Understanding how social workers identify and respond to perpetrators of intimate partner violence

This research sought to explore social workers' understanding of IPV, and current approaches to responding to social cases involving IPV. 
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About the study

In November 2021, the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) was awarded funding from the Home Office as part of the Domestic Abuse Perpetrators Research Fund, to undertake research to improve understanding of how social workers identify and respond to perpetrators of intimate partner violence (IPV). Via in-depth interviews with stakeholders working across a range of roles within the social work field, the research sought to explore social workers’ knowledge and understanding of IPV, the training they receive in relation to IPV, and current approaches to identifying, assessing, and responding to social work cases involving IPV.


  • Varying levels of familiarity with, and understanding of, IPV as part of a broader category of domestic abuse were reported. This ranged from some individuals who were not already familiar with the term to others who offered quite detailed descriptions of how IPV is defined in legislation or academic sources.
  • Stakeholders explained that social work has a strong focus on the safety of victims/survivors and children; therefore, working directly with IPV perpetrators is less common than working with victims/survivors.
  • Findings of this research indicate a lack of consistent and in-depth coverage of IPV as part of pre- and post-qualification training for social workers. Where training is provided, it was described as focused mainly on awareness raising or training on victim/survivor risk assessment and safeguarding, rather than training related to IPV perpetrators.
  • Stakeholders explained that the role of social workers in risk assessment is focused on engagement with the victim/survivor and identifying factors affecting their safety and the safety of any children involved. However, when it is safe to engage the perpetrator, social workers may inquire about and assess struggles with alcohol, mental health, caring role or career stress, and other factors that may be contributing to their abusive behaviour.
  • Stakeholders tended to report limited knowledge of the treatment options available for IPV perpetrators. Findings indicate that this gap in knowledge is related to the victim/survivor focus of social work, as well as the limited availability of perpetrator treatment options.


The study involved two complementary stages:

Stage 1: a light-touch desk-review of key documents and websites was carried out to provide researchers with a broad understanding of the social work profession in England and Wales and the role of social workers in cases involving IPV. This stage also informed the development of the recruitment and fieldwork materials, as well as refinements to the sampling and recruitment strategy for Stage 2.

Stage 2: qualitative research (in-depth interviews) was undertaken with 29 stakeholders in practitioner, management, and training roles within the field of social work.