be able to draw really good insights around really what works and really expanding the evidence base really quickly because then what that means is that we can draw on lessons from different settings and vice versa as well. And the last I'm going to say about power is that, I mean we could literally unpack this for the whole day because I feel like there's a lot to be said around who's at the table in conversations in relation to policy, but also in relation to even funding and conversations around commissioning. I think that these are things we cannot overlook particularly we're saying not only create systems change but we want to kind of answer that question what works for whom and under what conditions. We are kind of moving towards this more very realist grounding way of developing evidence from bottom-up rather than from top-down, I think that's really exciting. I also think that we're seeing more awareness of the need for core production in how knowledge is being generated and how training, workforce developing and all of that stuff needs to be happening. And I mean it's really interesting because I feel like we're seeing that in the perpetrator sector, I don't know if I should call it a perpetrator sector, but, you know, in the area of work in relation to perpetrators that actually could be in a way mirrored in other settings within the domestic abuse space actually. And I think it's probably testament to organisations like Drive, like Respect to really understand it and to really begin to I guess dismantle maybe or disrobe that way of doing as always being the norm, to kind of trying to open up new spaces of knowledge and new spaces of understanding. So, you know, for me I think that, you know, that's really refreshing to see.  

Jo: That's really interesting Olumide, I think what I was saying early about one of the audiences for research being practitioners in that practice loop, I think another audience for research is commissioners and policy makers. And it present a real challenge to us I think as practitioners at heart I guess we're kind of, you know, we're much more interested in what works on the ground in the room, but actually to move the work forward we need to make sure that what's being commissioned and how policy makers set the framework is right and we need research for that. And sometimes, you know, what commissioners really want is a cost benefit analysis which seems really dry to those of us that like to be in the room, but actually it's quite important so that there is confidence amongst commissioners, but I think I'll go back to the point of so that they're actually commissioning the right things. And I think the worry as funding streams are created and we've seen, you know, I think you mentioned it Dez, but the reality is we've had no central government funding ever for this work until last year when £10,000,000 came out of the Home Office and then this year £25,000,000 came from the Home Office. And if there's anything, you know, if that's sustained that's a lot of money that needs to be spent well and there's a real risk that it could be spent badly and there's a real risk that if there isn't an evidence base that is fuelling the way that money is spent, the people making the decisions about that money won't necessarily know how to make the right decisions.  

So that's another really important facet of research which is not the sexiest element of research by a long way but is really key, it helps to underpin, I mean the Respect Standard is now going into its fourth edition, we've got accreditation and perpetrators services, we need that evidence base. But we need commissioners and policymakers to understand why it's important why safety in the work is important, what effectiveness looks like, how it's different for different interventions. So a Drive intervention that's got case management of high-risk perpetrators who have already caused high levels of harm are likely to cause further high levels of harm, they're resident to change, they're bouncing around in and out of the criminal justice system but without any real grip on stopping them until an intervention like Drive comes along. So research that underpins what works for them is going to look very different to the Mirabal type research around behaviour change with men who recognise they've got a problem, want to change, are kind of invested in that journey. So it's really important that we are able to kind of tolerate or create the environment for loads of different types of research, the kind of big multi-sites are really needed, it would be great to have some more RCT's, doing an ethical RCT in this area is a real challenge but it's possible, but expensive, in brackets, always that. But also just drilling down into really niche kind of things to investigate as well, it can be really fruitful, so I'd like to see that diversification of just the scope and the grandeur versus smallness of the research landscape I suppose.  

[The role of different parts of the system in creating a better evidence base] 

Dez: Thank you and I guess another lens on the systems change needed is exactly this kind of system dynamic where practice and the voices of victims, survivors and they are not mutually exclusive sources of knowledge of course, where they inform research which in turn informs commissioning and policy which in turn then can fund a more generative system. So really seeing evidence as part of the system change or trying to influence. Kyla, would you like to come in now?  

Kyla: Yes, it's just picking up on several threads of the discussion really and looking at diversification and also value and different kinds of impacts and the policy landscape, but looking at… so if we're looking at that diversifying, looking at placing equal value on different types of impact it just brings to my mind the importance of also triangulation and how these different measures interface with each other. So domestic abuse is about how whole families and often extended families and communities and these issues interface and overlap and we know that the importance of getting the victim-survivor view, the children's view, the criminal justice impact in terms of recidivism. They're all important and research needs to take that into account and have that triangulation of impact and findings and it's complicated. And one of the things that's really particularly complicated I think anyway but particularly when we're working with high home, high-risk cases of domestic abuse is the trauma that is involved for victim-survivors and children and that's not an easy to go in and start doing research and collection evidence. So it's something about the importance of triangulation, but also acknowledging some of the challenges of this work and they are significant, it's very difficult to do ethical research in that context of trauma and collecting data in relation to victim-survivors and children.  

It needs time, resources and a lot of thinking through and then I'd also link that to the triangulation of policy thinking which also is linked to the source of funding for research. So Jo touched on the funding that's flowing through the Home Office which, you know, is very welcome, but we need more departments involved, invested in the research and the shaping of the research and the outcomes of the research and it's hugely important for many reasons to being it's a whole family issue. So we need to be looking at the issue from many angles and in particular we're looking at the impact of interventions on children, you know, one source of evidence for impact is the children's voice but also impact on school attendance, wellbeing and we know from, you know, case studies and anecdotally that we do see this impact. Gathering that data is incredibly difficult, having access to that information and data is incredibly difficult, so we might have the Home Office involved and providing and a framework and a context for research, but if we don't have the department for education in the game and backing that up it's incredibly difficult to set up these research projects and have the level of information sharing that we need. So that's kind of like travelling right down into some of the really logistical challenges of this research and I suppose coming back up to what's the interface between these different sources of evidence and impact measures and how do we join them together.  

Dez: I know I'd observed that some of these dilemmas and challenges that you colleagues are articulating so well are absolutely replicated in the children's social care space as luck would have it given the interface you're interested in. And I think children's social care as a sector are similarly facing the issue of, you know, what works and what matters and how they overlap, but they're not entirely coterminous and how you gather rich evidence from multiple sources in a way that actually accords with your professional values and speaks to the needs of commissions and policymakers. So I think there's a shared struggle actually at both parts of this system.  

Jo: One of the things that we haven't mentioned is listening to perpetrators and it's a challenge I think but an interesting one and I think it's one of the things that the research on Mirabal concluded that actually we really need to hear from those who have used harmful behaviours, been controlling in their relationships. And hear what is going on, what is it that fuels that behaviour, what has helped them to change and at the moment we're not very good at doing that, we've been resistant to doing that I think. And I think part of that resistance is not wanting to give their voices equal weight with the voices of survivors and of course, that's right. We're listening to survivors as the voice of experience who can talk about the impact, but actually, those who cause harm often have insights into what they're doing and why that we need to listen to. So I think, you know, I've mentioned listening to practitioners, listening to survivors. I would add in listening to perpetrators. That doesn't mean we listen to them uncritically and we will be expecting depending on where they are at in a process of change, but we will be expecting levels of minimisation and justification and blaming and those things. But I know the Mirabal research has found over time that when there was success in the behaviour change work that those things diminished and that men at the end of the programme were able to reflect much more on themselves, the impact of their behaviours, where they were at, what was going to keep them safe going forward. And so I do think that's something for research to think about, is how do you incorporate the voice of perpetrators in a meaningful, respectful way and in a way that's respectful to survivors as well.  

Dez: I think that's a really important observation and in fact, as you've been talking I've been quite struck by the ways in which you've referenced the trauma experienced by many people in perpetrator harm or their own needs in their own rights. I suppose it struck me because that's not always in a conversation and Olumide you might have a particular view on this, but it seems to me that many people enter practice, whether that's children's social care or working in domestic abuse services, often because of their own personal views, experiences and desire for change often rooted in their lived experience. The same I think may be true for research roles in its territory, but that sense of personal drive may for some colleagues make them not very inclined to foreground the voice of those who cause harm, I think that would be an entirely human response. But what perhaps is more relevant is that the social narrative, the public narrative for quite a long time has been there are goodies and baddies, there are goodies and baddies in this scenario and listening to the baddies is a betrayal of victim/survivors. So moving beyond that into a more sophisticated space I think is very difficult not only for structural reasons but also for some quite personal reasons for some people and I think naming that could be key. Olumide, any observations on Jo's call to action there around really hearing the voices and views of those who cause harm and doing so in a way that's respectful to victim-survivors?  

Olumide: Yes, no absolutely that's a very key point that Jo has made actually because if we're also going to capture impact I mean surely we should be capturing, you know, the impacts on the service users who obviously in this case are perpetrators, so we can't actually move away from that. But I think one of things I did want to say though and I was obviously thinking with my hat on as an academic is that it's very important that we work with… so we've been talking about research a lot, someone might ask them, you know, 'What do you mean by this research, who's driving the research?' I think it's very important to involve academics and the reason why I say this is because of the ethical aspects of it which are obviously some of the issues that have been raised anyway and I think that you at least in some ways have some sense of comfort that the ethical questions have been, sort of, at least explored around how do you engage with vulnerable groups, how do you engage with survivors, how do you even as a practitioner who might have experienced domestic abuse yourself. You know, if you're going to then involve somebody like that within your participant group, how are you making sure that you're keeping them safe, how are you taking sure that, you know, they can actually engage in the best possible way that doesn't re-traumatise or, sort of, trigger them. So I think those are really important things why it's important that if we're doing research that we take a very collaborative approach where you bring academics, you bring practitioners and you bring survivors to the table, I mean that's how we do our research anyway at the university.  

You know, and I think that a number of universities also follow that approach, but I think that is what's… looking into when it's going back to this commissioning loop around research that those questions are being asked about who is doing the research. Because for me, my worry with this, sort of, sudden interest is like I said it’s a positive thing to see this plethora of research happening, but at the same time we need to be raising questions as well about have we really put an ethical framework in place to really make sure that this research is not going to be causing more harm. You know, which is the whole idea we don't want it to cause any harm actually, not even more harm, but, you know, it shouldn't really be harmful to participants at all. So I think that's what I would say about perhaps one of the observations I had in my mind and the other thing as well around listening to perpetrators, I think also there's something to be said about programmes that already by design incorporate support services for survivors already. I think that for me personally, just from my own experience of evaluating the community based programmes, I think that it's really interesting when you have that type of design because what happens is that you kind of speak to the perpetrators but at the same time you can also speak to the survivors as well. So by nature of that you're already kind of speaking to both groups and so you're not, sort of, privileging one voice above the other and I think actually a lot of times I find that survivors themselves want to actually feed into the research and they want to talk about their experiences. So sometimes I think people think, 'Oh, you know, you're delivering the same service in the same space.' And you know a lot of those questions they tend to happen.  

But actually no, you know, I think this the reason why accreditation is very important and actually ensuring that a lot of programmes meet the quality standards that are required and Jo's not paid me to say this, but, you know, this is where sometimes the Respect's standards do come in. You know, where at least you do have some sense that there is a framework for these programmes and looking at their quality, their quality of service, but also the safety, you know, of survivors even as they're delivering the service as well. When you do that you know that you are likely to get not just only better data, but you're also ensuring that you're already working within, sort of, ethical framework that ensures that you are already understanding the place for the service user's voice and the place for the survivor's voice as well, if that makes sense?  

Dez: It makes a lot of sense and it should not need saying, but it does still need saying that whether in practice or research we start by aiming to do no harm, I think a really salutary message there. Kyla, then Jo and then I'm going to move on to the final question colleagues.  

Kyla: Thanks Dez. I think I'm really just backing up what has been said around perpetrator's voice and I just wanted to say I think that there is an opportunity for collaboration between our practice and researchers on really looking at the right methodology. So tapping into a lot of what Olumide has been saying about the place for perpetrator voice and victim-survivor voice, I know that within Drive we've been thinking a lot about what is the right approach and I think there's more work to be done with research colleagues around methodologies. And as practitioners and service providers we could really do with that kind of collaboration to help us think and learn and build up that evidence base, that literature base to guide methodologies and build up thinking around methodologies for gaining perpetrator's voice.  

And I think also just to add, you know, some insights from The University of Bristol's research onto the Drive project, so working with high harm, high-risk perpetrators and conducting those interviews. So there were some really valuable insights, more works need to be done on this but we certainly were really struck by insights into the role of mental health particularly, rates of suicide and suicide ideation that came to the floor through some of that research. And of course mental health, mental ill-health is not an excuse for domestic abuse, it plays into the context and there are important things for us to learn in that interface, that was something that came out strongly from perpetrator's voice the role and the impact that interventions had on that and similarly the role that children have to play in the process of change. So some particular perpetrator response feedback on how reflecting on their own experiences of abuse as a child, then as a springboard to explore how their behaviour is impacting on their children really was coming through as a trigger for engagement. What we need more research in is did that translated significantly into a trigger for long term change, so we're getting these insights and we need more long term research to really see how that can be followed through effectively, that's coming from the perpetrator's voice.  

Dez: And what's so important there Kyla, in what you're sharing and you're modelling it very well I think, this both/and mindset. We can both be absolutely clear who responsibility sits with for causing harm and acknowledge those people causing harm might have a multitude of needs, adversities, difficult life experiences. None of which is to excuse but it can help us understand and I think that might, you know, that's easy to say I think it's a very, very difficult path to navigate sometimes when you're in practice and research can unlock some of that for us done well and done with nuance. Jo?  

Jo: I just wanted to flag to anyone that isn't really aware of the Respect standard that do know harm is our first principle, so it's right at the top. One of the things that I'm interested about and Olumide was talking about it was the ethical framework for research, obviously, our standard is about an ethical framework for practice and for response to perpetrators. But for research the four Women's Aid federations in November last year published their research integratory framework on domestic violence and abuse and I think that's something for us to look at and to work with them on and to think about how might we create something similar around research and perpetrators of domestic abuse, so that's something I'd like to see happen. I think right at the end of our conversation I just want to flag that we framed it very much around men's violence against women and that's obviously there's loads of reasons for that, it is the majority we started off talking about children's social care and mothers and so that's the context.  

But also I think we're really interested in the context in which women use violence as well and I mean in its broadest form, so women who are the primary coercively controlling perpetrator in a relationship and what that looks like and is that different and how is it similar and there's very little research in that sphere and also that impacts of course on male victims who are very invisible in that space. But also we haven't mentioned at all same-sex relationships and I think again it's an area-, so there's lots of I suppose I mean I always call it parts of the cohort because I do think of, you know, anyone that's causing harm in their families and in their relationship are part of a cohort. You know, even if it's a small kind of segment that we can desegregate into it's really important to understand. I think with same-sex domestic abuse obviously Catherine Donovan has done some really interesting research but it feels it's very much in its infancy and something we need to explore further and then I think just in terms of where the kind of under research elements of the cohort. I think there's lots more to understand about how adults as well as young people who are on the autism spectrum or have learning disabilities or brain injuries, how their use of violence and abuse differs or is similar to, you know, our understanding of perpetrators of violence against women. So, you know, there are some challenges really in the research field for understanding those who don't fit within the main framing f how we view the issue and how we move forward and create the right research to get to the right answers.  

[The responsibilities of colleagues in services and the actions that they can take] 

Dez: Thank you Jo, that certainly came through in the research and the literature, you know, so far as we could say the evidence suggests or the evidence supports, there was always that caveat but we don't actually know if this remains true for, you know, people in same-sex relationships using violence or people from other minoritised groups and I think it's an enduring challenge. I'd like if I may to finish this by playing back what I think the three of you have made such a strong case for, that given, you know, there are numerous challenges associated with continuously improving the evidence base in this territory, the ethical issues, the information… it's the most practical methodological issues. The complex local systems in which effective practice is happening and then alongside that the considerable unarguable capacity and resource constraints facing most if not all of the act is in those local systems and the implication that then has for those who are particularly… I'm thinking smaller community-based organisations. What role can they play in generating the evidence when they are, you know, faced with such considerable resource challenges? You highlighted the tensions that can appear where you have, you know, narrow constructs of what constitutes evidence, narrow constructs of impact.  

You've highlighted the policy fragmentation that can exist, multiple responsibilities across different parts of central government for example and then how that can then play out in terms of fragmented research agendas and indeed fragmented local responses. You've highlighted the need for much more diverse perspectives hearing from many, many different voices around what helps, what matters and indeed where we're lucky what works, they are different but connected things. The need to have much more practice-informed evidence, lived experience informing practice and evidence and there's our policy that is informed by the evidence. The need to really avoid narrow, blunt reductive approaches to impact measurement because if we follow that path any further we're not really going to create the kind of diverse and nuanced based evidence base that all three of you have argued for so well. That nuance and multi-dimension approach to build in the evidence base it seems to me requires and you've said this many times, a much more collaborative approach, if we're to get away from the binary thinking we have to engage in critical thinking and that relies on I think a collaborative endeavour.  

So my question to you for $64,000,000 is if creating better evidence is everybody's responsibility, everybody's business to use a cliché term what role do you think different parts of the system need to play? I'm thinking Jo, you might particularly have a view around how practitioners and service providers could play a role here. Kyla, you might have a view on how local systems can play a role and of course, Olumide come in and tell us what you think the research community needs to be doing. How do we achieve this more nuanced, sophisticated reflective and reflexive evidence base, who needs to do what?  

Olumide: Okay, I will go first. So I think one of the things I wanted to say actually, just I know you've done a really wonderful summary, is I know when Jo was listing some of the gaps in our knowledge I think I would also add our understanding around older people as well. I think that's something that we also need to be focusing on in terms of you know interventions and understanding what the complexities are around that area, I think that's one thing that's not been looked at. So I mean it obviously goes down to the diversifying of the knowledge base and obviously, when we begin to talk about intersectionality it would touch on things around same-sex, it would talk about things like religion, faith and all that stuff and so that's very important. So I think leading nicely into what I want to see, I actually think that there's a role for the research community to like you said be more collaborative with the practice side of things. So I think there's already some really good practice already happening, good partnership work already happening with what some Drive is doing, with what some of Respect. I think there's a lot of collaborations with universities already happening anyway, but I think that one of the things that I probably want us to do is even expand our understanding of who researchers are. So as much as we know we have academic researchers like myself we should also embrace community researchers so those who might actually have a, sort of, hybrid or you might call them, 'Pracademic' where they kind of straddle.  

I don't know if that's… if just made up words now, is that a real word? Right, so, like, you know, those that are coming from some of that practice and academic background. And I think that it's very important to value that knowledge as well, you know, and especially for those might even be survivors themselves and then gone into academia as well and, you know, like, I think understanding that, you know, the journey and the stories and the experiences that people bring to the table where they're lived experiences are so valuable and so vital to this conversation. And also I think going back to what Jo was saying about also being open to even bringing perpetrators or those that have been onto the programme to the table especially after they've actually been on a programme. You know, there was a conference, I think it probably got shelved because of the pandemic, but I remember that they were going to invite one of the men that had been on the programme, I'm not going to mention the name of the conference. I think there was a lot of controversy because of like, 'Oh is this person going to come and speak to, you know, a group of conference attendees about their behaviour?' And all of that stuff. But I think we need to get to that place of being open to listen to the men that have been on the perpetrator programmes themselves to understand more not only about their motivation for change, but also understanding how they want to again create their journey post the programme. So, you know, I mean from some of the men I've spoken to we're seeing conversations where they tell me, 'Oh I want to give back now, I want to really go into the community and talk to more men to understand the impact of domestic abuse and to actually understand how you can change your behaviour and things like that.'  

So I think that we need to begin to change our perspective about how we see perpetrators in this binary lens of, you know, as if they cannot ever be rehabilitated. I think we need to try and change that, you know, I think that for those that are well motivated to want to change whether for the reasons relating to their, you know, they want to be better dads or they want to be, you know, they just really want to be better. And, you know, in terms of their relationships we need to give them the opportunity to change as well, so I think it's being open about that as well. So I think the research community does have a role to play in terms of helping to develop the evidence base further. I mean I'm personally invested in that to kind of ensure that we can actually begin to look at the area of work as not something that… as you're going back to what you said at the beginning, Dez, that people say that, 'Oh there's no evidence.' But actually we know that there is growing evidence, so we need to just portray that evidence more, we need to share that evidence more, we need to be talking about and we need to be ensuring that we're bringing the right people to the table, so academics, practitioners, survivors from different backgrounds and I think valuing different voices is very important.  

Dez: Thank you, a strong call there for greater interdisciplinarity, but also greater inclusivity and I could see that requires not just change from the research community but some pretty significant change to the social discourse on this stuff, none of it's easy as you were saying Jo. So what actions or responsibilities would you like to see being taken by colleagues in practice, colleagues delivering services? I mean I'm old enough to say without embarrassment, I used to think when I worked in a real job that evaluation was a thing that they did to me, constantly trying to prove that we were good enough to someone over there who was miles and miles away from what really mattered. It was certainly one of the prejudices I held when I delivered services, have things changed, what role could colleagues doing the work play in a better evidence base?  

Kyla: Yes, I have some thoughts on that certainly there are things that we can do. So one is I think we can be more open to more nuanced discussions around the evidence base, based on the conversation that we've had today we know that there is evidence there and there are different types of evidence there. But I think we can also be open and hold our hands up to the fact that it's a beginning of a picture and there's a lot more to do and I think at times the conversation could be more nuanced in recognising where current approaches to research and research that's very connected to practice and delivery can open up into a broader space. And I suppose to put it bluntly maybe not in a particularly helpful way, but to get past conversations that are about, 'There's no evidence.' 'Yes, there is.' 'There's no evidence.' ‘Yes, there is.’ There's a huge bridge between those two view points and I think as a sector we can do it better, we can have those conversations and I certainly take that on myself to really encourage that kind of conversation, we don't need to be defensive about this. The other area that I would really like to play my part in improving within the sector is how we collaborate and manage our data. There's an absolute wealth of information and data across services, perpetrator services and I think we can do a lot more within the sector harness that and to really lift it up as a collective set of data that gives inroads into, you know, different kinds of analysis and research and evaluation. But there's some practical and logistical things that we need to put in place across, you know, a high number of services to really start to make better use of the data that we have, so I think they would be the two things that I would say from a provider and a service provider perspective that we could do better. I do think there are things that commissioners can do better too but I'll leave that to Jo, I'm sure she's got thoughts on that.  

Jo: So I was very struck with Olumide's 'pracademic.' And, you know, I think that's great to invent a word and also a concept, I'm going to do my own pun here, we need to drive I think a proactive strategic approach to research and that needs to be a collaborative approach. So what I mean is that those from academia, from practice, from policy, from commissioning need to work together to set a strategic framework for what research is needed, so we get away from this ad-hoc piece meal approach and really think about what would help to build an evidence base that's of value. And that's not just big pieces of research, it's value in all different types. I think Kyla's right we need better data to really understand, we need more qualitative to really get into the data and the nuance of not just what works but how it works and I think that's a really important distinction. You know, I hope we're based the ‘does it work’ and people are beginning to ask, 'How does it work and for whom and in what ways?' So I'd like to see that kind of nuance. So there is something, you know, kind of aspirational about us all working together and, you know, trying to kind of create that atmosphere where we can develop that evidence base.  

Kyla: If I could just jump in I suppose one of the things that I didn't say when I was, you know, holding hands up to what we can do ourselves, I'd like to see commissioners see themselves as part of the solution. So yes, I can see that for them there are probably gaps in the coherence of the information that they have to inform their use of public money, but it's about shifting that thinking to understand the context that we've been talking about today. You know, why are we in the position that we're in and to be part of addressing that by commissioning good evaluation research and services, seeing themselves as part of filling in those gaps that they have rather than passively expecting an under-resourced sector to miraculously be able to provide them all of a sudden. And I think that's particularly when it comes to really wanting to build up an evidence base over a long period of time and looking at, you know, what's happening now but what does that look like in two, three, five years’ time.  

Olumide: This is very important because I think what you've just said about commissioning and just looking at some of the experiences of how some of this work has been commissioned at the community level. I think that commissioners do have a role to play around the transparency of how money is being spent for perpetrator programmes. I mean, one of the questions around social value, I know Jo mentioned cost benefit analysis and all that stuff. I really think that questions around even the social value of those programmes need to be answered and let that evidence inform the direction. You know, I think that actually also nicely ties in to what Jo was saying about the strategic approach, like, you know, it needs to be very place-based in some ways, but also we need to be aware that there's also work that would be happening at the national level and bringing those together. And I think it still goes back to this thing around local system change, national systems change and joining those dots.  


Dez: Thank you colleagues you've made a really I think powerful and compelling case for a much more coherent, collective and collaborative approach where no party gets to see themselves as passive in the face of the evidence base and everybody has their role to play in generating a more useful, more nuance, more sophisticated evidence base. And you've clearly demonstrated the role that all of us in our different guises can play to contributing to that future. Thanks again colleagues.  

Professional Standards

PQS:KSS - Abuse and neglect of children | Relationships and effective direct work | Shaping and influencing the practice system | Designing a system to support effective practice

PCF - Critical reflection and analysis