Homes for Haringey – Making our housing operatives the eyes and ears for identifying domestic abuse

Since 2016, HFH have provided the council’s domestic abuse and homelessness services, recognising the interconnectedness of domestic abuse and homelessness. Providing a safe and secure place to live free of the perpetrator is often a vital first step to providing support to victims and survivors escaping domestic abuse.


Context

Homes for Haringey (HFH) is an arm’s length management organisation set up in April 2006 to manage Haringey’s council housing, 16,000 tenanted homes and 4,500 leasehold properties. Since 2016, HFH have provided the council’s domestic abuse and homelessness services, recognising the interconnectedness of domestic abuse and homelessness. Providing a safe and secure place to live free of the perpetrator is often a vital first step to providing support to victims and survivors escaping domestic abuse.

HFH’s domestic abuse support is provided through Hearthstone, a support and advice centre which supports survivors of domestic abuse to access various avenues of support including refuge accommodation, free legal advice, the sanctuary scheme and access to counselling. However, HFH wanted to go further to support victims and survivors by embedding awareness and knowledge of domestic abuse amongst all of its 750 staff, especially the 180 members of staff within its internal Housing Repair Service (HRS). This was also a necessary component in HFH’s approach to become accredited by the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA). The Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance’s (DAHA) mission is to improve the housing sector’s response to domestic abuse through the introduction and adoption of an established set of standards and an accreditation process.

HFH identified that HRS, while carrying out housing repairs, would be in a unique position to either identify potential domestic abuse and raise a concern or, be seen as a trusted person by a victim and survivor to disclose that they were experiencing domestic abuse. They wanted to ensure that HRS staff were able to be supportive and understanding, demonstrate empathy but also be equipped and trained to know what to do, and being knowledgeable of referral pathways to Hearthstone and other appropriate sources of support.

What did they do?

To begin raising awareness amongst all staff within the organisation HFH first introduced mandatory e-learning on domestic abuse. This consisted of an online training package that focused upon spotting the signs and understanding the impact domestic abuse has. HFH then took a more targeted approach providing face to face training for the HRS which consisted of discussing different scenarios and what the potential signs of domestic abuse might be when attending someone’s home. For example, they were trained to be aware of holes in the wall potentially caused by someone who may have punched it, missing or broken locks on the bathroom door, as well as being aware of repeat visits to make repairs. If the housing operative had a concern they were encouraged to fill out a ‘concern card’ which would be escalated to Hearthstone, via the housing manager.

Additionally, the training focused on building the confidence of housing operatives to deal with different scenarios such as disclosures made by victims and survivors, or supporting someone who was immediately escaping domestic abuse. The training sought to ensure that the housing operative knew how to react and could immediately support the victim and survivor through knowing the pathways to support, they also received empathy training. All housing operatives received paper and electronic resources which included a fact sheet with relevant contact information on referral pathways into specialist domestic abuse support.

To raise further awareness within the organisation, HFH recruited volunteers from across the organisation to become ‘Survivor Champions’. Anyone who wanted to learn more about domestic abuse and act a resource and point of contact for their colleagues and teams could be eligible. They would receive enhanced training in domestic abuse which included for example, going through detailed case studies as to how they would support the victim and survivor in different scenarios. The Survivor Champions then attended ‘Toolbox Talks’ which were the HRS’s team meetings to update and further raise staff awareness on domestic abuse.

Impact and outcomes

The domestic abuse training has been positively received by 180 staff, with some housing operatives retrospectively and subsequently identifying the signs of domestic abuse in the homes they had visited. It has led to an increase in referrals to specialist services and has enabled more victims and survivors to be supported and existing abuse to be identified sooner.

Through having a greater understanding of domestic abuse some staff have felt a greater sense of empathy when responding to victims and survivors of domestic abuse, with some housing operatives going out of their way to follow up on referrals they had made to Hearthstone. Victims and survivors have also commented on how understanding they have found housing operatives when they have visited their home to fit additional locks and security measures through HFS’s sanctuary scheme.

As a testament to the housing repairs staff the DAHA accreditation process noted the following,

Haringey Repairs Service (HRS) demonstrated they went above and beyond ensuring survivors of domestic abuse are supported. HRS were fully linked in with internal and external partners to have effective support pathways, and had measures in place to make sure survivors felt comfortable. DAHA were extremely impressed to see the strong knowledge, expertise and empathy HRS displayed during the assessment and we would love to see this replicated across the housing sector."

- DAHA Accreditor

The passion and the drive of the Survivor Champions, of which there are now 20 across the organisation, also led to one male staff member openly talking about his own experience growing up in a house with domestic abuse and the ‘impact that had on him as a child’. This illustrated to his colleagues why raising awareness, identifying and tackling domestic abuse is so important and it has encouraged others to share their experiences within the organisation.

Lessons learnt

It addition to a comprehensive domestic abuse service, it is vital to train staff who are out and about in the community

HFH recognised that you can reach and support more victims and survivors of domestic abuse through upskilling staff who are already working within the community. Those staff can sometimes be the first point of contact for a victim and survivor, it was therefore considered important they know how to provide effective support.

It is important to include contractors to ensure a comprehensive approach to tackling domestic abuse

HFH want to ensure contractors, who also visit properties to carry out works, have the same level of training as the HRS. Contractors have responded positively to this request and HFH are including minimal training provision on domestic abuse to be included in their future contracts requirements and monitoring.

Contact

Fran Bolton, Hearthstone Manager. Homes for Haringey ([email protected])