Domestic violence: the Flemish approach

Picture by: Robin Reynders, Province Limburg

This article is written by Sabrina Reggers, Coordinator Family Justice Center Limburg
Houses of Justice, Department of Welfare, Public Health & Family, Flemish Government

People all around the world share the same three core values; family, safety and health. All of which are endangered by domestic violence. Domestic violence is the most common form of violence in our society. Over a quarter of the population has been subjected to violence at one point or another at the hands of a parent, partner or housemate. It constitutes a major problem, in terms of scope and severity.

If we want to stop this violence, the entire family must receive the necessary attention and care. The best way to do this is to develop an approach that is as consistent and coordinated as possible. The primary goals should be to stop the violence, decrease the number of risk factors, but also increase the protective factors in families in order to prevent new incidents of violence from occurring. The interventions taken should take place both on an individual and a systemic level.

The casuistry determines the approach

Picture by: Jong, R. de (2014). Presentation ‘Dialoogmoment Brussel’. Eindhoven: Keten&co

It’s impossible to tackle these complex situations by focusing on just one aspect of the problem. It is necessary to effectively collaborate with other agencies, with a joint responsibility and with the same goal in mind in an overall approach. Chain collaboration is therefore the keyword.

A chain approach enables several organisations from different fields of care, safety, law enforcement and administration to collaborate in a multidisciplinary manner to provide clients with customised care. By bundling their ‘need to know’ information, the agencies involved obtain a far more transparent and detailed picture of the situation. Add the collective expertise of various professionals and you often arrive at a far more carefully elaborated and coordinated approach. This ensures clarity and continuity, but also faster action of organisations if required. By working together the different organisations get to know each others way of working, which means double work can be avoided and they get to focus on their core tasks.

Clients are actively involved and are no longer confused by the sometimes contradictory expectations of the services involved. They are assigned a specific case director that provides them with an insight into what is happening with regard to social services and at the judicial level. This case director ensures an open communication between the agencies involved and monitors the situation from an overall point of view.

Good practices in Flanders

 

In every province in Flanders (Belgium) one or more of such chain approaches exist. Professionals from the fields of care, safety, law enforcement and administration can all report high risk cases to the chain approach if they meet the following criteria:

  • Complex situation and/or serious offences that demand a combined and coordinated approach involving care/welfare, police/judicial and administrative services
  • Multiple issues in several areas of life (accommodation, financial situation, psychological /social/ physical functioning,…)
  • Difficult start-up related to social services, criminal measures and/or administrative measures.

Picture by: Jong, R. de (2014). Presentation ‘Dialoogmoment Brussel’. Eindhoven: Keten&co

The following organisations take part in all those chain approaches: the Office of the Public Prosecutor, Police, Houses of Justice, Mental Healthcare agencies, Confidential Center for Child Abuse and Neglect, Youth Welfare, Center for General Welfare, City/Municipality/ etc. The coordination is done by the Houses of Justices of the Department of Welfare, Public Health and Family of the Flemish Government.

Taking the next step

In some regions in Flanders the organisations involved have taken the next step in their multi-agency collaboration. In Antwerp, Limburg, Mechelen and Turnhout they have started their own Family Justice Center. This ‘everything under one roof’ collaboration model has its origin in San Diego, California (USA) and has been spreading all of the world since 2002. In a Family Justice Center a multidisciplinary team works together in one location, with the goal to provide integral care to clients confronted with domestic violence and child abuse. All FJC’s follow the same guiding principles. They focus on safety and are victim-centered. They shape services to clients by asking them what they need and place emphasis on empowerment. They maintain close working relationships among all collaborators/agencies and increase offender accountability through evidence-based prosecution strategies and/or evidence based treatment programs.

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