Complex or Complicated: Evaluation of a whole family integrated domestic abuse (DA) programme

By Dr Helen Richardson Foster & Prof Christine Barter

Complex interventions are generally described as containing several interacting components due to intersecting issues or complexity of need. Complex DA interventions are increasing but are they complex or just complicated?  

In 2021 the Connect Centre, University of Central Lancashire1 published the results of a three year evaluation of a complex domestic abuse (DA) intervention which aimed to be responsive to the whole family’s needs. This work was part of a wider project exploring the services delivered by SafeLives and Women’s Aid and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. SafeLives co-designed a whole family service for DA survivors and their families which operated in two areas of England. The service provided different types of support which families could move between, comprising: individual community IDVA support; support for families who wished to remain in their relationships; support for survivors with complex or multiple needs; step down and recovery work; and individual and group work for children and young people. The evaluation methods included interviews with survivors and children, service user questionnaires, staff surveys and interviews and a social return on investment analysis (SROI). The study was co-produced with survivor-reseachers. Some key findings emerged with regard to engaging and supporting whole families:  

Survivors told us that they valued the combination of individual and group work delivered by the service. The provision of a flexible service, that was responsive to individuals was key. The combination of support for survivors with support with parenting, support for children and their partner (where applicable) was well-received. This was strengthened by an effective and integrated team, as one survivor said: ‘they’re all singing off the same sheet. They’re all working with you as a team and I think that is amazing.’ However, barriers to service delivery for women and their children were found. Some mothers told us that they would have liked more information about the suite of services at the start. The capacity of services to provide support to families when they needed it on their journey was also a challenge: high demand for services and staff retention led to long waiting lists at some points.   

Staff delivering the services in integrated teams felt that the vision of a whole family service had been achieved, but noted that setting up and delivering a new multi-component intervention was ambitious. New services were established quickly, and lessons were learned with regard to project delivery in whole family work, such as the need for whole family monitoring systems, and training in whole family approaches. Team building and support facilitated the integration of practitioners  from different backgrounds.  

The evaluation showed that recovery from DA for adult survivors and children is both complex and complicated – with many requiring specific and tailored support to their individual needs – nevertheless many families were able to achieve their goals and due to the support from service staff and other survivors move on from the damage DA had inflicted to a more positive future. 

1 The research team was led by the Connect Centre, University of Central Lancashire with colleagues from Bangor University, Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of East London. 


Dr Helen Richardson Foster is a Research Fellow at the Connect Centre, University of Central Lancashire 

Professor Christine Barter is Co-Director of the Connect Centre, University of Central Lancashire  

The Connect Centre for International Research on Interpersonal Violence and Harm, is based in the school of Social Work, Care and Community , University of Central Lancashire. To join the centre’s mailing list contact 

Stanley, N. et al. (2021) Roadmap Report and Executive Summary

Key Messages for Survivors of Domestic Violence & Abuse from the Evaluation of the Roadmap for System Change.

Richardson Foster H. et al. (2022) ‘Experience of specialist DVA provision under COVID-19: listening to service user voices to shape future practice’ Journal of Gender-Based Violence open access copy

Mental Health Outcomes for Survivors: Findings from an evaluation of community based domestic abuse services watch a recording of this presentation given as part of the Connect Centre’s on ‘Domestic abuse and Mental Health’ for the seminar for the Violence and Mental Health Network, September 2021