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Working together to help vulnerable people

September 18, 2012 6:35 PM
By Cllr. Lisa Brett, Bath and North East Somerset and Lib Dem member, LGA Safer Communities Board in Fighting Crime - Locally by the Lib Dem LGA group
Cllr. Lisa Brett

Cllr. Lisa Brett

Nationally, the police estimate that they get a call every minute from someone who is a victim of domestic abuse.

Local authorities have a key role to play in increasing awareness of domestic abuse and promoting early intervention.

Victims of domestic abuse often suffer in silence and frequently require considerable support to regain self-confidence and control of their lives. Local Authorities must be aware that domestic abuse can happen between people of all ages, cultures, sexual orientation, religion and classes. People who suffer this kind of crime often stay with the perpetrator for years for a wide range of reasons. Occasionally perpetrators have more than one partner, and move around staying in different homes, creating a number of victims from a single source of abuse.

The main priority of the local authority and police in responding to domestic abuse must be to protect the lives of both adults and children who are at risk. This requires that local authorities commission adequate support services and engaging with a wide range of agencies. Community Safety Partnerships are responsible for ensuring the co-ordination of services supporting people suffering this crime and promoting awareness. Local councillors are responsible for ensuring this happens through scrutiny panels, influence policy and where necessary, redesign their services for the longer term.

In Bath and North East Somerset, Southside Family Project employs independent domestic abuse advisors to help those at risk. This can be a lengthy process but, to me this goes to the heart of what being a Liberal Democrat is about -standing up to help those most at risk and working with others to achieve it.

Sexual violence

It's a myth that victims of sexual assault always look battered and bruised. A sexual assault may leave no outward signs, but it's still a devastating crime. Local authorities should be concerned about the under-reporting of sexual assault and ensure the promotion of awareness as well as adequate resourcing of support services. Councillors who are concerned about this type of crime should lobby hard for more Sexual Assault Referral Centres - These are independent centres where victims of sexual assault can get medical care as well as practical and emotional support.

Hate Crime

Hate crime hurts us all as they strike at the heart of our communities. Hate crimes are motivated by hostility or prejudice against a person because of their; disability, gender-identity, race, religion or faith and sexual orientation. Getting the right response to tackling hate crime requires leadership from Ward Councillors to ensure targeted action.

Community safety partnerships should recognize that it is essential that front-line police understand the extent of hate crime in an area and respond to it. Local authorities can facilitate this by ensuring victims have access to third party reporting procedure.

In Bath & North East Somerset, the Partnership Against Hate Crime's Panel had identified a part of the City with particularly high levels of racism, antisocial behavior and general nuisance. An intensive partnership programme of work to address both the physical and behavioural concerns at this location saw a marked improvement of residents' perception of the area. Additional physical works, from CCTV and door entry systems, to better cleaning of the public areas, has been done in tandem with a range of activities to address negative behaviour, such as Acceptable Behaviour Contracts and community development activities.

The families who had suffered the greatest abuse report that there has been a significant reduction in problems and they no longer want to be re-housed. The extent of resident satisfaction is such that they engaged in suggesting ways of maintain the community spirit. For example, developing a local lettings policy and residents charter with their housing association.

Young People

Councillors can promote better and earlier intervention with young people at risk of becoming perpetrators of crime. The police alone cannot tackle youth crime effectively; children's services, parents, schools, local agencies, parents and communities must play their part.

In order to break the cycle of offending and transform the life chances of young people at risk of becoming perpetrators, local authorities must help combine family support and community empowerment with appropriate penalties and enforcement.

Councillors can promote wider use of family intervention and Troubled Families work, which provide non-negotiable family support and relevant lasting interventions. Both projects set clear boundaries of acceptable behaviour and failure to comply with the terms of this support has appropriately firm consequences.

The needs of young people both as victims and offenders can be complex and deep rooted. In Bath, local Lib Dem councillors raised concern about community tensions emerging in a particular part of town and approached the councils Community Safety Team for their intervention.

Working with the local community, investigations found that one young person, (who also had a multi-cultural background) was known by local agencies and schools as a catalyst in stirring up racism against Polish members of the community, as well as BME neighbours. Through the council's multi-agency Case Review Panel, she was also identified as a victim of racism. Her family was already subject to Family Intervention and she was subject of an Acceptable Behaviour Contract (ABC). In recognition of the complex nature of her behaviour the charity Support Against Racist Incidents' agreed to work with her as a victim whilst also setting out to rigorous actions to address her behavior as a perpetrator. Six months on, and the girl and family are progressing very well and the community are also part of this success. Schools and local people are helping each other, in a positive way.

Youth Re-offending

Many young offenders do not re-offend, some because they fear more serious consequences and find sufficient alternatives to crime, or they may simply out-grow such behaviour. However, a number of offenders require more support to ensure they do not re-offend. To help them Liberal Democrat councillors can campaign for the council to:

  • improve education and training for young offenders by funding and commissioning education services
  • reinforce the role of Children's Services in overseeing resettlement provision develop a more comprehensive package of support for young people leaving custody expand resettlement and aftercare provision
  • examine why they offend -what are the root causes?
  • use restorative justice approaches to enable young people at risk of offending to understand the impact of their behaviour -on victims, their families, communities/business and schools