Building the evidence to support child victims of domestic abuse 

Building the evidence to support child victims of domestic abuse 

Aoife O’Higgins, Director of Evidence, explains how we will build the evidence needed to transform domestic abuse services, working closely with partners, over the next five years.

Last week we launched REACH – Researching Effective Approaches for Children – an ambitious five-year plan to tackle domestic abuse and the damaging impact it has on children and families.

REACH sets out a coordinated approach to generating solutions for victim / survivors of domestic abuse and invites public and voluntary sector services, policy makers and researchers to come together around a shared goal. One of the key pillars of this plan is an ambitious evidence generation roadmap that focuses on identifying the most effective approaches to help children overcome the harmful effects of domestic abuse.

How we will do this

Leaning on 10 years of work from our legacy organisations and the decades of research on the impact of domestic abuse, we have set out a plan to:

Identify the most promising programmes and approaches to support children and families, including prevention, child-focused, whole family and system level solutions. We will draw on previous research, mapping conducted by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s office, insights from our stakeholders, consultation with those who have lived experience and other complementary activities to identify programmes we may have missed. We will be transparent and inclusive in our approach.

Work in close collaboration with services to ensure the foundations for learning and evaluation are set. This includes co-producing a programme theory with key practitioners, people with lived experience and researchers and a plan to determine how the programme can be evaluated using robust methods. We have learnt that rushing into large scale evaluation too quickly can have a detrimental effect on programme delivery and the quality of our evaluations. But we will tailor our approach to individual programmes and learn from their previous evaluation activities. All partners will benefit from engagement in these early activities; by the end of this stage, they will have a clear theory of change, an intervention protocol, received training about evaluation and joined a network of providers and researchers changing the landscape for domestic abuse.

We will conduct robust impact evaluation of programmes and approaches which have the best chance of helping child victims. Robust impact evaluation is key to determining whether programmes change children’s outcomes. As a What Works Centre, we usually take robust impact evaluation methods to mean conducting Randomised Controlled Trials or Quasi-Experimental Impact Evaluations. Every impact evaluation would also be complemented by a comprehensive implementation and process evaluation to understand for whom, why, how and in what context programmes work (or don’t). We don’t underestimate the challenge of doing these types of evaluations in this context, but we believe that more trials are needed to generate evidence on the impact of programmes. We will also explore creative ways to conduct evaluations, for example for programmes that serve only small populations, and other evaluation methods where trials cannot be conducted, for example where we seek to understand the impact of systems. We believe that trials are a necessary piece of the impact puzzle but recognise that they are not the only solution to this challenge. Alongside this work, we will work with others to build a sustainable infrastructure for this vision. This includes thinking about data for feedback, monitoring and evaluation purposes. We want to explore how we can give more power to service users through feedback activities, how we can maximise the quality and quantity of existing data collections and how to build more comprehensive data systems through further generation and integration activities.

Transforming support services for domestic abuse together

We want to identify the programmes and within this, the most effective approaches, that make the biggest difference to children and families at risk of or affected by domestic abuse. We know that our efforts will be strengthened if we draw on the expertise and insight across the research and evaluation sector, and work collaboratively with partners. If you are a funder, academic or interested evaluator, we want to hear from you – help us become the first country in the world to identify proven approaches to preventing domestic abuse and supporting child victims.

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