POWERFUL allies are helping Cheshire Police make a serious impact in the campaign to support victims of domestic violence.
Cheshire Domestic Abuse Family Safety Units (DAFSU) are now up and running, providing confidential support to those who have or are currently experiencing domestic abuse.
The units are in place at police stations in Northwich and Congleton and they run in partnership with statutory agencies such as the police and voluntary services.
They are a partnership venture and their aim is to inform and support clients through the range of options available to them so they can make informed decisions about their future.
Unit co-ordinator Sharon Bowden is employed by Cheshire County Council. She said: ‘We are here for those who have experienced domestic abuse of any sort - physical, emotional, mental, sexual, including a controlling partner who dictates how much money a person has and how they spend it.
‘In short, anyone who has a need for the support of the services we can offer. This can be anything from telephone and group meeting support to helping improve the safety of a client.
‘The starting point for all clients is a risk assessment and a safety plan. The services we offer are then based on an individual’s needs.’
Each DASFU includes a co-ordinator, an independent domestic violence advocate (IDVA), outreach support workers and administrative support staff.
Advocates concentrate on high and very high risk clients who are at the point of crisis by working with other agencies to help reduce the risk to a client and improve their safety.
Outreach workers work to reduce the risk to clients by working closely with them on a long term basis on strategies that can minimise vulnerability to further and future abuse.
Unit co-ordinator Sheila Brookes, also employed by Cheshire County Council, said: ‘The IDVAs and Outreach Workers give people a choice to improve the future for themselves and their families. It’s really important that people are aware that we are an independent agency and that the help we give is confidential.
‘And although a lot of the support we offer is with the help of partnership agencies, we only work with those who agree to keep information about clients confidential to themselves and any other agencies that are working to support them.’
Accessing the services of DAFSUs is achieved in a number of ways:
Referral to an Outreach Support Worker by a partner agency such as police or health care professional with the consent of a client.
Referral to an Advocate following a risk assessment. The risk assessment must class a client as high or very high. Consent from the client is desirable but not essential.
Clients who are deemed as very high risk are also referred to Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARAC) – a meeting of agencies which deliver a safety plan to protect victims, children and any other vulnerable person. The MARAC is a dynamic process and has reduced further abuse occurring.
Support to reduce danger and boost opportunity is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what DAFSUs are all about.
They also support clients who are working with the police to prosecute their abusers and those who are trying to resolve issues through the civil courts.
In addition, they collect statistical data to help paint a clearer picture of the level of domestic abuse in Cheshire and advise partner agencies such as police on the best way to deal with abuse cases.
Assistant chief constable Garry Shewan, Cheshire Police’s lead on domestic abuse issues, said: ‘DAFSUs are an excellent example of the great partnership work taking place here in Cheshire. They represent the commitment of agencies such as the police and councils to provide a high-class service to victims.
‘Long gone are the days when domestics were issues police did not get involved in. We deal with every report of abuse robustly.
‘In practical terms this means we will take action against offenders at every opportunity and never give up the campaign to make sure every victim we are aware of knows there are services which can help them and how to access those services.
‘The input of partnership agencies is vital to this approach and I think I speak for everyone when I say we are all committed to making a difference to the lives of abuse victims. We do recognise however that there is a way to go. There are improvements we want to make and people can rest assured our efforts to achieve them will never stop.’
There is no specific profile of an abuse victim or offender and it is for this reason the DAFSUs strive to make contact with victims from all sectors from ethnic minorities to those who live in rural areas.
The service is also provided within a framework of equal opportunities, anti-discrimination and respect for the rights and individuality of the client.
Co-ordinator Sharon Bowden said: ‘You cannot tell an abuse victim or an abuser simply by looking at them. We recognise the fact that anyone can be a victim and the way we work reflects this.’
The voluntary agencies which work with the DAFSUs include NSPCC, Rights of Women and Shelterline.
Here are their numbers along with some other useful contacts:
National Domestic Violence helpline 0808 2000 247
NSPCC 0808 800 5000
Rights of Women 020 7251 6577
NHS Direct 0845 46 47
Shelterline (24 hour) 0808 800 4444
Victim Support Male Helpline 0800 328 3623
Men’s Advice Line 0808 801 0327
Cheshire Domestic Abuse Partnership website (for local information) www.cheshire.gov.uk/domesticabuse