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The story of Sistah Space

Ngozi Fulani is Head of Service at Sistah Space, and an Idva. In this blog, she explains where Sistah Space began and the unique service they offer.

Sistah Space was founded after the brutal murder of Valerie Forde and her baby daughter. We attended the trial and learned that Valerie had, in fact, reported a threat to kill to the police which was recorded as a threat to property.

When we exited the courts after the guilty verdict, we realised that we had nowhere to go. The family and supporters were on the street crying and at that point we realised African and Caribbean heritage people don’t actually have a venue to go to. We can’t go to Costa and cry, we need our own space. So we started the Sistah Space.

The idea of Sistah Space is to ensure that black women and girls who should not be categorised as ‘BAME’, would have a venue where they could see themselves reflected, where the assumption that we all have language or immigration issues is often made. We needed to look at why Valerie Forde, her daughter and the rest of the family were failed.

We repeatedly applied for funding which was routinely turned down because ‘BAME’ organisations were claiming to support ‘black’ victims. These organisations along with mainstream organisations were not understanding that we have a need that was not being met.

Four years without funding and with people failing to understand that because of lack of education, black victims continue to suffer or die at the hands of perpetrators.

Fast forward to today…

We now have five qualified Idvas, we are in a two year partnership with Victim Support, we are influencing the SafeLives training manual to make it more inclusive, we have a rolling programme of training for Homerton University Hospital and we are preparing to deliver training UK wide including Hackney Council.

We are still campaigning for change to ensure that we can introduce Valerie’s Law, which will mean that every organisation should undergo routine training to understand various cultures.

For more information visit the Sistah Space website

Helping survivors get back on their feet through Shared Lives

Ali Miller is the Development Officer at Shared Lives, working on the Domestic Abuse and Modern Slavery projects. In this blog Ali, as well as Sally Steadman-South from SafeLives, and Amy*, a survivor of abuse who has been housed through the scheme, share their reflections on the Shared Lives model of accommodation for survivors.

Shared Lives is a model of accommodation and support that is typically used in social care and healthcare. It was initially designed for people with learning disabilities; a housing option that supporting them to benefit from and contribute to their community. The model worked well and we realised it could benefit people with a broad range of needs. Schemes can now be open to:

  • people leaving hospital for interim care
  • people with mental ill health
  • young people in transition from children’s services and young people leaving care
  • people with drug and alcohol misuse
  • older people and people with dementia.

For two and half years, we at Shared Lives Plus have been working with SafeLives alongside two pilot schemes, ategi in Buckinghamshire and Positive Steps in Shropshire, to trial the Shared Lives model of accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse. 

Since joining earlier in 2019, my eyes have really been opened to the reality that is thousands of women’s lives: life after domestic abuse. Coming from a social care background, I have been looking at how Shared Lives can support female survivors of domestic abuse.  Whilst I have been aware of the physical and emotional impact of domestic abuse, I hadn’t always considered the economic and practical toll that this can have on survivors; leaving people relying on friends and family for accommodation, sofa surfing or staying in inadequate accommodation. I’ve realised that sometimes people simply need a stepping stone; a stop-gap to help them get back on their feet after domestic abuse.

This is where Shared Lives can come in. Whether someone is fleeing an abusive relationship, moving on from refuge or having problems accessing housing, Shared Lives can provide a buffer; helping them get back on their feet within an ordinary family home.

At present, the Shared Lives schemes in Shropshire and Buckinghamshire have available places, from now until March 2020, for women who have experienced domestic abuse. They can live rent-free in the home of a Shared Lives host, someone who has an understanding of their situation and can support them with moving forward and living independently.

There are around 14,000 people living in Shared Lives arrangements across the UK and no two arrangements are the same. People access Shared Lives with a wide range of support needs. Whatever the circumstances, Shared Lives hosts share home life and community life with people who move in with them and help with the areas of life where people need a hand.

Sally Steadman-South, SafeLives, has been supporting the scheme since September 2019:  

Working with Shared Lives has really broadened my understanding of alternative, safe housing options for survivors of domestic abuse.  SafeLives hold a strong belief that if a survivor wishes to stay in their own home it should be made safe enough for them to do this.  However, if they don’t want to stay in the home then safe housing options should be accessible.  We know from our practice that women who do not have dependent children, or who have support needs such as mental health issues or disabilities, will not always be eligible for traditional housing options such as local authority temporary accommodation and refuge. We also know that these survivors are often increasingly isolated and vulnerable.  This is one of the main reasons why the Shared Lives model is uniquely placed to offer support and provide women with a safe housing choice. 

Throughout the scheme, we have listened to the partners, the schemes and the sector about how this could be safe and suitable for domestic abuse victims.  Schemes receive training on how to identify risk and develop an individual safety plan, including the physical safety of the property.  They also link with local services to ensure specialist domestic abuse support is provided where possible.  We have also provided guidance for local authority housing departments so that survivors are still seen as safe and temporary not safe and secure - so that they are still treated as a priority and can access the same move on options. 

Amy* became homeless after experiencing domestic abuse. She moved into Shared Lives scheme and shares her experience:  

When Amy came to live with her host Carol*, she was unsure whether it would be the right thing for her but she knew she needed support and was willing to give it a go.

Amy says “Moving in with Carol was different to what I imagined. I didn’t want to be treated like a child, but I wasn’t. Carol respected me and treated me like an adult. I was able to be independent and make my own decisions, but I’ve had someone there to help me and I’ve had a safe place to call home”.

Amy said she would recommend Shared Lives to other women who have experienced domestic abuse. “My advice would be to give it a go. It’s helped me and I’m in a much better place now”.

How you can get involved?

If you know of anyone who lives in or wants to relocate to Buckinghamshire or Shropshire, there are funded places available in people’s homes under their local Shared Lives schemes. This funding ends in March 2020 and we are eager to get this message out to people in frontline services so that women can benefit from this opportunity. For more information get in touch and help us to give people a hand when they need it most.

Contact Ali Miller at Shared Lives Plus:

For more information:

*All names have been changed to preserve the anonymity of survivors and Shared Lives carers involved.

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Reaching victims in the home: training Wheatley Housing Group

Having trained in Youth and Community Work, Fiona McMullen worked in a Criminal Justice Setting for several years before joining ASSIST where she is now Operations Manager, responsible for Glasgow and Lanarkshire services and the Children’s Advocacy Service. Fiona is also an Associate Trainer for SafeLives, training the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Housing and Health services, as well as delivering DA Matters, a culture change programme to train Scotland’s 14,000 police officers on responding to domestic abuse. In this blog, Fiona talks about training Wheatley Housing Group, and the unique position housing associations have in reaching victims of domestic abuse.        

When Lucy McDonald, SafeLives’ Programme Lead for Scotland, asked me if I would like to be involved in domestic abuse training for the Wheatley Group I was immediately interested.  Having worked in a large IDAA service for 15 years I’ve seen first-hand that housing can be a huge barrier for victims experiencing domestic abuse, often resulting in them being unable to leave high risk situations. The narrative around safety and domestic abuse is often centred on the victim leaving yet we should be asking why that is; when the least disruption is felt by the perpetrator. Strides have been taken in Scotland to link up the response to domestic abuse and the home and our housing associations play a key part. Housing associations are one of the few agencies that have legitimacy to be in the homes of victims and may be the only ones with any regular contact. They have the potential to identify ‘invisible’ victims of domestic abuse who may not yet have reported to the police.

Andrea, another SafeLives trainer, and I delivered several risk identification training days to Wheatley staff. Evaluations were positive, and the staff team were incredibly engaged, recognising the importance of their role and wanting to know more about how they could respond appropriately and safely. From those initial sessions came a request from Wheatley to roll out a one-day training programme to approximately 500 staff, using a Train the Trainer model. After collaboration with our colleagues in Wheatley, we decided on what would be important to include the key messages required to support the staff in their learning.

Engaging – I have not come away with ‘the fear’ which is the first time for at training on this topic. Thank you

As well as the face to face element of the delivery, SafeLives created an e-learning package to support the training, covering things such as the new domestic abuse legislation, risk identification and local support services.

The SafeLives team then produced a two day Train the Trainer package that would be delivered to both SafeLives domestic abuse expert trainers and selected Wheatley staff, giving them the opportunity to test the materials in a safe and constructive way. The innovate delivery model to Wheatley was set up for two trainers, one a DA specialist and the other a housing expert. This gave credibility to the training and modelled working in partnership. The trainers from housing knew first-hand of the challenges facing frontline workers and were able to answer questions and reassure them that they would be supported.

I was fortunate enough to deliver several of the days along with housing trainers and the whole experience was amazing. I initially felt there may be some resistance but instead I met enthusiastic learners keen to participate who truly wanted the best for the clients they worked with.  Word quickly spread that it was an interesting, participative training which will have helped with the levels of engagement we had. The training was designed to appeal to different learning styles with a mixture of presentation, small group exercises and skills practice. Anyone who has ever been a trainer will know not to call it roleplay!

The course is very real and gives you more confidence in how to support someone experiencing domestic abuse

In attendance were staff from different job roles within Wheatley – all of whom could come across victims of domestic abuse in different ways. This may be when the perpetrator is not paying the rent or regularly damages the property, or when the victim asks for a management transfer, or if there are noise complaints. All of these present the opportunity to ask the question, follow it up with risk assessment if appropriate, complete safety planning and referrals into other processes such as MARAC. Workers felt reassured that the multi-agency processes in place meant that they wouldn’t be managing high risk victims on their own. They also have an internal group protection team who are the ‘go to’ for anything that arises from the training or when they begin to put the approach into practice.

The face-to-face training was recently completed and we were delighted to learn that Wheatley Group had been nominated for a Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) award for the learning around domestic abuse that came from the collaboration with SafeLives and the work we did together.  Housing staff have a unique role in working directly with adult victims, children and the person using abuse.  It’s a great step forward to be building on safe and informed practice when it comes to domestic abuse.

I got great advice and will help with my role as a Housing Official.

For more information on domestic abuse training programmes email training@safelives.org.uk.

Your story matters; let us listen

In this blog, two members of our Whole Lives Scotland team, Jen and Lindsay, explain why it is so important we hear from survivors across Scotland to inform our work. 

Have you experienced domestic abuse in Scotland? Your story matters; let us listen.

Scotland has much to be proud of when we talk about how we support survivors of domestic abuse. There is gold standard legislation that recognises the whole family impact of abuse, backed up with an informed and proactive police force. We have a network of passionate and skilled Women’s Aid and other domestic abuse specialists’ organisations providing first class support and practice, as well as ground-breaking research. But we can always do better. And it’s that desire from everyone working in domestic abuse, from policy to practice, to improve how we support survivors despite the immense challenges in trying times that makes Scotland special. And we can’t do that without listening. To partners and organisations, but most importantly, to survivors.

“I never went to the police, never went to the hospital.  I thought ‘I need to deal with this, I need to deal with this, I need to deal with this’. And although I knew who to access. I couldn’t do it.”

In 2018, SafeLives was awarded funding from the National Lottery Community Fund, enabling us to work with four local authorities in Scotland to help them look at what’s working in the area for victims of domestic abuse, and what could be better.

Here at SafeLives, we don’t carry out any frontline work. We use data and evidence to transform system wide responses to abuse, supporting practitioners and ensuring the voice of those with lived experience is at the heart of everything we do. For this project we’ve been speaking to practitioners and looking at statistics, reading strategy and policy and hearing first-hand from workers what is helping and what could be done better. We are also consulting with people who have lived experience, exploring this in workshops and focus groups. Some of them are carrying on this work with us in co-production groups, looking at our findings and the tools and resources we plan to offer each area in response, and helping us understand if we’ve got the right idea.

Hearing about someone’s experience of support is incredibly important. But what is equally necessary is to understand what happened for those who didn’t or couldn’t get help. We don’t think that people are hard to reach, we believe that for some it’s the systems that make it hard. 

In order to make sure we hear all voices; we’re running a national survivor survey across Scotland from the 15th of October for anyone who has experienced domestic abuse. It is completely confidential and will be used to build a picture for Scotland and directly inform what we do.

We’re asking – what did you need in those moments that wasn’t there? What made a difference to you? How can we make sure that those who need help get the right help at the right time?

“They were so supportive.  They had obviously seen all different areas of abuse, so they, I didn’t have to over explain myself. They got me.”

Complete our survivor survey

Find out more about our Whole Lives Scotland work 

 

 

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The importance of specialist mental health interventions for children experiencing domestic abuse

Janina Engler-Williams is a Research Analyst at SafeLives. In this blog she explores our Children's Insights dataset, and what the data shows about the benefits of specialist mental health support

The link between mental health and domestic abuse is one that is both crucial and complicated. As highlighted in our seventh spotlight, domestic abuse often has a long lasting and damaging effect on the mental health of survivors. Anybody can be affected by abuse – just like anybody can experience mental health issues – and as a result, providing mental health support to survivors of domestic abuse requires interventions which take into account their unique and specific circumstances.

This is particularly true of children and young people experiencing abuse at home. Recognising the negative effects exposure to abuse can have on the mental health of young people is vital to understanding how best to respond to the whole family. We recently published our Insights children and young people national dataset, drawn from specialist children’s domestic abuse services across the UK supporting survivors below the age of 18.

One of the most striking insights from our data was that a third of children and young people who had been exposed to abuse in their household were suffering from mental health issues. For children being subjected to direct abuse at home, the proportion was even higher, with caseworkers identifying that two in four children accessing support had mental health issues.

Notably, the figures for children and young people experiencing mental health issues as a result of abuse are similar to those in the adult dataset, an important indicator that we need to be taking the mental health of survivors under 18 just as seriously as adult survivors. However, it is also important to highlight how mental health issues can look different for young survivors, in order for services to fully understand how to tailor mental health support specifically to them.  

A good example of this is making the link between domestic abuse, negative behaviour and mental health. Case workers found that almost half of the children in our dataset said that they had self-esteem issues and low confidence upon accessing support. A third of young people were also demonstrating risk taking behaviour, and two in three boys in our dataset were displaying destructive coping mechanisms. Shockingly, case workers found that one in five children also felt a sense of blame or responsibility for the abuse they were witnessing.

We know from our Insights dataset that when mental health interventions that are specifically tailored to the needs of children and young people are implemented, the results are overwhelmingly positive. In particular, interventions that address the whole family as well as the living and learning environment of the child are central to providing effective mental health support. This could include delivering joint parent and child support sessions, and ensuring mental health interventions are delivered alongside interventions that focus on family relationships.

Our data revealed that almost all children and young people who received 1-2-1 support sessions as part of mental health support, reported an improvement in their wellbeing directly as a result of this. Almost all the children in our dataset who were supported to access some form of counselling felt less of a sense of blame afterwards. Four in five children were demonstrating healthier coping mechanisms after specialist support and three quarters felt happier in their living and learning environment after mental health interventions.  

Children and young people are dealing with a myriad of complicated social and emotional pressures in the classroom, playground and at home every day. Understandably, these factors alone have an impact on young people’s mental health. However, what our latest dataset reveals is that children and young people living in an environment where they are constantly scared and exposed to abuse face additional vulnerabilities to their mental health which need to be taken into account. The mental health needs of young survivors cannot be tackled in isolation, and our children and young people’s dataset gives us an important insight into how interventions which include family, friends and the learning environment of children are crucial to giving young people the support they need to tackle their mental health challenges and move forward to live a happier healthier life. 

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