Opportunities and challenges in commissioning and evaluating victim services in the UK

By Laura Knight, Director of the IPSCJ

This blog originally appeared in Policing Insight in July 2015

Following the devolvement of the commissioning of support services for victims from the Ministry of Justice to Police and Crime Commissioners, there has been much activity at the local level addressing victim experience and recovery, quality of services and delivery of commissioning processes aimed at getting the best service for victims.

The Institute for Public Safety, Crime and Justice and CoPaCC jointly held a workshop event for policy makers, commissioners and key stakeholders in this field, to explore the successes and challenges of these processes and to improve local commissioning of victim services going forward, for example through the development of a quality mark in this field.

The workshop included representatives from Police and Crime Commissioner’s offices, support services for victims, technology services and the Victim Commissioner’s office. The experiences, views and ideas shared during the discussion are outlined below and present an opportunity for debate about next steps and responsibilities across police and justice, health, voluntary and community sectors.

Specifying victim services with minimal information

The Ministry of Justice provided Police and Crime Commissioners with options for the devolvement of responsibilities and funding for victim services, which meant ‘early adopter’ services (six areas) went live with new services from October 2014 and the remaining areas from April 2015.

The models for services vary from ‘in-house’ provision within police constabularies, joint services between police and voluntary sector organisations, newly specified services or continued grant arrangements with voluntary sector providers.

Several ‘needs assessments’ and consultations with victims across crime types, characteristics and vulnerabilities have been undertaken at the local level to provide insight to the needs and services available to victims. However, many commissioners experienced difficulty in producing a specification for support services which provided robust information and evidence to meet the demands of commissioning processes.

In particular, there is limited information about the true scale and nature of victimisation, which means it is difficult to predict the trajectory of demand for services. The majority of commissioners are investing in marketing and awareness campaigns to increase public knowledge about victims’ rights and to encourage victims to access support, which in turn increases unknown demand for services and creates challenges for both commissioners and providers in budgeting, planning and ensuring skills and expertise meet victims needs.

Community organisations need to develop to meet demands

Competitive tendering processes are an excellent tool to drive suppliers to deliver quality products and outputs, demonstrate expertise and ability to provide ‘more for less’. However, the relative inexperience in the justice sector, for example compared to the health sector, to manage tendering processes for tailored support for people, as opposed to boots or IT equipment, means that these processes are less likely to have identified the best providers and in many areas have created rifts between small, community-based organisations which struggle to provide the information necessary to participate. Our challenge is commissioning evidence-based, value-for-money services which also drive partnership working and joined up services to meet the needs of victims.

Beyond the one monopoly provider of support for victims, the majority of existing services struggle to participate in commissioning processes for broad support for victims, due to the time, resources and evidence required to pass even the initial assessment. In particular the referral process and case management system required to deliver the core service for victims in touch with the police is a key challenge for smaller providers.

Pulling smaller providers together into consortiums can be an effective approach to enabling organisations to participate in large-scale service tendering processes. However the experience to date in this area shows that community-based organisations with experience in delivering support to specific groups of victims tend to want to commit to their remit and their geography, which can often be a small area and a very specific crime type, such as male rape or stalking. Some organisations present to commissioners in a way which suggests they are focussed on preserving their organisations rather than putting the evolving needs of victims first, which can make commissioning processes frustrating and ineffective.

The design of the justice system is an inherent problem to doing the right thing for victims

Across all research, consultation and assessments of needs and experiences, victims tell us they want to tell their story once, they want to be listened to and have their voice heard, they want actions and decisions explained to them and some of them want practical and emotional help and support. What victims want and need in these simple terms are widely recognised; the Victims’ Code of Practice and Witness Charter take us forward to gaining commitment from justice agencies to deliver against these needs.

However, having a justice system designed around legal processes and separate responsibilities across the police, courts, Crown Prosecution Service, probation services and so on, has made it very difficult to offer a single point of contact to support victims through their journey. On top of this, the separation of local commissioning of support services from the national commissioning of the witness support service has prohibited the development of joined up provision of emotional support through this stage of the justice process.

Innovation through local commissioning

Whilst not all areas were present to share their models and services for victims, the group reflected on a number of achievements in using the devolvement of commissioning to deliver new services at the local level, to compare different approaches and to begin to build an evidence-base of the most effective services to support victim recovery. New services include;

  • provision for victims with mental health needs, including community psychiatric nurse support and agreements between victim services and mental health services to ensure swift and seamless referrals;
  • provision of dedicated support for children and young victims; linked to family support programmes run by local authorities and development of expertise and specialists ‘in-house’;
  • provision of support for victims not recognised by the Victims’ Code of Practice; antisocial behaviour and those affected by death and serious injuries as a result of road traffic collisions (providing support without waiting for identification of liability; recognising the impact of these sudden, tragic and violent incidents on people’s lives);
  • joined-up police services with support services to provide a better-informed and seamless journey for victims. In particular, creating joint teams to provide victims with police updates on investigations and decisions, witness care support to guide through court cases and co-located working with police-owned resources such as Independent Domestic Violence Advisors and Independent Sexual Violence Advisors.

Whilst individual case studies and anecdotal feedback suggests these joined up arrangements are delivering improved experiences for victims, evaluation of services against victim recovery is required to provide robust evidence about the outcomes of these new arrangements.

Evaluation and insight into victim and witness experience

It is widely recognised that the evidence-base for ‘what works’ in improving victim recovery is extremely limited and commissioners of services for victims remain unclear about core aspects of delivery, for example; when is the best time to offer victims emotional support?

For those victims that decline support in the early days, what proportion suffer longer term and should be identified at a later date? What impact do current support services have on victim recovery, across mental health, emotional wellbeing, re-entry to employment or education, use of health services and medication and development of relationships and a personal support network?

Existing measures of victim experience are police and justice-focussed, addressing levels of satisfaction with services within six to twelve weeks after the victimisation was recorded (Home Office statutory surveys undertaken by or on behalf of police services).

The Crime Survey for England and Wales is a useful national data set to provide information about victimisation, reporting behaviours and perceptions of the police and wider criminal justice system. These two data sets are currently the only mechanisms used to provide a sense of a baseline about victim experience and neither provide a picture about victim recovery.

To address this, the IPSCJ has created a three-phase survey programme for Northamptonshire to follow victims through their experiences of justice processes, support services and recovery, measuring perceptions of what is important and impactful during these times and the impact on health and wellbeing, attitudes and behaviours.

Research studies at the local level provide one-off pictures of victim interactions and perceptions of specific services and are useful to inform commissioning processes. However much more needs to be done; robust evaluations of services are required to identify what works, what doesn’t work and where the gaps are in service to drive improvement in service provision nation-wide.

Commissioners are particularly worried about areas such as fraud, where the numbers of victims are very high, little is known about the impact on victims and accessing victim information to provide support is more difficult due to national case management through ActionFraud.

Alternatively, many support services are delivered by very small community-based organisations which collect very little information, addressing issues such as honour-based violence, forced marriage, female-genital mutilation and male rape. There is a significant gap in our knowledge about how best to design and deliver services which are evidenced to improve victim recovery across mental, physical and emotional wellbeing.

Opportunity and demand for a quality mark for victim services

The Victims’ Code of Practice and Witness Charter provide a broad guide to the core requirements of service provision to victims across justice and support services and can therefore be used as a broad framework in the assessment of services meeting victims’ needs. However, local commissioning of victim services has driven new models of delivery of support and several new services and partnerships have been created.

These services go beyond the Victims’ Code of Practice, recognising broader groups of ‘victims’ such as those suffering antisocial behaviour and bereavement through road traffic collisions; and identifying broader needs such as mental health services or family support.

The recent focus on victims’ and witnesses’ rights, local commissioning arrangements for support services and the potential for parts of the Code of Practice to be enshrined in law, demonstrate national commitment to recognising the impact of crime on communities and to drive improvement in quality of services in this area.

The IPSCJ and CoPaCC are scoping the potential for a ‘quality mark’ for services for victims and witnesses, similar to the concepts behind the restorative practice quality mark and Investors in People; a tool which publicly shows that services are reviewed and demonstrate reliable, good quality services which meet the needs of victims and witnesses. Not only would a quality mark present information about areas where service is good quality, but it is also likely to drive improvement in services to achieve the quality mark, which encourages policy-makers and commissioners to look at good quality services and assess opportunities for improvement.

Going forward

The IPSCJ and CoPaCC will continue to hold meetings and workshops to drive the improvement of evaluation and evidence about victim experience and support services and to develop the material to support a quality mark in this area. Please get in touch to find out more and to get involved.