Here we are highlighting best practice around Domestic Homicide Reviews. We want the professionals involved to have the understanding, skills and tools to make the reviews effective so that they reduce domestic abuse and homicide.
What are Domestic Homicide Reviews?
They are efforts by communities to learn from the killing of people by their own family or intimate partners and to apply that learning to create and amend initiatives and policies that will prevent these killings and protect more people from domestic abuse.
They should be collaborative efforts characterised by a culture of humility in which all involved make themselves open to learning and discard any defensive positioning. They are not about blame but about learning and it follows that professionals need to feel able to disclose their own concerns and concede weaknesses.
They should have multi agency and community input where family, friends and others who lived alongside the victim are integral to the review. They should be comprehensive, broad based, open and honest.
The Legal definition:
Domestic Homicide Reviews (DHRs) were established on a statutory basis under section 9 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004). This provision came into force on 13th April 2011.
Domestic Homicide Review means a review of the circumstances in which the death of a person aged 16 or over has, or appears to have, resulted from violence, abuse or neglect by—
(a) a person to whom he was related or with whom he was or had been in an intimate personal relationship, or
(b) a member of the same household as himself, held with a view to identifying the lessons to be learnt from the death.
Families should be given the opportunity to be integral to reviews and not just involved.
Giving families the opportunity to be integral to these reviews, situates the enquiry in the community where much of the knowledge of the antecedents is held. It means giving the family the opportunity to contribute to and influence scope, content, output and impact. It does not mean the family owns the review. It simply means that their status is raised to recognise their unique and vital potential to help create safer futures for others. The family should be afforded at least the same respect that the Chair and Commissioner and their bosses enjoy! That means regularly updating the family (unless they don’t want that) on progress, review timetable and problems etc. Regularly, we get contacted by families because they have not heard from the Chair in some time.
Families are rarely told of the timetable of reviews. Suddenly, a family is told they may need to agree the report within a few weeks as the Commissioner wants to send the report to the Home Office to be quality assured. This is disrespectful. Families need notice too. Even if the timetable is unconfirmed, it is still of use to the family.
Research by BASPCAN (British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect) concluded that families had a right to be involved, were (or friends) the closest perspective to that of the victim’s, held key information and may experience some catharsis during the review. Finally, that this experience may help them cope.
The research outlined four phases around initial contact, negotiation of remit, substantive gathering of information and feedback. This is a good summary but we would go further. Being integral to the review also means that the Chair should be updating the family regularly (providing the family want this) in the same way that they would update the commissioners of the review. It also means that families should have the opportunity to meet the review panel members and ask questions of these individuals.