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Posted: August 30th, 2023

The role of healthcare professionals (Social Workers) in helping people experiencing domestic violence and abuse

The Role of Social Workers in Assisting Individuals Affected by Domestic Violence and Abuse
The role of healthcare professionals (Social Workers) in helping people experiencing domestic violence and abuse

Domestic violence and abuse, encompassing various forms of controlling, coercive, threatening behavior, violence, or abuse within intimate partner or family relationships, is a pervasive issue transcending factors such as gender, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, and sexual orientation (Robbins & Cook, 2017). This essay explores the critical role of healthcare professionals, particularly social workers, in supporting individuals facing domestic violence and abuse.

Defining Domestic Violence and Abuse

Terminologies describing domestic abuse vary across regions, with terms such as intimate partner violence, spousal violence, and family abuse being common in developed nations. The focus herein is on domestic violence and abuse, encompassing a range of abuses affecting individuals aged 16 and above within intimate relationships (Home Office, 2012).

Impact of Domestic Abuse and the Role of Healthcare Professionals

Domestic abuse exerts profound effects on victims, affecting not only their mental and physical well-being but also their financial stability and social interactions (Femi-Ajao et al., 2018). This abuse engenders health issues, absenteeism, and economic loss, placing an additional burden on healthcare systems and economies (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence [NICE], 2014). Office for National Statistics (2017) data underscores the prevalence of domestic abuse, impacting 1.9 million individuals aged 16-59 in the UK, disproportionately affecting women.

Social Workers’ Roles in Addressing Domestic Violence and Abuse

Identification of Victims

Healthcare professionals, including social workers, play a crucial role in identifying victims of domestic abuse (NICE, 2014). While routine screening’s necessity is debated (O’Doherty et al., 2014), involvement in identification is pivotal to interrupting the cycle of abuse (Trevillion et al., 2012). Given their interactions with families, social workers have opportunities to recognize signs of domestic abuse.

Empathetic Response and Trust Building

To promote victim identification, social workers must respond empathetically when individuals disclose their experiences (Bacchus et al., 2018). Given distrust of social workers and concerns about child removal (Robbins & Cook, 2017), fostering trust through empathetic responses is vital.

Signposting and Referral to Specialist Services

Social workers’ role extends to referring victims to specialist domestic violence services, alleviating the barriers preventing victims from seeking help (Overstreet & Quinn, 2013). Victims’ reluctance, stemming from shame, stigma, and fear, necessitates support and guidance from professionals (Spencer et al., 2018). By directing victims to appropriate resources, social workers empower them to break the silence and seek support.

Addressing Gendered Health Impacts

Domestic abuse leads to a range of physical and mental health issues for victims, irrespective of gender (Ellsberg et al., 2008; Bacchus et al., 2018). Social workers’ referrals to specialist services enable victims to access tailored assistance to address these health impacts effectively.

Legal Aid Support

Legislative changes underscore social workers’ newfound ability to provide documentary evidence supporting victims seeking legal aid (UK Government, 2012, 2017). This shift empowers social workers to aid victims in legal battles, particularly concerning child custody and criminalizing perpetrators (Legal Aid Agency, 2018). Such support becomes crucial for victims who face financial dependency on their abusers (Eriksson & Ulmestig, 2017).


Domestic violence and abuse’s multifaceted impacts necessitate holistic support, with healthcare professionals playing pivotal roles. Social workers, in particular, facilitate victim identification, foster trust, refer to specialist services, and provide crucial legal aid support. By actively engaging in these roles, social workers contribute to breaking the cycle of abuse, promoting victims’ well-being, and enabling survivors to access justice and support.


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