When the new Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Harassment and Honour Based Violence (DASH) model was introduced in 2009, for the first time it enabled police services and partner agencies to use a common checklist to identify and assess risk with victims of domestic abuse.
Since then model has become solidly entrenched in practice, is well respected and has an evidence-base of some note. On a more personal level it was a no brainer when it came to decide if it should be included in the book about public protection, which I recently co-authored.
DASH is based on learning and research and provides practitioners with a structured way of gathering knowledge from a domestic abuse incident; so they can make an informed judgement concerning the risk to the victim.
Last week, while I was scanning tweets on my own twitter network, I saw a link to an article that had been published in the online newspaper, the Huffington Post. The Huff Post generally reports on weird and oddball news from around the world and is not generally known for its in-depth analytical articles on domestic abuse and safeguarding children.
The article was written by Laura Richards, Chief Executive of Paladin and author of the DASH Risk Model, who has worked for many years to improve the police response to domestic violence and abuse.
The article implied that the police service is looking for an alternative to DASH or at least an evolved model that is less onerous to use.
Richards argued that a new or evolved approach is not needed and in fact suggested that the proliferation of risk assessment tools and models over the more recent years, and lack of coherent leadership and a joined up approach, creates a very real threat that we go back 20 years.
This statement was clearly a shot across the bows to those (who aren’t identified) considering the need to change DASH and its use by the police and others. I find this a rather unsettling proposition to adopt for someone who created change around 14 years ago when it was desperately needed and has worked to evolve practice ever since. Evolution in my view is not just helpful on occasions, it is unstoppable.
Nevertheless, I do agree with her when she states “The DASH Risk Model, along with the new domestic violence law, is only as good as the end user’s understanding of what they are looking for and how to apply or implement it.” Investment in training, auditing and supervision are key to ensure the highest standards of professional practice and rarely get the focus they require.
Unfortunately, the police service is finding it challenging in times of shrinking budgets to use DASH as it is intended. I know from conversations with many front line officers and senior leaders across the service that it is regarded as hugely time consuming, too bureaucratic and is viewed as a tick box exercise on many occasions when hard pressed cops try to deliver quality (with little training or supervision).
I don’t agree with it but I can empathise with them given the wafer thin blue line these days and the workloads being heaped upon them. All front line response policing these days is reactive whatever we may wish for and it is response officers in the main who attend domestic incidents and complete the DASH forms.
I recently interviewed a neighbourhood policing sergeant in the West Midlands who understands this well and has shaped his own local delivery around domestic abuse response, ensuring all standard and medium risk cases receive a follow up from his staff. His drive is to ensure quality service, the signposting of services where appropriate and to reduce levels of harm. His type of proactive model and the evolution of practice he is trying to deliver require consideration by policing across the UK.
I know many within policing have already and unilaterally adapted the current CAADA DASH model to try to make it more achievable to front line delivery, while maintaining the victim focus – and many who are desperate for a corporate change delivering such a move.
I believe we do need an evolution of the model and that it doesn’t need to be counter-productive or damaging. An evolution of DASH delivered with quality training and a supervision regime akin to that within social work and health practice is the way forward. Sticking with a model that the service is clearly unable to deliver on many occasions in the way it was envisaged is helping no one, especially the victim.
Police officers need tools that support their learning and enable them to think and assess for themselves, and not to be treated as automatons. They also need the investment from leadership to deliver the much deeper training and knowledge required.
As such in this intellectual debate I believe it makes sense to invest time and energy in evolving the DASH model. Victims of domestic abuse and the current front line of policing deserve it.