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  • James Rowlands

An update on my Churchill Fellowship

Leaflet for Summit on a National ClearingHouse for Domestic Violence Fatality Review Teams

I thought it was about time I blogged about my 2019 Churchill Fellowship.

Somehow, I've already managed a trip to Arizona. While there, I got to spend some time with Dr Neil Websdale and Dr Kathleen Ferraro from Northern Arizona University’s Family Violence Institute, which was a real privilege. My destination was Flagstaff. Sitting at around 7,000 feet, surrounded by mountains, desert and ponderosa pine forests, it’s quite the small city. But there wasn’t much time for sightseeing, because I was attending the first national summit run by the National Domestic Violence Fatality Review Initiative (NDVFRI). With representatives from fatality review teams (as Domestic Homicide Reviews are known in the USA) from twenty states, the summit was a chance to have a conversation about their work. I was part of a small contingent of visitors from Canada, the UK (including Frank Mullane from AADFA), Portugal, Australia and New Zealand who brought an international perspective. The summit was a chance to think about how to share information between fatality review teams. The aim is to build a better picture of the circumstances of individual cases and use that to drive policy and practice change to reduce the likelihood of future homicides. While the early start was a surprise (7.30am for networking, with the day, starting promptly at 8am!), I was left brimming with questions and ideas. Firstly, there is considerable diversity among fatality reviews teams, all of which operate differently to our own Domestic Homicide Review process. Hearing about those differences was eye opening, and I am hoping to speak with a small number of fatality reviews teams in the coming months to explore this further. Second, in England and Wales, we face similar challenges about how we share information nationally. So much of the work of the summit is relevant to our discussions about the development of a national repository, although with a single model we perhaps have a simpler, if still daunting, task. Third, there were a range of broader conversations. Those went from the technical (including how to run fatality reviews, and which homicides are reviewed) through to how to collect data. Attendees also wrestled with tricky issues in an American context (like privacy and the use of guns in homicides). There were also thoughtful reflections on the purpose of fatality reviews, including the different ways that teams try and honour victims and keep them (and their families) central to the process.

Having had a break of about a month or so, the next leg of my Churchill Fellowship begins shortly. On Thursday in fact. My first destination is New Zealand, where I will be learning about the approach to what they call Family Violence Death Reviews. That includes the work of New Zealand’s Family Violence Death Review Committee (FVDRC). Like its international cousins, the FDVRC aims to understand family violence deaths to prevent them in the future. As in England and Wales, there have been concerns about reviews making endless recommendations. In response, the FVDRC has taken quite a radical step. They've started focusing on the broader changes in thinking that are needed to develop an integrated response. That idea doesn’t only apply to recommendations though, and it is mirrored in their thinking about interventions for those affected by or perpetrating violence. Specifically, there's a recognition that one-off interventions often don’t work, so they are seeking to address the entrenched beliefs and structures that contribute to the entrapment of victims. The FVDRC also talks explicitly how gender inequity, racism, poverty, social exclusion, disability and heterosexism shape people’s experiences of abuse. That includes a recognition of the legacy of colonisation and its impact on Māori communities. I’m looking forward to learning more about this work, particularly as it may have lessons for Domestic Homicide Reviews (which often don’t do justice to equality and diversity issues, for example by failing to take an intersectional approach).

Then Australia beckons. I will be travelling to three states in all – South Australia, Victoria, and New South Wales. Each has a Domestic or Family Violence Death Review Team based in the state’s Coronial Court, although there are differences between them. What’s really important though is that since 2011, an Australian Domestic and Family Violence Death Review Network has been working to bring together learning, sharing best practice and developing a national dataset. I’m certain that much of this will be directly relevant to England and Wales. I’m also really pleased to have been invited to present seminars at both Monash University’s Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre and the Melbourne Research Alliance to End Violence against women and their children (run by the University of Melbourne). So I am looking forward to talking about my Churchill Fellowship, my experience as a Domestic Homicide Review Chair and my PhD research, as well as meeting other researchers working in this area.

That’s it from me for now. Follow me on Twitter for updates as I travel, and I also hope to share some thoughts after each visit. After all, I shall have plenty of time to write while I wait around in airports…

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