The Domestic Abuse Act – what it means for social workers
By Gemma Raw
Four years after it was first announced, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 became law on 30 April. How will it impact those working in social work jobs?
Domestic violence is one of the most common issues dealt with by social workers. The Crime Survey for England and Wales for the year ending March 2020 showed that an estimated 2.3 million people aged between 16 and 74 had experienced domestic abuse in the previous year. The ONS says that, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic between April and June 2020, there was a 65% increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, compared with the first three months of the year.
Aimed at significantly strengthening the support available to victims, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 will have significant impact on the day-to-day activities of those working in social care roles, as well as the local authorities which employ them.
Here are some of the key features of the Act which are particularly relevant to social workers:
What constitutes domestic abuse?
The Act finally creates a statutory definition of domestic abuse, recognising that it's not just about physical or sexual violence. The abuse can be psychological, emotional, controlling or coercive, or economic.
With the victim and abuser having to be 'personally connected', different types of relationships are now covered, such as ex-partners and family members. The Act also extends the offence of coercive and controlling behaviour so that it's no longer necessary for abusers and victims still to be in a relationship or living together.
Better safeguarding for children
For the first time, the new Act classifies children who live with domestic abuse not just as witnesses, but as victims in their own right. This means that social workers must take into account and address their needs as well as those of the main victim.
The Act also places a duty of care on local authorities which operate social services to provide support both to victims and their children in refuges and other safe accommodation.
Protection for victims
A new Domestic Abuse Protection Notice (DAPN) has been introduced to provide immediate protection to victims following a domestic abuse incident. There's also a new Domestic Abuse Protection Order (DAPO) to provide flexible, longer-term protection.
Although the majority of applications for DAPOs will be made by the police to a magistrate's court, the Government has committed to providing an alternative route for third parties to apply to the family court. This means that social workers may be able to apply directly on behalf of their clients.
Domestic Abuse Commissioner
This new role has been created by the Act to provide public leadership and monitor the provision of domestic abuse services. The Commissioner will work closely with local authorities and social care professionals.
In April this year the British Association of Social Workers published new guidance for child and family social workers supporting victim-survivors of domestic abuse. Read the guidance here.