Strengthening knowledge and awareness in family services of domestic abuse (SKAFADA)

A rapid scoping study

Strengthening knowledge and awareness in family services of domestic abuse (SKAFADA)


This report provides evidence on the knowledge, understanding, and skills of the Early Help and Family Support workforces in England with regard to domestic abuse. There are findings across a broad range of topics around workforce experience, skills and training, interactions with domestic abuse specialist and identification of gaps in knowledge and skills. It also highlighted differences in training levels and topics, leading to a lack of confidence in some areas.




This rapid scoping study, conducted by researchers from the University of Central Lancashire and King’s College London, provides evidence on the knowledge, understanding, and skills of the Early Help and Family Support workforces in England with regard to domestic abuse.

Early Help (EH) is designed to intervene before challenges in families reach the threshold where statutory safeguarding services are required, whereas Family Support (FS) provides services and interventions for vulnerable families and where children are defined as ‘in need’. These local authority (LA) workforces often collaborate with other partners to work with adults to develop parenting skills as well as in direct work with children. Early Help/Family Support practitioners have high levels of contact with families experiencing domestic abuse, and so it is important that the training and development they receive equips them with the tools they need to identify and deal with situations of domestic abuse.


The study was designed to inform policymakers, LAs, multi-agency partnerships, training providers, third sector organisations, and the research community about the skills, knowledge, training, and development of the Early Help/Family Support workforces in England following the government response (Department for Education, 2023) to the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care (MacAlister, 2022).

The study aimed to look at the following topics:

  • Skills and knowledge of domestic abuse
  • Current training or CPD on domestic abuse
  • Assessment of identification/referral/knowledge/skills/and understanding of domestic abuse
  • Interaction of the workforces with specialist domestic abuse staff
  • Existing use of multi-agency practice models
  • Gaps in the knowledge/skills/understanding of domestic abuse
  • Topics and skills that should be included in training and development


This rapid scoping study consisted of the following:

  • An online survey exploring knowledge, skills, attitudes, and training needs, which was distributed to the Early Help/Family Support workforces in 11 English LAs
  • An online training module that was distributed alongside the survey
  • Case studies in five LAs, involving interviews with practitioners and managers and analysis of strategic documents.
  • Review of English and Welsh national policy documents
  • Interviews with four domestic abuse training organisations.

In total, 350 surveys were completed across the 11 local authorities, and 46 interviews were carried out in the case study sites. Survey results were synthesised with case study findings.

Key Findings

Characteristics of Early Help/Family Support staff and their work:

  • Survey respondents had high levels of experience in work with children and families, the majority had worked on cases involving domestic abuse in the last six months, and almost 40% reported personal experience of domestic abuse

What are the skills and knowledge of domestic abuse in the Early Help/Family Support workforces?

  • Practitioners’ confidence levels in working with domestic abuse reflected the training they had received.
  • Majority of respondents were confident in their knowledge of the impact of domestic abuse on children and young people, however there was a substantial minority (32%) who felt they were insufficiently trained
  • Most practitioners were confident and knowledgeable about making referrals if necessary

What training/CPD on domestic abuse is currently provided to these workforces?

  • Most practitioners responding to the survey (85%) and interviewed in the case study sites reported having received training on domestic abuse.
  • LAs were using both internal and external sources of expertise.
  • Case study local authorities were providing support which included reflective supervision, debriefing, group sessions, access to counselling and clinical supervision.

How is the current identification/ referral/ knowledge/ skills/ and understanding of domestic abuse assessed?

  • There is no one form of skills assessment for this workforce in relation to domestic abuse, and LAs did not ask for relevant skills or experience when recruiting to these posts.
  • Identification of training needs for this workforce is aided by specialist domestic abuse practitioners or coordinators. Additionally, training needs are identified through regular case reviews and discussions with staff.

How do specialist domestic abuse staff interact with the Early Help/Family Support workforces?

  • LAs were supporting staff to work in this area by offering access to specialist knowledge and advice in a range of ways, however there were indications emerging from the survey that these specialists sometimes assumed all responsibility for liaison and referrals with external domestic abuse service providers.

What multi-agency practice models are currently used in Early Help/Family Support domestic abuse work?

  • All the case study sites were using a practice model: two were using the Family Safeguarding approach and three had adopted Signs of Safety.

What are the gaps in the knowledge/skills/understanding of domestic abuse?

  • Survey responses highlighted some potential knowledge/skills gaps in working with children. This included readiness to enquire about domestic abuse, seeking the views of the child, advising them of their options, continuing to check in on them, and referring to specialist services.
  • These were gaps in relation to working with perpetrators of domestic abuse, people from the LGBTQ+ community, families where there were children with disabilities and people from different cultural backgrounds.

What specific domestic abuse topics/skills need to be included in training/development?

  • Training that strengthens the skills and confidence of those working with perpetrators of domestic abuse, people from the LGBTQ+ community, families where there were children with disabilities and people from different cultural backgrounds is vital.
  • The survey found a need for greater awareness of local specialist domestic abuse services, attitudes towards the causes of and misconceptions in understanding domestic abuse.
  • Following the online training developed for this study, participants showed significantly improved levels of knowledge of domestic abuse on a number of measures and some significant improvement in attitudes, notably in respect of acknowledging survivors’ capacity to make appropriate choices.

Implications for Policy

The study findings show that the majority of the Early Help/Family Support workforce included in this study had received training on domestic abuse, and there was clear evidence of the benefit of training for this workforce. However, the research also highlighted that some gaps in skills and knowledge remained, as well as differences in the level of training undertaken and topics covered, which has led to a lack of confidence in some areas.

The implications for policy and practice outlined below are based on the survey findings and case studies:

  • Ensure training on domestic abuse is embedded into Early Help/Family Support workforce development strategies
  • Leverage the skills and knowledge of specialists
  • Support referrals to specialist domestic abuse services
  • Ensure availability of specialist domestic abuse services for children
  • Build confidence and skills in work with perpetrators
  • Equip the workforce with the confidence, knowledge and skills to identify and support children affected by domestic abuse
  • Represent the experiences of diverse communities throughout training
  • Improve awareness of children with disabilities who might be experiencing domestic abuse and upskill staff to provide appropriate support
  • Support the well-being of the workforces
  • Draw on best practice for retention and continuous professional development
  • Harness survivors’ perspectives to develop domestic abuse training
  • Strengthen the evidence base.
Linked Project

You can view the project linked to this publication here: 


Related Publications

Evaluating domestic abuse programmes for children & families

Improving outcomes for children with child protection concerns