Members of DMU SVDV Research Network provided the evaluation for this project led by Leicestershire County Council. The project was funded from 2016-2018 by the Department of Communities and Local Government and sought to provide co-ordinated provision for victims of domestic abuse with complex needs.
The evaluation captured the experiences of refuge service users accessing the Complex Needs Project to provide an evidence -base for a further bid for government funding.
Refuge spaces were provided for women through two experienced organisations in refuge provision: Women’s Aid Leicester Ltd (WALL) and Panahghar. These spaces were supported by agencies that could provide specialist provision for the various needs that the service user had. For example, mental health provision was provided by Leicestershire Partnership Trust and Turning Point, substance misuse issues were addressed by Turning Point, counselling and therapeutic services were provided by New Dawn New Day, specialist BAME domestic abuse provision was led by Panahghar. Focus groups were conducted with women staying in both WALL and Panahghar refuges providing for multiple vulnerabilities and the findings highlighted a number of factors:
- 24/7 support was very important to the women.
They felt a sense of containment, staff followed through with the support and taught the women how to do things for themselves. Provision of services outside of normal working hours, for example, via an on-call system was beneficial to service delivery. Out of hours’ enrichment and support activities addressed the women’s feelings of isolation and built a sense of community within the refuge.
- Empowerment, healing and reaching full potential
The women felt very strongly that the support provided in these specialised refuges was needed. It empowered them to heal and achieve their full potential. An example is provided by this quote:
“It’s the support you get in the refuge. Once you’ve had that I think you’ve sorted yourself out a bit. Then I think you’re ready to move on. You have to fix here (touches head) and without that support and then people coming in, you’re not fixing yourself. It’s just going round and round and everything is just blur. It’s the first time that I feel that woah I know what I actually want to do with my life.”
- Accessing specialist support
Immediate access to the support upon arriving at the refuge did help women to change their lives. The importance of specialist provision was emphasised by the women.
- Difficulties around Job Centres
Those from BAME backgrounds did not all have the computer skills needed to search for work, or access to computers in the refuge. Women in the WALL refuge felt that the effect to their mental health of domestic abuse was not properly taken into account by the authorities.
- Slow move on from refuge accommodation
Obstacles to moving out of refuge accommodation often occurred and required strategic input and policy changes to change this position. Demand for dedicated BAME refuge services was high with 84 individuals being turned away. The most common reason was due to lack of space within the refuge, which Panahghar reported was a result of slow move on. BAME women in particular found it difficult to move out of refuge accommodation as a result of restrictions made as they seek to resolve issues around their immigration status and having No Recourse to Public Funds.
- Support for women and Children
Women who had had their children removed from their care by social care were over-represented in the cohort of victims with substance and mental health needs and required more specialist offers in order to achieve positive outcomes due to that specific circumstance.
The Panahghar refuge found there was not sufficient space to accommodate the families coming forward for their services and that larger family units ought to be developed in order to address this.
- Importance of specialist domestic abuse services for BAME women
The BAME cohort stressed the significance to them of having specialist BAME domestic abuse services and a key factor was the language facilities that were available to them. The women were supported in developing their own English language skills, which enabled them to navigate everyday life, to deal with the domestic abuse experienced and the particular consequences it had for them.
DMU Researchers for this project:
Prof Vanessa Bettinson
Dr Melanie Crofts
Dr Sarah-Jo Lee