The Future: What’s next for ISVAs?

The National Conference for ISVAs took place on 28 September 2016. Held in Manchester’s spacious Fire and Rescue Training Centre so as to allow everyone who wanted to attend, chaired by the brilliant Sir Keir Starmer QC MP, and attended by over 120 ISVAs and ISVA Managers from across the UK, the atmosphere was buzzing from the moment LimeCulture opened the doors to welcome the first delegates in.

This was the second National Conference for ISVAs hosted by LimeCulture, the aptly named ‘Knowledge and Network’. The purpose of the conference clear – to bring together ISVAs from across the UK to share ideas, discuss challenges and learn. LimeCulture wanted to provide the ISVA workforce with the opportunity to learn from the topical and relevant guest speakers, but also from each other. ‘Learning from their peers is an important part of workforce progression. We know from more than 350 ISVAs that we have taught on the ISVA Development Programme, that the benefit of learning from each other is incredible. ISVAs will often face the same challenges regardless of what area they operate in, and being able to share their experiences is very powerful’ says Kim Doyle, LimeCulture’s joint chief executive, and lead trainer on their professional courses for ISVAs. ‘We’ve found that ISVAs are very happy to support each other and offer suggestions to their fellow professionals. It is really amazing to listen to them discuss a topic and collectively find a solution. Its very effective.’

The conference opened with Keir Starmer sharing his views on the work of ISVAs and the importance of their role. He explained that as Director of Public Prosecutions he was very aware of the need to provide victims and survivors of sexual violence with specialist support to assist them through the criminal justice system. He said the ISVA role has rightly been praised by many across the country and should continue to be seen as a vital element in the response to victims and survivors of sexual violence.

The first presentation at the conference was from LimeCulture’s Stephanie Reardon and Kim Doyle, whose presentation titled ‘A decade of ISVAs’ mapped the journey of the workforce from when role was first championed, right through to the current position. ‘We know that the number of ISVAs has expanded rapidly over the last 3 or so years, so there are a great number of ISVAs who don’t necessarily know the background or the history of their workforce’ explains Stephanie. ‘As a former civil servant, between 2004- 2008, I was the National Programme Manager for the team that had responsibility for sexual violence policy at the Department of Health.  I was in the room when the decision was made for the government to champion ISVAs and support the roll out of what my colleagues and I thought would be a vital support function for people following sexual violence. At a government level, we all knew that going through the criminal justice process was extremely hard for people. We also knew that getting the right support was vital but also very difficult to navigate or find the specialist services out there. We hoped that by supporting the introduction of ISVAs, that the dual focus of their role would make things significantly better for people who had experienced sexual violence.  I think its clear from the growing number of ISVA services and the increasing number of referrals that this is definitely the case. However, what happened next and how the role has been implemented across the country has varied. Its important for ISVA to be aware of this’. 

Other speakers at the National Conference included representatives from the Ministry of Justice and Criminal Injury Compensation Authority, who spoke about the Compensation Scheme for victims of sexual violence. They acknowledged some of the difficulties with the current scheme and how it is applied. This presentation lead to some lively debate with ISVAs about what this means in practice for their clients and how things are being implemented on the ground, including the incorrect advice that is often given by police and others about this type of compensation, and the concerning impact that applications for compensation can have on a court case.

The ISVAs also heard from representatives from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse and Operation Hydrant, who explained their functions and how their work may impact on some of the people that ISVAs are supporting.

Del Campbell from National Ugly Mugs talked to the conference delegates about supporting people from LGBT+ communities and how a basic level of understanding around these issues can go a long way to support people from this community. Del outlined some of the distinct risks and specific needs that this group of people might have following sexual assault and gave some important tips to providing better support.

The final speaker was Ian Munton, Head of Student Services at Keele University. Ian explained the work underway in Universities across the UK to improve their response to staff or students who have experienced sexual violence. Ian focused specifically on the work that he and his team have done and are doing at Keele to ensure a safer and more effective response to anyone within the university community who has experienced sexual violence.

The next session of the Conference was over to the ISVAs themselves. This session was developed with the aim of identifying where ISVAs would like to go as a workforce. Through table discussions Conference ISVAs were asked to focus on what kind of improvements they would like to see made to support ISVAs to do their roles and what developments they would like to see made over the next decade. The discussions were lively, with lots of constructive debate,  suggestions and ideas being raised, shared and considered. 


Each table was asked to feedback to the conference delegates. The key themes that were raised by the ISVAs during the facilitated feedback session were wide ranging,  thoughtful and innovative.  The discussion that ensued included the overwhelming support for the recognition that ISVAs need to continue to progress as a professional workforce and strive towards continued and ongoing development of their profession. The Conference heard ISVAs suggest that there was a pressing and ongoing need to protect their workforce by ensuring all ISVAs are properly trained before they can call themselves an ISVA. The conference also heard calls for guidance to be issued to support ISVAs, ISVA service managers and commissioners to fully understand what the ISVA role entails and crucially, does not entail. There were requests for standards to be created so that we can eradicate a postcode lottery for ISVA clients in different parts of the country by ensuring that ISVA services are all operating at a similar standard of quality.

Conference delegates also suggested that they would like a professional body to represent their views, lobby on their behalf and ensure that the interest of the workforce were addressed in a professional capacity. ISVA suggested that this professional body should be responsible for keeping a register of qualified ISVAs and a directory of contact details. It was suggested by delegates that LimeCulture would be well placed to take on this role if they were willing to do so.

ISVAs also talked about the challenges of having different job descriptions, ranging salaries and expectations that is created through the different types of organisations that employ them as ISVAs. There was an acknowledgement that ISVA services no longer just sit within the sexual violence voluntary sector, so wider representation is now required to reflect the make up of the workforce.

The Conference heard that more needs to be done to raise awareness of the ISVA role amongst the general public and also amongst other professionals who come into contact with victims and survivors. There was discussion about the fact that referrals to ISVAs are not always made at the right time, and more needs to be done to address this to avoid last minute referrals to support people at court.

The ISVAs discussed the need to continue to increase their numbers to reflect the increasing number of people who could benefit from support from an ISVA. There was lively discussion about the impact on increasing workloads and rising referrals numbers where this is not supported by an increase in the number of ISVAs that are required to support all the people who need their services. There was also concerns expressed about the need to to tailor support to meet the needs of people with specific needs. Some suggested there was a need for more specialised ISVAs roles, while others said they felt that further training should be available to up-skill ISVAs in relation to specific topics.

The need to up-skill commissioners about ISVAs was discussed by the delegates, who said that they felt there was a general lack of awareness amongst those who fund ISVA Services about exactly what it is that ISVAs do, or should do to support the people of their local communities. There was great concern about the merging of the ISVA role with the IDVA role by commissioners who were perceived to be trying to make financial savings. There was also a call for clarity about exactly who is responsible for commissioning ISVA services as this varies from area to area in the absence of clear direction from government. ISVAs felt that the inconsistencies across the country clearly evidenced by the differences in the funding models for ISVA services, show that none of which are sustainable

LimeCulture committed to continue to support ISVAs moving forward in whichever way is possible for a national organisation to add value. Stephanie Reardon explained the work that LimeCulture is currently undertaking to develop a risk and needs assessment tool for use by ISVAs and the need for ISVAs to be involved in the development of this tool. Stephanie also said that although this kind of national work would go a long way to support ISVAs to make the case for investment and evidence their value moving forward, there is a real need for ISVAs, regardless of their employing organisations, to come together and collectively raise awareness of the important work that they do.

The national Conference also included the LimeLight Award ceremony, which was the first of its kind and intended to recognise the outstanding professional practices of ISVAs across the country. To read more about the LimeLight Awards, please click here.

Keir Starmer closed the conference with a hugely powerful summary of his observations from the day. He described ISVAs as ‘life-savers and life-changers’ and stressed the importance that ISVAs support of the very vulnerable must never be allowed to be underestimated.

‘Knowledge & Network’ the National Conference for ISVAs took place on 28 September 2016. It was hosted by LimeCulture CIC, the leading provider of ISVA training across all sectors.

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