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Cultural competency and by-and-for engagement

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Under the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence theme: unite, The Drive Partnership is focusing on the importance of partnership and unity to challenging abusive behaviour and stopping domestic abuse. Partnership and unity are at the heart of The Drive Partnership’s work on National Systems Change, which not only unites partners across the domestic abuse specialist sector, public sector partners and beyond, but also seeks to enhance, develop and unite sustainable, national systems in England and Wales to respond effectively to all perpetrators of domestic abuse. Within this work, we are focus on four key systemic gaps, including Children’s Social Care, LGBT+, Racialised Communities, and housing, alongside workforce development. In the following blog, we will explore our work to address systemic gaps in racialised communities and the importance of cultural competency in domestic abuse responses and engagement with by-and-for organisations.  

Domestic abuse and racialised communities  

Black and minoritised women are disproportionately impacted by domestic abuse; with exposure to poverty, racism, xenophobia, and support barriers putting them at greater risk of gender-based abuse. Racialised people, including those who are perpetrating abuse, also face systemic inequalities at every stage of their involvement with statutory services – particularly with respect to the criminal justice system. Additionally, while there is a growing evidence base around perpetrator interventions, there is a gap with regards to culturally appropriate responses for people from racialised communities. Within this key systemic gap, we know that improving responses must involve engaging effectively with those who cause harm from racially minoritised backgrounds, and ensuring that perpetrator responses are underpinned by a constant focus on increasing the safety of Black and minoritised victim-survivors. 

To explore how can best respond to this disproportionality, we supported a research project by University of Suffolk and H.O.P.E Training and Consultancy to explore responses to family and intimate relationship harm within Black and minority ethnic communities. Building on the recommendations from this research, we identified the following key priority strands of work which we continue to explore: 

  • What makes a service “culturally competent”, and how do you achieve this? 
  • What is the role of by-and-for organisations within the perpetrator space, within both mainstream services and in delivering culturally specific services? 
  • How do we develop the workforce within the sector to be diverse, inclusive, and anti-racist? 

Throughout this blog, we will focus on the first two strands of this work, including cultural competency and engagement with by-and-for organisations. You can find out more about the third strand of this work, which focuses on workforce development across the sector, here.  

Cultural competency in domestic abuse interventions  

As outlined in the findings of a review conducted by The Drive Partnership’s National Systems Change team, ‘cultural competency” is crucial in domestic abuse interventions; which refers to the behaviours, attitudes, and policies that allow them to work effectively with service users from different cultures.  

Services must work with the cultural and faith backgrounds of their service users and still hold them accountable for their actions. This means exploring patriarchal community values which restrict not only women’s but men’s freedoms, and exploring service users’ experiences as a racialised minority, their religious/spiritual beliefs, and if relevant, their immigration experiences and the trauma/responsibilities attached to this. 

Importantly, cultural competency should be seen as a journey rather than an end-point. In April, we hosted two focus groups with discussions on what cultural competency looks like in practice. Some key points made by the groups are highlighted below: 

  • Knowledge – Being knowledgeable of your local client group, their cultural background, power dynamics and local community organisations associated with them. 
  • Diversity – Having a targeted approach to recruitment and diversity – including having strong male role-models to work with service users. 
  • Outcomes – Recognising and respecting differences in desired outcomes – some victim-survivors may have a strong desire to stay with their partner long-term – and balancing this with risk-management. 
  • Reflection – Being reflective and accountable – including through strong data collection and practice discussion. 
  • Power dynamics – Challenging power dynamics, discrimination and bias internally, from partners and through referral routes. 
  • Rights – Recognising that holding communities at a lower standard with regards to women’s and children’s rights is in itself a form of racism. 
  • Confidence – Being confident – feeling you can genuinely support the service user you’re working with. 
  • Equity – 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.  

Engaging with by-and-for organisations 

The last key point in the findings outlined above – working in truly equitable partnerships with by-and-for organisations – is an essential element of developing cultural competency in domestic abuse interventions. We have made progress in exploring this area, as you can see in these key findings on Culturally Responsive Intervention, written by our colleague, Elaha Walizadeh. As we continue to develop our work in this area, we are keen to consult on and develop a full guide for mainstream service providers on how to equitably partner with by-and-for organisations.  

From initial 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 – this may mean stepping into provide that support when appropriate or ensuring there is flexibility on timelines. 
  • Building on the above, it is essential that by-and-for organisations receive unrestricted funding to ensure that they 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. 

By-and-for organisations also have a critical role to play in developing and delivering culturally specific services. Our research has highlighted that, alongside cultural competency in mainstream services, there is a strong need for culturally specific services – which must be delivered by by-and-for organisations. There are very few culturally specific services currently being run for perpetrators of domestic abuse – however, over the past decade, there has been a rise in evidence supporting services of this type. These services may look very different across areas and client groups – they may be individual or group interventions, they may be family-focussed to tackle abuse from multiple perpetrators, they may be closely linked into mental health, substance misuse or other parallel services. While different, these services would share a common strand: being rooted in community and by specialist by-and-for organisations.  


As has been made increasingly evident through this workstream, in particular through research and through learning from by-and-for sector leaders and from practitioners, cultural competency is a journey and not a destination, and it cannot be done alone. Through partnership and unity, sustainable investment in by-and-for organisations, cultural competency development across the workforce, and a collective effort to affect national systems change, we can improve responses to those who cause harm in racially minoritised communities and increase the safety of Black and minoritised victim-survivors.