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Social work practitioners should utilise their knowledge base and developed skill-set to create contextual understandings and break down barriers, establish engagement and optimise outcomes.

Guided by extensive professional training, the Professional Capabilities Framework and agencies such as the British Association of Social Worker's, below are listings of some key skills which are required to help females who have been abused or are being abused (PCF, 2012; BASW, 2018).

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Active listening

There is listening and there is active listening; be active! Hear whats being said, be authentic and really take on board what is being communicated to you!

Listening forms the foundations of assessment, effective and trusting relationships between yourself and the person being supported, helps build therapeutic interventions and essentially is the base-line for attaining safety of females at risk.

Examples of active listening are: maintaining eye contact, not taking notes whilst someone is talking, paraphrasing what has been said, repeating back what has been said. 

Using your professional judgment to recognise all communications, verbal and non-verbal. Kinesics make up over 80% of what is communicated. Does their body language correlate with what they are saying? Are they saying they feel safe but are flinching, avoiding eye contact, overly emotional? Do not overlook the importance of this. 

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Personalised approach
(One size, NEVER fits all).

Adults at risk requiring social support to survive and thrive circumstances which are challenging, such as domestic violence and abuse (DVA) is potentially universal to everyone (IFSW, 2014). However each person is an individual, with contextual support needs, which are not generalisable.

Supporting a female victim of DVA, support should be shaped to fit the persons needs, any mental or physical impairments, characteristics, their ethnicity, belief system, culture, social norms and values (Rogers, 1986; Parrot, 2014). Social care with adults is underpinned by ‘Personalisation’ which requires social workers to recognise a persons individuality and adapt care plans, support and intervention to fit to this (DoH, 2014).

The law arguably narrows the classification of those with social care needs too extensively, suggesting individuals only have social care needs if they possess a mental or physical impairment (CA, 2014). KSS-KISS takes the approach that all individuals who are subject to DVA may have a physical or mental impairment as a result of their abuse (whilst they may not usually possess a mental or physical impairment, the chronic stress and symptomology of abuse may evoke impairments; potentially restricting their capacities and abilities). 

Individuals who have physical or mental impairments prior to their DVA may present with additional or diverse needs which must be tailored to. However, it is KSS-KISS aim for practitioners to recognise that this tailored, proportionate support should be the case for all individuals, irrespective of diagnosed impairments. Thus encouraging social workers to approach all DVA victims in the same, individual manner, being responded to in an entirely personal way appropriate to their individual needs.

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Be culturally pluralistic

Social workers have a duty to work anti-oppressively and in an anti-discriminatory manner, this may  involve possessing a robust cultural acceptance and broad competence. However, social workers need to be aware that culture does not legitimise abuse, it must still be gauged within the UK conceptualisation and legislation of what is deemed abusive and unacceptable. 

Cultural norms vary, yet being overtly sensitive to addressing abusive practices can leave females in danger and this is not acceptable. Educating yourself as a practitioner around the cultural norms of those you are supporting, and possessing an open-minded approach can help. Putting the victims needs before that of any concerns of being perceived as discriminatory is fundamental in their protection and is part of your role as a social worker (BASW, 2012). Possessing a respectful curiosity is helpful to understanding all individuals, including when working with others from another culture or heritage from yourself.

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Educate and advocate

Social development is a core principal of social work and should be continually sort by practitioners. Social consciousness of domestic abuse is improving (evidenced in ways such as the introduction of new laws about coercive control and honour based violence). Yet more needs to be done to progress societies views and support services. Social workers can help through consciousness raising, educating and advocating against domestic violence and abuse on a micro, meso and macro level. This means speaking up against DVA; educating youth about healthy relationships whenever possible; helping an individual find support services and access these; challenging systems or structural misrepresentations of DVA; challenging victim blaming mindsets or language is also extremely important; being mindful of your own language and documentation of DVA at all times too to be anti-oppressive.


Partnership: Multi-agency, multi-disciplinary and sign-posting

Domestic abuse occurs with three main strands of social care intervention and support; for the victims, the perpetrators and children experiencing DVA. Whilst KSS-KISS primacy is on supporting female victims, a one sided approach to support and intervention would be negligable and insufficient toward attaining change and safety of all. Working together; we are stronger together!

MARAC are multi agency risk assessment conferences; meetings which information is shared in a multiagency setting, between diverse professionals such as social workers, police, healthcare, childrens care, housing, adult social care. These are cases with the highest risk domestic abuse. Social workers can refer to MARAC, which will discuss cases without or with consent of the individuals. MARAC is not governed by legislation but is used widely throughout the UK as these meetings support best practice in keeping individuals safe. MATAC meetings are similar yet focus on intervention and support of the perpetrators not victims.

Working with other disciplines is also fundamental for successful and long-term safety. Yet, when signposting to relevant agencies or working as a multi-diciplinary team.  Do not be afraid to question or pursue what your professional judgement indicates is necessary, do not allow your social work values and objectives be mislaid to suit another professional industries needs.

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Accurate and up to date record keeping

Support women to live safe, fulfilled lives. Record things, frequently and accurately. Domestic abuse is challenging to evidence, your records can make all the difference toward someone's life (Kagel, 2002). If you say 'she presented as if she was in fear and said her partner was controlling her and restricting her liberty' - this is not sufficient, it has no detail and does not provide any evidence of what happened in your conversation. 'She did  not raise her head during conversations with me, she frequently cried looked at the front door regularly to check if anyone had come in. She said her partner locked her in the house yesterday and took her phone off her so she could not call anyone or leave the house.' - this form of documentation evidences what was discussed and what was observed.


Professional Judgement

Remember, as a social worker you are a specialist in your field and your professional judgement is valid and essential in support and protection of others! Do not shy away from your voicing your own judgments. There does not need to be historic violence, abuse, or previously recognised high risk. Using the DASH tool (see our page on DASH), your understanding of that persons individual circumstances must be embedded within this tool, to recognise the level of risk; for example, they may not have ever been physically assaulted, but if they are threatened frequently, substance misuse is rife, they are extensively isolated (perhaps coercively or living in rural isolation) and they live with weapons in the house; use your professional judgments to gauge their level of risk appropriately FOR THEM. The victim may not always recognise their level of risk.

Perpetrators creating and portraying a manipulated narrative to professionals is common. Social workers are also susceptible to being manipulated, coerced and groomed by perpetrators. As a professional, you have to build trusting relationship to engage people, yet always hold an open mindset of critical perspectives about what was being said. Disguised compliance is potentially present, so it is important to possess a respectful uncertainty is essential when evidence gathering; a picture must be built with professional judgement, identifying how individuals present, the kinesics, broader information (others agencies, referral source) as well as the accounts of those you are working with (BASW, 2012).

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Empowerment is a fundamental expectation of social work in all areas. Yet what does this mean? What does empowerment of female abuse victims look like? Well, that is contextual and requires many of the aforementioned skills such as active listening and personalisation.

Victims of DVA are often lacking in self-confidence, self-esteem and may possess dysmorphic views of the abuse. Many may internalize their abuse and believe they are to blame, be unable to recognise it or may simply lack the desire, capacity or options to change at a particular moment in time. 

Social workers should recognise the importance of empowerment being contextual. Empowering someone to leave a DVA situation when they are not ready mentally or practically, can cause more harm than good (see proportionate as a skill). Empowerment of a person can be very small beginnings, which may help a them to recogise their abuse or to begin to diminish their self-blame or increase their self-esteem. Working in a strength-based way can significantly improve a persons self-conceptualisation and help a victim of DVA begin to feel worthy of attaining a safer more fulfilled lifestyle. Working in a strength-based manner means focusing on the positive elements of a person and building on these strengths practically and realistically, in aim of establishing long-term changes.

Empowerment can mean signposting someone to services they may need but are not aware of. Empowerment can mean believing a person when they disclose their truth. Empowerment can mean supporting a person to gain financial or emotional  independence so they can work toward moving to safety. And controversially, empowerment can mean helping a person to manage their risk within the situation they are currently in if they have capacity and are currently not wishing to leave. Empowerment is contextual, and needs to be managed proportionally within the realms of a persons specific capacity and needs.

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Every female victim of DVA is unique and every circumstance will be as individual as the people involved. Thus all interventions and support must be proportionate. Social workers must recognise the importance of proportionality and the Care Acts (2014) duty to assess situations should correspond to their interventions being appropriate to the individuals.

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Social workers are professionally trained specialists in supporting individuals at need. It is important for all professionals to possess an established degree of accountability for their actions. This means making appropriate choices which are informed by knowledge and using skills appropriately, in a way which is justifiable and least restrictive for the person receiving support. Documents, decisions and interventions should possess an intrinsic transparency and social workers must be accountable for their actions within the profession, the law, socially and by the person in receipt of support.

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Social workers are fundamentally required to support the protection of individuals. This requires social workers adherence to policy and regulation as well as moral codes of ethicswhich underpin the profession. Protection looks different for all situations and all victims, what works for one, will not protect another.

Social workers need to be mindful of the 'ONE CHANCE RULE' in DVA (specifically prominent in honour based violence and forced marriages). This is a rule which suggests that social workers have 'one chance' to get protection right, to make the correct decisions to protect a person, as insufficiently planned intervention can lead to catastrophic outcomes such as homicide.

If a social worker is encouraging a DVA victim to leave the abusive circumstances, they must recognise, understand and make appropriate provisions to maximize a persons safety and protection. Such as establishing safe place to live, support networks and building an inidviduals self-esteem. The initial three months after a DVA relationship separation s considered an imminent period of threat, with the first two years following a split maintaining higher predispositions to  high-risk abuses and homicides. Social workers should be aware of this period of increased risk and manage this. Cases should not be closed and the ongoing risk should be continually assessed and the individuals appropriately supported. 

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Prevention of domestic abuse and violence is potentially the most key role of a social worker. 

If prevention were sufficiently achieved, there would be no other requirements needed as the social problem of DVA would be abolished. Obviously this is an ideology which is potentially unrealistic, yet a goal which should be unwavering sought after by professionals. 

Prevention requires early intervention, educating society and young people in particular about healthy relationships, stress management, gender roles, capacity, victim awareness, consequences amid other important leanings. Resource and financial scarcity infringes prevention, as funding is primarily invested into crisis interventions, yet social workers should advocate for the importance of prevention and work toward this wherever possible.

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