Supporting best social work practice in safeguarding

05 September 2016

Image: Lyn Romeo, Chief Social Worker for Adults at the Department of HealthLyn Romeo

In December 2015, a new offence of controlling and coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship was brought into law under the Serious Crime Act (2015). The law recognises that a pattern of coercive control is the root of domestic abuse.

Those of you who are fans of the radio programme, The Archers, will have been following Helen’s story and the impact and repercussions of such behaviour on people and their families and communities. This law now reflects and supports the significant cultural changes in our society as to what is unacceptable behaviour in intimate and family relationships. Understanding and working with this new offence is very important for social workers in relation to their safeguarding practice with people who have care and support needs arising from their physical or learning disabilities, mental health issues or dementia, and who may be at risk of harm or abuse.

Improving and challenging social work practice and being clear about the knowledge and skills practitioners should have to work alongside people to ensure they are safe and that they can have the best possible lives is a key part of my role. So I was keen that the Department of Health would ensure that social workers and others were given support and guidance to respond appropriately to any disclosures or observations of controlling and coercive behaviour. RiPfA and Women’s Aid are working together to develop new resources to support social workers and social care practitioners who are working with these situations. Lindsey Pike has also written a great blog which helpfully explores key practice issues in relation to people with dementia.

Social workers are well placed to use their knowledge and skills to work effectively with people to ensure that domestic abuse issues are addressed. They have the professional practice capability to recognise and respond effectively to controlling and coercive behaviour, using the social work relationship to build trust and confidence and utilising good professional judgement in relation to risk and safety planning to work alongside the person. This is intrinsic to Making Safeguarding Personal (MSP). MSP aims to make safeguarding person-centred and outcomes-focused and moves away from process driven approaches to safeguarding. Working with individuals’ stated outcomes, rather than imposing outcomes is especially important in this area of safeguarding work.

Social workers have the communication skills to engage and create rapport, give professional empathy, develop relationships built on trust and understanding along with well-grounded practice methods to support change and facilitate people having the lives they want for themselves. This is what excellent social work is all about and I hope it will be applied well to working in this challenging area.

This is the time for building on social work expertise to manage increasing complexity and support individuals to balance the management of risk alongside enabling positive risk taking, involving advocates and accessing appropriate legal interventions where necessary .

This article was originally published on the Department of Health Social Care blog and has been reproduced here with permission of the copyright owner.

About the author(s)

Lyn Romeo is Chief Social Worker for Adults at the Department of Health.

Related resources

A suite of resources to support social care practitioners working in situations of coercive control will be launched in January 2017.

Find out more about the new offence of controlling and coercive behaviour in this Home Office guidance.

Guidance on safeguarding and domestic abuse is available from LGA and ADASS: Adult safeguarding and domestic abuse: a guide to support practitioners and managers (2015).

If you are experiencing domestic abuse you can ring these national helplines:

For women: 24 hour helpline run by Women’s Aid and Refuge 0808 2000 247. 

For men: Men’s advice line 0808 801 0327. 


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