Putting children and young people first in the family courts

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Cafcass guidance helping practitioners in domestic abuse cases

 

This year Ministry of Justice is holding its first ever awards to celebrate the work of its staff and arm’s-length bodies. Linda Nelmes, Commissioning Service Manager (lead for Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programmes) has been nominated and shortlisted for the Innovation category. Sarah Parsons, Assistant Director, nominated Linda for her development of the Domestic Abuse Practice Pathway. The pathway acts as a best practice guidance document, helping practitioners plan and structure their assessments in cases featuring domestic abuse (DA).

 

But how did the idea for the pathway come about?

“I have always been really interested in how we approach cases that feature domestic abuse,” says Linda. “It’s such an important theme in our work; each family is unique and each case has its own complexities.”

 

Linda recognised the challenges practitioners and courts face in achieving an evidence-based risk analysis and saw a gap in the sector, with existing guidance being disparate and sometimes contradictory. She wanted to provide practitioners with a tool to add value to the assessment process for these cases. “Having a structured process allows practitioners to work systematically through the pathway, establishing a ‘golden thread’ between their initial lines of enquiry and the final order. They can also dive in quickly to reference a specific point.”

 

Linda applied her theoretical knowledge and operational understanding from working in Cafcass’ National Commissioning Team (NCT) to help inform the pathway. “My role with the NCT allows me to have more of a national overview and perspective on DA. Networking with different stakeholders and partners also played a big part in gaining new insight and keeping up with sector developments.”

How the pathway is improving practice

“Since the launch last September we’ve received positive feedback from practitioners and audits are demonstrating a stepped improvement in practice in cases featuring DA.” Building on this, Linda and Cafcass’ National Improvement Service (NIS) developed training introduced in February 2017, to support practitioners to make full use of the pathway. Evaluation and individual comments show that training has been very influential for staff in improving their work in this area.

 

“The pathway was also presented to stakeholders and the public at our Open Board meeting in April. Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards and some local authorities are accessing it for their own use via our website, with further roll-out planned. Groups such as Women’s Aid have welcomed the guidance too.”

 

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