Black women and women from other racially minoritised communities are disproportionately impacted by domestic abuse, and face systemic inequalities at every stage of their involvement with the criminal justice system and other statutory and non-statutory services. Working to address these inequalities is essential for both the immediate and long-term safety of victim-survivors, yet there is a systemic gap in effective and appropriate responses to domestic abuse across racialised communities. Through our national systems change work, we seek to address this systemic gap alongside specialist by-and-for organisations – which not only support those who have been disadvantaged by inequitable services, but are themselves often disadvantaged by an inequitable, predominantly white-led system. During this Black History Month and beyond, we are celebrating the central role that our partners have played in driving forward national systems change, and underlining their vital role in increasing the safety of Black and other racially minoritised victim-survivors.
Identifying key pillars
The direction of our work was guided by a research project by the University of Suffolk, spearheaded by Dr Olumide Adisa, Senior Research Fellow at University of Suffolk and Complex Systems Theory Lead at VISION at City University of London, alongside H.O.P.E Training & Consultancy, which was founded by Meena Kumari in 2008 to offer training, consultancy, activism and advocacy on domestic abuse, sexual violence and safeguarding. The research project explored existing responses to family and intimate harm within Black and other racially minoritised communities and, from the key themes and recommendations outlined, we identified three priority pillars of our work: including increasing cultural competency across mainstream services, supporting the critical role of by-and-for organisations and culturally specific services, and workforce development across the sector to ensure that it reflects all of the communities that it is designed to serve.
Cultural competency refers to the behaviours, attitudes, and policies that enable services to work effectively with service users from different cultures. In 2021, our colleague, Elaha Walizadeh, conducted a review of available evidence on culturally responsive interventions for perpetrators of gender-based violence; highlighting key elements of cultural competency, learning on culturally specific interventions, and the importance of by-and-for specialist services in the development and delivery of those interventions. In 2022, we hosted two focus groups with discussions on what cultural competency looks like in practice to continue to develop our knowledge, with key points including:
- Being knowledgeable of your local client group, their cultural background, power dynamics and the local community organisations associated with them;
- Having a targeted approach to recruitment and diversity – including having positive male role-models to work with service users;
- Challenging power dynamics, discrimination and bias internally, from partners and through referral routes;
- Working in equitable and reciprocal partnerships with communities and by-and-for organisations, taking into account the unique challenges that by-and-for organisations face, such as disproportionate underfunding, and actively seeking to challenge discriminatory power structures.
Cultural competency is vital for effective responses to domestic abuse and the safety of victim-survivors, and should be seen as a journey rather than an endpoint. For instance, we continue to seek to improve cultural competency and intersectional understanding across our own Drive Project sites – in line with our aim to improve responses to those causing harm across marginalised and minoritised communities. Our National Systems Change team and Practice Advisors are currently working collaboratively with frontline practitioners to ensure that the guidance and training materials being produced meet the needs of those using them in their day-to-day roles; with a particular focus on improving understanding of, and an intersectional response to, harm within racialised communities, LGBT+ communities, and disabled communities.
Working with specialist by-and-for organisations
As outlined in the multiple research findings above, and throughout this blog, specialist by-and-for organisations are critical to effective responses to domestic abuse – both as a culturally specific service in themselves, and for developing cultural competency across the sector. However, as has also been outlined above, by-and-for organisations face unique challenges, and it’s essential that larger organisations are aware of these barriers and build equitable partnerships with specialist services to help overcome them. From conversations with by-and-for organisations on what an equitable and reciprocal partnership would look like, key themes included:
- Recognising the power dynamics prevalent in existing partnerships – many organisations have to partner to survive, which can be taken advantage of;
- Recognising the limited back-office capacity that many by-and-for organisations have as a result of disproportionate underfunding;
- Unrestricted funding to ensure that by-and-for organisations can finance what they need and what will be most effective for the organisation, rather than limiting funding to specific roles or workstreams;
- Supporting by-and-for organisations to have ‘a seat at the table’. Many by-and-for organisations will have limited reach into funders and commissioners – it should be the duty of larger, generic organisations partnering with by-and-for organisations to amplify and highlight work led and delivered by them, and to support the shifting of power in commissioning spaces.
Workforce development and training
In addition to increased cultural competency across mainstream services and increased support for specialist by-and-for organisations, there must also be increased workforce development and training across the sector to ensure that it reflects all of the communities that it is designed to serve, and increases the safety of all victim-survivors. However, a lack of diversity in the workforce and inadequate opportunities for professionals from racialised communities is as a prominent issue across the not-for-profit sector.
Working with H.O.P.E Training & Consultancy, we commissioned a consortium of experts to conduct research into the views and experiences of nearly 50 frontline staff from racialised communities and over 40 sector leaders working within specialist domestic abuse perpetrator services and organisations. Through 1-2-1 interviews and group discussions with frontline staff, researchers within the consortium identified three overarching themes and areas for improvement, including tackling institutional racism; focusing on equality, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I); and addressing feelings of isolation. Researchers also recognised that ED&I was a central focus of sector leaders, but identified the understanding and acknowledgement of privilege as an opportunity for further improvement. Utilising these findings, H.O.P.E Training and Consultancy compiled four key recommendations to address systemic barriers to colleagues from racialised communities in relation to entering the sector, remaining part of the workforce, and progressing to leadership opportunities; including a pilot leadership programme for staff from racialised communities, a pilot development course for sector leaders, the development of a support network and action learning, and a final evaluation and sharing of findings.
Throughout 2022 and 2023, H.O.P.E Training & Consultancy delivered the two pilot programmes, and hosted a Leadership Showcase event to share key research findings and hear from guest speakers regarding their personal experiences and the vital need for such programmes across the workforce. H.O.P.E Training and Consultancy is continuing this critical work to address systemic barriers to colleagues from racialised communities both entering the sector, remaining part of the workforce, and progressing to leadership opportunities.
Looking ahead: New phase of collaboration
As outlined above, over the past few years we have been working with specialist by-and-for organisations to understand the role we could play to help tackle inequity across the sector and address gaps in provision of culturally specific and culturally competent services. We recognise that partnerships between large, white-led organisations and by-and-for organisations are often problematic, partly due to the unbalanced power dynamics, and we want to ensure that equitable partnership is at the core of what we do.
As part of a new grant from The National Lottery Community Fund, we are seeking to build equitable partnerships which address a current lack of specialist provision within racialised communities, as well as cultural competency within mainstream services. Through consultation with by-and-for organisations, we have taken forward a new workstream to co-design two culturally specific behaviour change programmes alongside by-and-for organisations, individual practitioners, experts from relevant communities, and experts by experience. This began with an expression of interest process for members for two Co-Design Groups (one developing responses within Black communities, and one within South Asian communities) to develop culturally specific responses to perpetrators of domestic abuse, and members for an Advisory Group to support on the development of a Cultural Competency Toolkit, alongside providing guidance on a broader advocacy role for The Drive Partnership. The Co-Design Groups have now been established and are underway, and we are in the process of developing the Advisory Group.
The expertise and collaboration of specialist by-and-for organisations has driven our collective progress in recent years, and will continue to shape, guide and hold accountable our work as we seek to address the systemic gap in responses to those who cause harm. To develop and sustain national systems that better protect all victim-survivors of domestic abuse, we must build equitable partnerships that seek to address the systemic inequity among organisations within the sector and uplift, celebrate, and support the central role of Black and other racially minoritised experts and by-and-for organisations.