Calling local champions: help us build the evidence needed to tackle domestic abuse

Calling local champions: help us build the evidence needed to tackle domestic abuse

As Foundations publishes its ambitious new five year plan to find out what works to prevent domestic abuse and support child victims, Ben Lewing, Assistant Director for Local Development reflects on why this matters.

How we respond to victims of domestic abuse and protect our children from its effects feels like a defining issue for our society at large. The problem is widespread: around one in five of our children in the UK are affected by domestic abuse, and it is the most common reason why children are referred to children’s social care services. The social and economic costs of domestic abuse are estimated by the Home Office to be £74 billion a year. Yet our response is disproportionate to the scale of the problem – with too few victims and survivors able to access the specialist support that they need, and services dependent on precarious and short-term funding. We need to be more ambitious if we want our all children to grow up without the shadow of domestic abuse defining their childhood. 

The REACH Plan published this week sets out Foundations’ vision for significant and sustained investment into high quality impact evaluation – you can read it here. As a What Works Centre our mission is about generating and championing evidence that improves the services that support family relationships. It is essential that we play our part in prioritising domestic abuse given the scale of the issue, but also because so little is known about what works. There are no domestic abuse services in this country which have been rigorously evaluated and proven to have an impact on children’s outcomes.

This lack of what works evidence is a critical issue for local commissioners, whether in local government, NHS or Police and Crime Commissioners. The evidence for what works to support vulnerable families is growing in every other part of family policy, and scarce resources are increasingly targeted at support which can objectively show that it makes a difference. But for victims of domestic abuse, services are often forced to take a ‘something is better than nothing’ approach. Local commissioners need this kind of evidence for domestic abuse services too so that they can make the case for investment – we know many local services would like to evaluate, but funding strains can get in the way. We mustn’t accept a lack of priority for evaluation here when we insist on it elsewhere.

The REACH Plan reinforces rigorous impact evaluation which is necessary if this work is to have credibility. But it also recognises the importance of taking a relational approach. This means working closely with the people who understand how interventions work best, including victims and survivors, and using different kinds of evaluations which are a good fit. No one is suggesting that conducting impact evaluations are easy. Yet this won’t be the first time that robust studies have explored impact with highly vulnerable and at risk families. It can be done, and we can work through the ethical issues together.

Ultimately a proportionate response to the effect of domestic abuse on our children must be backed up with serious funding. The REACH Plan calls for a £75 million investment over five years, shared between Government, Foundations and a range of other research funders, and trusts and foundations. At the heart of these costs is over £45 million for service delivery. 

Foundations is stepping up, investing our own funding, brokering sustained investment in the sector to enable impact evaluation, and assembling the collaborations needed to prevent domestic abuse and support child victims. This is the first step. We will need local voices as part of these collaborations –helping us make the case for it, identifying the best bets for evaluation, working with us to develop and deliver promising approaches and test for impact, and guiding our research to make sure that it fits well with the real world local context. If you are a local champion for tackling domestic abuse, help us to get this right. Help us become the become the first country in the world to identify a set of proven approaches to preventing domestic abuse and supporting child victims.


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