Module 7: Principles of interorganisational cooperation and risk assessment in cases of domestic violence in multi-professional teams

Inter-agency cooperation
Challenges associated with multi-agency working
What constitutes a successful partnership in the context of multi-agency working?
Components of a successful multi-agency partnership
Principles of multi-agency working
Good practice examples

Learning objectives

The aim of this module is to understand how frontline responders work and why cooperation in multi-professional teams is most successful in tackling domestic violence. The learning materials are not tailored to the needs of every country; they include generic cases that need local adaptation.

IMPRODOVA: Why is cooperation in cases of domestic violence important?

The video points out why cooperation is important in cases of domestic violence.

Inter-agency cooperation

Domestic violence has harmful impacts for individuals, families, and relationships. It affects the health, well-being and education of children witnessing or experiencing abuse. It affects the economy, businesses, and employers in the community where victims/survivors or perpetrators work. It increases demands of housing and results in other health and social care needs. All these service providers and agencies are affected and often deal with the same issues in divergent ways, with different interventions and different outcomes.

Working in a multi-agency partnership is the most effective way to respond to domestic violence at an operational and strategic level. Initial and ongoing training and organisational support and supervision are essential.

The level of multiple engagement with services or agencies/organisations may be dependent on the circumstances or complexity of each individual case and its surrounding situation and the availability of services in the local area. Different services do not always communicate with each other, and are often not allowed to exchange information, partly for data protection reasons, resulting in the lack of sharing information. Consequently, the victims must repeatedly provide their information, including details of their abusive experiences to different people in different organisations. Recalling experiencing can itself be traumatic for victim-survivors and consequently may deter them from accessing support.

Challenges associated with multi-agency working

Multi-agency working has its own challenges. Fundamentally, different agencies and service providers have different organisational missions, visions, values, aims and objectives. They have different targets and tasks and may also have different rules, regulations and working mechanisms. This makes it difficult for professionals in these agencies to work together at the same pace. There could also be a lack of understanding of the role and responsibilities of staff and the language used by individuals and organisations could be different leading to issues in working together.

A good example to elaborate this is the difference in the language, definitions and labels used to refer to the victim-survivor with various labels in operation including ‘victim’ (criminal justice system), ‘survivor’ (women-centred organisations), ‘patient’ (healthcare services), ‘tenant’ (housing services), ‘service user’ (welfare agencies) and ‘customer’ (adults’ social care). When working with perpetrators, the term victim is also used in the sense of criminal law, but it can also refer to ‘relatives’ and ‘clients’ in general. This highlights the complexities of working in multi-agency contexts. Various agencies use different tools and instruments to asses and report the risk of domestic violence. Data gathered by different agencies is not comparable due to variations in the type of data collected, ways it is recorded, data storage and lack, or data portability mechanisms. There may also be different understandings of what constitutes domestic violence and its impact among different organisations. High staff turnover in organisations is also a barrier and affects communication as it takes time for people to develop trusting relationships.

What constitutes a successful partnership in the context of multi-agency working?

An understanding of the challenges of multi-agency working can help to identify components of successful multi-agency partnerships. The importance of leadership for any group and organisation cannot be underestimated. For an effective multi-agency partnership, it is essential that all the partners have a clear and shared vision, clearly articulated and agreed goals, aims and objectives. It is equally important that the staff in all organisations are aware of the vision, mission and goals of the partnership and have had the opportunity to clarify any misconceptions or questions. For any services, including multi-agency partnerships, to work effectively, it is important to understand the needs from the perspective of various stakeholders including service users as well as frontline practitioners providing services, to have respect for all cooperation partners and to meet them at eye level (despite power imbalances). Such an understanding may help identify concerns and issues affecting the provision of services and, thereby, help set priorities for the services.

Components of a successful multi-agency partnership

It is essential to use a joined-up approach, where various agencies are working together in order to smartly and effectively provide services. Such an approach may, on the surface, not seem different from agencies working separately, but for victim-survivors and their children it can be beneficial as there will be less duplication of assessment, and provision of services would be integrated and efficient. An understanding and clarity of the roles of various professionals working in the multi-agency context is very important. Professionals in different organisations and diverse disciplines bring different but complementary expertise. For example, the expertise, knowledge, and skills of a practice nurse will be completely different from those of a social worker. Similarly, a police officer brings a very different set of experience and knowledge than a domestic abuse counsellor.

The disclosure of domestic violence is also associated with certain reporting and notification obligations, which vary depending on the professional group. This may concern the reporting and notification obligations of pedagogical and psychosocial occupational groups in cases of suspected immediate danger to self or others and danger to the well-being of children. Medical professions are also subject to special reporting obligations, which are regulated in the respective professional laws.

Cooperation with organisations and authorities in the field of perpetrator work is also essential for the prevention of new acts of violence. These include, in particular, men’s counselling centres, probation and parole services, as well as judicial authorities and their associated social services (prisons, public prosecutors, courts, lawyers). These institutions work with perpetrators both after an incident of violence and before a new act of violence is committed. These institutions can therefore observe corresponding risk indicators that serve to protect the victims. Prisons, the public prosecutor’s office and the courts are therefore important cooperation partners for victim protection, especially with regard to the imposition of pre-trial detention and the risk of release or release of offenders.

Appropriate and timely information sharing is very important. There should be clear mechanisms and protocols for sharing information between agencies, and these should be promoted and monitored by management and supported by compatible IT (information technology) systems. Effective information sharing relies on open communication and collaboration and facilitates the use of a common language among various professionals. Provision of shared training events for various professionals is also a good strategy to bring people in one place to facilitate the development of a shared language and understanding of information sharing as integral in the response to domestic violence.

Finally, the importance of monitoring, evaluation and auditing cannot be underestimated as it will help in identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges for the multi-agency partnership. Areas of improvement identified through such activities should be considered learning and improvement opportunities in which views of victim-survivors and all other stakeholders should be sought and incorporated.

Principles of multi-agency working

To ensure a successful partnership, certain principles can be developed and agreed on by different agencies working together. The points listed below can help professionals and organisations to draw and agree on certain principles that all agencies working together should adhere to.

  • Understand that without effective prevention and early intervention domestic violence often escalates in severity and, therefore, it is important to make every effort to identify and support adult and child victims earlier.
  • Prioritise safety of the victim-survivors and their children when considering interventions and acting immediately on disclosure of risk of harm.
  • Data about all incidents of domestic violence should be recorded, analysed, and shared with management of agencies working together regularly and appropriately.
  • Encourage cooperation with institutions and authorities that work with perpetrators in order to assess risks on a multi-professional basis and to prevent new incidents of violence.
  • At the initial engagement with the services, informed consent of the victim-survivor should be gained to ensure information between agencies can be shared, when required, without unnecessary delay.
  • Work cooperatively to provide a supportive and enabling environment which encourages people to report domestic violence to the police and other professionals and agencies.
  • Respect confidentiality and privacy wherever possible and understand the risks associated with information sharing in the context of domestic violence.
  • Develop and adhere to shared policies and procedures to guide information sharing between different organisations.
  • Ensure that victim-survivors are treated with respect and dignity. By listening to them and believing their experiences and assuring them that they are never to blame.
  • Empower domestic violence victim-survivors to make well-informed choices and decisions for themselves, wherever possible. Do not make decisions for them without their involvement.
  • Ensure that services are sensitive to the diverse need of the victim-survivors considering their age, disability, gender, race or ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation, but recognise that such differences are not used as an excuse for accepting or perpetrating domestic violence or other harmful practices.
  • Recognise that victim-survivors and their children are most at risk when attempting to leave an abusive relationship or seeking help.