In the thirteenth of our 16 blogs for 16 days, Nicole Jacobs, the Designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales talks about the work of the Pathfinder project and why it is so vital.
Congratulations to IRISi and the Pathfinder partners for raising awareness during these 16 days of action about the vital role of health provision in addressing domestic abuse. Health settings are trusted environments, used by everyone. Because of this, they are places we can reach those from every background and walk of life subjected to domestic abuse, especially those who may not feel confident seeking help from other professionals. That is why it is critical to ensure awareness about domestic abuse is embedded into the safeguarding policy and practices of all health settings. Here we know there is still work to be done: the findings of too many Domestic Homicide Reviews have shown the need for better and more consistent practice.
What should this improvement look like? Before becoming the Domestic Abuse Commissioner in September, I was CEO at Standing Together Against Domestic Violence (STADV), one of the Pathfinder partners. The aim of Pathfinder is to raise the ambition for practices to combat domestic abuse across all health settings, from GP surgeries to mental health trusts to acute hospital trusts. Across the eight sites, they are showing what is possible. Through Pathfinder I saw the incredible transformation in practice that can take place with committed leadership within a trust, working with specialist partners such as STADV. Staff become confident to talk about potential signs of abuse directly with their patients, meaning abuse is identified earier. Health professionals then act as a bridge to specialist services, which can provide the additional support a patient needs.
For too long we have depended on people going above and beyond to make a difference. In health, there are many incredible examples of this from exceptional individuals, and I salute their work. Or we have depended on charitable trusts to fund what has been seen as ‘additional’ work. But, as good as they are, neither of these approaches is sustainable in the long-term.
Pathfinder shows what is possible when tackling domestic abuse is seen as core business for a health setting, when the exceptional practice of a few becomes the common practice of all. This is not just about staff training or even co-location of specialist practitioners. Transformation requires clear and consistent commitment from senior leaders supporting policy development, data collection, patient voice, and other mechanisms to promote practice improvements as part of the core safeguarding work of the trust. This is the kind of sustainable, systemic change that is needed everywhere.
As Domestic Abuse Commissioner, I will be mapping provision, including specific work in health settings. I hope this information will help leaders and decision makers in health to target their efforts and ensure there is greater consistency of practice. As we learn more from evaluation of efforts such as Pathfinder, I aim to amplify and promote effective practice. And if and when there are opportunities in legislation and statutory guidance to make improvements, health must be central to our strategic thinking.
Thanks to the Pathfinder team and the eight Pathfinder sites for all of your work, and the difference you are making in the lives of so many. You are showing us all what is possible when we aim high and work hard for systemic change.
Nicole Jacobs is the Designate Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales.