By Anna Mitchell
I have been asked to write this blog about my journey from first hearing about Safe & Together to my new role as Safe & Together Institute (S&TI) UK Lead. It makes me emotional even writing my job title – I’m so grateful for the way things have unfolded and excited about the next steps! When I started my job as Domestic Abuse Lead Officer in Edinburgh in 2012, I couldn’t fathom why I was placed in Quality Assurance. But I soon realised the influence a real organizational self-assessment of domestic abuse practice can show. Following a domestic abuse case file audit which evidenced the need for improvement in how we responded to this complex area, the Edinburgh Child Protection Committee agreed to fund the Safe & Together CORE Training; the first time it had been delivered outside the States.
I can remember vividly the morning of the Overview Day, sitting on the kitchen floor with a dawning realisation of the huge commitment that Edinburgh had made to deliver the training and the high expectations that participants had. I felt a rise of panic, “This had better be good!” I thought to myself.
Over the next four days I watched a transformation take place in a small, stuffy room in Edinburgh City Chambers where 40 practitioners took the brave step of reflecting on their practice and re-framing their ideas. Being able to evidence improvement using the case file audit tool really helped move the Model forward in Scotland. Local authority after local authority have made the same bold steps to undertake the training too. Now, over a third of local authorities in Scotland, and some areas in England, are beginning to embed the Model into their practice. That the Safe & Together Institute has created a post in the UK is testament to their commitment to supporting, localising and developing the Model to create more domestic abuse-informed child welfare professionals, communities and systems in the UK.
“Despite a shared mission, at times, I felt like I didn’t know which planet I was on or what language everyone was speaking.”
The first job I had after qualifying as a social worker was at the Domestic Violence Probation Project. I worked with the women and children whose partners had been convicted of domestic abuse. I was a feminist, a social worker and a women’s advocate based within a criminal justice organisation for men who perpetrate domestic abuse. Despite a shared mission, at times, I felt like I didn’t know which planet I was on or what language everyone was speaking. Everyone had their own jargon and their own perspective, which could create barriers to collaboration. I have watched the S&TI Model create a common approach for all service areas, practitioners and systems; no matter what their goal or which member of a family they are working with.
The movement in Scotland has been one which has grown from small groups and individuals taking a leadership role, despite their formal position within an organisation, and challenging themselves and others to examine their practice and systems. It has taken numerous people over many years to get their voices heard and fight for the energy, commitment and resources to make a change.
There is still a long way to go – systems as well as practitioners need to change. There needs to be a top down and bottom up approach to creating a domestic abuse-informed child welfare response in the UK. We are all part of a global network that is facing the same challenges and we can learn and support each other to improve our response and achieve better outcomes for families affected by domestic abuse.
To that end, on June 6 & 7, S&TI is holding its first European conference in Stirling, Scotland. I am encouraging anyone who works in fields that touch on domestic violence to join me there. (If you can’t attend the conference, we will be offering a four-day CORE Training in Stirling Scotland in July 2019). The event will offer presenters who are implementing Safe & Together in the UK, special guest presenters, plus presentations from the Model creator, David Mandel. Much like when I sat on my kitchen floor hoping for big things years ago, I know now what huge, mind-shifting training and insight happens at these conferences. I will be there and hope I get to see you there too!