Essex public sector agencies’ support for victims of domestic abuse has changed significantly over the past five years.
- Project: Multi Agency Risk Assessment Team
- Timescale: 2011 - present
- Cost to authority: The costs of the entire team, comprising police, NHS, substance misuse and council staff, is £200,000 per year. Essex CC pays £100,000 for four staff
- Number of staff working on project: Four
- Outcomes: Agencies are sharing, reviewing and safety planning within 10 to 16 days of referral in contrast to the old arrangements, where safety planning took place after four to 12 weeks. Non-police referrals are increasing
- Officer contact details: Peter Fairley
Effective information sharing means partners are reviewing victim’s safety and responding to their needs much faster.
Back in 2011 the police and crime commissioner, the chief constable and the cabinet member for children’s services at Essex CC agreed to improve domestic abuse services using the government’s community budgets pilot. Their aim was to establish a single gateway for domestic abuse survivors to access services.
Setting up the multi-agency risk assessment team (MARAT) wasn’t a straightforward process. Essex has been described as having one of the most complicated arrangements of public sector agencies in the country. As well as the County Council, and Southend-on-Sea BC and Thurrock Council, all under one police authority and one commissioner, there are five clinical commissioning groups, many NHS provider organisations, more than 40 housing associations, and 12 district council housing authorities. Then there are the different contractors such as the provider of independent domestic violence advisor services, substance abuse service providers and the service that works with perpetrators. With this complex web of agencies, it was no surprise that the multi-agency hub went through several transformations and name changes to reach the form it has now.
In 2012 there were eight community-based multi-agency risk assessment meetings around Greater Essex, each taking place once a month. Information sharing between agencies was poor, action plans were developed without input from vital partners, referrals from agencies other than the police were few, and the meetings took place weeks after victims were identified. In response, a vision was developed for faster information sharing involving a wider range of agencies; most importantly, the NHS and housing partners.
Working together, these partners set up and funded a MARAT based at County Hall in Chelmsford. This team now organises two meetings a day, hearing eight to 12 cases each time.
Core agencies, located within the MARAT include the police, children’s social care, health, probation, housing, substance misuse, and the independent domestic violence advice service. Other agencies take part as needed, including children’s centres, schools, the missing education and child employment service, victim support, Army Welfare, South East Rape and Incest (SERICC), Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse (CARA), Relate and others.
Coordinating health partners is a small MARAT team of NHS professionals, who use their understanding of the NHS to build solid relationships with safeguarding leads in provider organisations. These relationships, backed up by information sharing agreements have brought the vital knowledge of NHS organisations into risk assessment and action planning.
A similar arrangement exists for housing partners, with a housing professional, employed by Maldon DC and funded by the county council, to act as the contact point with housing authorities and housing providers. We also have a reciprocal agreement covering all 14 housing authorities, Southend and Thurrock included, to assist in relocating victims of domestic abuse.
A key factor that made the changes possible was the commitment and prioritisation from the police and crime commissioner, chief constable, and chief officers across partner organisations.
The information sharing arrangements that underpin the MARAT were developed slowly over a number of years, which reflects the difficulty of bringing together such a complicated tapestry of partners. Much of our success is down to the simple hard slog of officers drawing up information sharing agreements, persuading partners to sign up, and then to share information. It is hard work that takes time and determination.
The journey to improve the safety of victims continues to throw up challenges. When new providers enter the system the whole process of putting information agreements in place and persuading the new managers to share information has to start all over again.
Attitudes have changed over time and through our determination, hard work and awareness raising with partners, everyone now understands that sharing information is fundamental to improving victim safety.
Peter Fairley, director of integration and partnerships, Essex CC