Practice blog

Domestic abuse can happen to anyone: even those who are helping others

Melani Morgan is the SafeLives lead on DA Matters, a change programme for Police.

Yesterday I read the tragic news that Leanne McKie's husband has been charged with her murder. Leanne was a detective. Her husband is also a police officer. My thoughts immediately went to their children, her family and friends and her colleagues. 

It also took me back to my own lived experience of domestic abuse as a serving police officer. I was reminded how impossible it seemed to tell my colleagues what was happening to me at home. Shame and fear of judgement stopped me. I excelled at work to prove to myself and maybe others, that a police officer can be being abused at home , survive it and still be capable of doing a good job helping others.

After leaving my abuser and having made myself safe I vowed to ask my colleagues if they were being harmed at home, every time, if I saw any signs of coercion, control or violence. 

We don't know yet about Leanne McKie’s life before her murder and whether she suffered abuse at the hands of her murderer, but if she did let’s try and stop it happening again. Let’s all try to ask our police colleagues how they are when we notice something odd or worrying. Let's all give reassurance and offers of help to escape abuse if needed. Let’s all enquire when a Police colleague appears to show signs that they may be an abuser. Police officers do a tough, relentless and sometimes thankless job. Let’s ensure we give them as much support as possible, especially when they suffer the worldwide epidemic that is domestic abuse.

If you are experiencing abuse from a partner or ex-partner, or are worried about someone else, support is available.

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Interview: reflections on the role of the Youth Idva

Linzi is a Youth Idva, working in South Wales. Communications Officer Ruth caught up with her while she was attending our Expert course in Responding to Young People, to talk about why specialist support for young people is so vital.

Young people are navigating an increasingly challenging and rapidly changing world. Our young people's practitioner training can help you to understand the dynamics of abuse as experienced by young people, including CSE, gang culture and technology.

Ruth: Could you tell me a bit about your role, and how you came into it?

Linzi: Firstly I was working in youth support work, working with young people who were witnessing domestic abuse. Then we got some funding from Children in Need for me to become a Youth Idva, so now I work with 11-18 year olds who are victims in their own relationships – or victims at home from their siblings. So I provide support for them, to help with their emotional wellbeing and safety.

And why do you think it’s important to have specialist youth Idvas?

I think in our organisation we’ve got really strong adult Idva support – the Idvas are all great, but the approach needs to be different with young people. The tools we had were very adult focussed, and we were just missing such a big trick with young people coming into the service. We were getting young people referred to us and then being put into adult groups, and it just wasn’t appropriate for them to be in those settings. As a result they just weren’t moving on properly, they weren’t getting the support they should have been getting really.

Can you think of an example of a time when the specialist support you provided made a difference to a young person experiencing abuse?

There’s one client that jumps out at me; she was referred by her social worker who said ‘there’s some domestic abuse here’. So I went to see her at school and this girl was adamant that there wasn’t any domestic abuse in her relationship. I think perhaps an adult Idva would have gone out there, done a risk assessment and left – because she just wasn’t giving much away at all. But in the youth Idva role we can give more time, to sit down and just explore different avenues other than the abuse itself.

So twelve months down the line, this young person has made the disclosure, she’s got a restraining order against the guy. In that short space of time she’s recognised that it was an abusive relationship and acted on it, and I think it takes a Youth Idva to put that extra time in to explore all the things going on for a young person. Her mum had thrown her out so she was living with the perpetrator and relying on him for everything, so it was a lot to unpick and the Youth Idva role allows you to give that proper support.

Adult services quite often operate a sort of ‘three strikes and you’re out’ rule with missing appointments, whereas I’m lucky that I don’t have that – she could turn me down ten times but as long as she sends me a text saying ‘yeah I’ll see you again’ then I’ll see her when she’s ready. It allows us to be a lot more flexible.

So you’ve been on the SafeLives Expert training this week, looking specifically at responding to young people. Do you think the training will make a difference to the support you offer to your clients?

Oh massively. I think it’s so important to be able to link in with other practitioners from across the UK and pick up their tools, but also it’s good to learn about things like gang culture – which isn’t something we’ve really had to deal with yet in the South Wales valleys – it’s good to take that back with me so that if it does come up I’ll be prepared for it. It is always a reactive job, trying to keep up with whatever trend comes next especially in terms of technology, so it’s important to make sure we’re all on the same level.

Do you think having a qualification will make a difference to the way you feel about your work?

Yeah I think it will, for myself but also for other people. I think for other agencies it does carry a lot more weight. I think for schools as well if you’re going in and you can say you’ve got a qualification schools are much happier to let you in!

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Interview: how data can help to shape domestic abuse support

 

As we relaunch our outcome measurement tool, SafeLives Insights, Senior Research Analyst and Lead for Insights, Jane Evans, talks about how she believes understanding data can help services offer the best possible support to people experiencing domestic abuse.

SafeLives Insights is an outcome measurement tool that helps services to understand and demonstrate their impact. Visit the Insights pages for more. 

 

Hi Jane. Could you tell me a bit about your research background?

I started out working in children and adult social services departments; I also worked for a children’s safeguarding board and an adults safeguarding board. In those roles domestic abuse came up a lot – especially as part of the Serious Case Reviews conducted by the safeguarding boards.

Later I worked in policy research in the education sector, for a school leadership union. That’s where a lot of my research experience comes from – particularly in terms of how you can communicate research, and convey messages with data. That’s really important for my work with Insights because we’re trying to communicate the evidence that the service has gathered about their work. We want to make sure that services can easily understand what the data is telling them, and also that their impact can be clearly evidenced to support funding and commissioning.

 

What kind of services does the Insights team work with?

We work with all sorts of different domestic abuse services: Idva services, Outreach, refuges, children’s domestic abuse services, specialist sexual violence services and others. Sometimes the services we work with will have lots of different types of provision, and sometimes they’re very specialist. We also work with other sectors such as housing associations who provide much more than domestic abuse support, but use Insights to capture that part of their work – so it’s a really broad range.

 

Can you think of some examples of how the Insights team has helped services to change the way they offer support, based on their data?

This is really the goal with Insights, and something we’ve tried to improve on in our new system; there will be lots more opportunities to build in practice advice as part of the service we offer. When we present the data we always make sure to highlight areas of development that the service might want to explore.

A common example would be looking at different referral routes into the service – so highlighting any gaps there and looking at where there are opportunities to work with certain other local organisations. For instance referrals from Health can often be quite low, so services have an opportunity to use some of our recommendations around how to engage with Health and look to improve that.

We can also look at gaps in terms of particular groups coming into their service, so if the percentage of people within a certain demographic group coming into the service is significantly lower than we might expect from the local population, the service may want to consider how they can better reach that section of the community.  

 

You’ve touched on the fact that Insights is changing – can you tell me more about what’s new and how you think it’s going to benefit services?

We’re changing almost every aspect of Insights. We’re going to be using new software which makes it easier for services to both input and access their data. It’s going to be really user-friendly; you can instantly download reports that summarise your data for a specific time period or role, as often and in as many different ways as you want. This means you’ll have really up to date information about your service, so for instance whenever you need to write a funding report you can get the data you need.

The new system also has a modular approach, so it’s going to be really easy to add multiple different forms that examine different aspects of your work in more detail. So for example a service might choose to add on a module about mental health for 12 months to better understand that part of their provision.

We’ve also made sure we really focus on client outcomes. So the questions focus not just on what support is provided, but where that support is having an impact – on both the client’s safety and their wellbeing. We’ve also expanded some questions that the clients can complete themselves, to give their own view of the support they’ve received – which is really valuable for services, but also for funders and commissioners. We’re making our reports more focussed on the ‘so what?’ questions, to help services work out which interventions work best for which clients.

Alongside this we’re reforming the service that we offer – so the different packages that the services can choose are more flexible and affordable. They can choose a basic package and then add extra features on: so they might choose to have a written report, or an annual presentation, or for us to do a certain piece of bespoke analysis. We can also do things like analyse their internal data alongside the Insights data if they want us to.

And as well as being easier for the services to use, this new system will  free up more of our researchers’ time, so we can spend more time working with services, getting to know them and looking at their data in more depth.

 

It sounds like a lot of thought has gone into the redevelopment?

Yes! All the changes have come out of consultation with services: we’ve run workshops, spoken to practitioners, and had really valuable feedback about what services really want and need from Insights. A lot of the new focussed modules came out of feedback from services who work with a specific group of clients. For example, we work with a service supporting migrant women who have very specific issues around migration, and they’ll be helping us to develop a specialist module on this area. We’re really excited about the new system and can’t wait to start working with services.

 

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Reflections of a refuge worker: forced marriage, ‘honour’-based abuse and homelessness

Shigufta Khan is CEO of Blackburn, Darwen & District Without Abuse. For an audio version of this blog, scroll to the bottom of the page or visit our Soundcloud profile.

When a family arrives in our refuge they have left behind everything: their home, friends, family, jobs, pets, schools…. everything.  I often wonder how they can possibly choose the few items they bring in a bag. What they leave behind can be overwhelming, and what they bring with them even more so: fear, guilt, despair, anger, but also hope. Hope that once they do become ‘safe’ and ‘settled’, they can begin to make contact with family and friends. Hope that they will move on from refuge, find a new home and settle into a new community.

Over the years, we have provided refuge for many families fleeing forced marriage and ‘honour’-based abuse. These families often face added barriers to rebuilding their lives after overcoming abuse and homelessness. Some families may always have to manage the threat of violence from family and extended community members (beyond the individuals they ‘know’), which can cause extreme and life-lasting fear and isolation.  For example, a South Asian woman fleeing forced marriage may always need to manage these risks by avoiding things like ethnic food shops and local mosques; parts of the local community that could have embraced and provided protection to her and her children.

We recently supported an Eastern European woman and her 8 year old daughter. Anna (the mother) had suffered domestic abuse from her partner for 6 years. When he threatened to take their daughter to Iraq for an arranged marriage, Anna called the Police and a joint decision was made that Anna and her daughter must leave the area. After years of abuse, far from her family and with little command of English, Anna and her daughter faced homelessness.  

We supported Anna to get a Non-Molestation Order and a Forced Marriage Protection Order for her daughter. We liaised with her Idva and requested  a Marac to Marac transfer, and supported Anna to give a statement to the Police. Finally, we were able to help her resettle in an Eastern European community where she could rebuild support networks.

Our frustration with cases like Anna’s is a lack of understanding from agencies such as Children’s Social Care regarding the severity of the risk that these families continue to face even after they leave. There is an assumption that distance will remove the risk and that once they are in refuge the agencies’ responsibility ends. Sadly, leaving often increases the risk of harm, and distance does not diminish this, especially for those fleeing ‘honour’-based abuse and forced marriage.  Without the support of professionals, families and communities, women and children may become overwhelmed by the isolation and return to an abusive household.

What we do to support families facing ongoing abuse and isolation after leaving refuge

Families leaving abusive relationships often suffer from anxiety and depression, and isolation can exacerbate this. Access to programmes where women and children can develop positive relationships is essential and can be achieved through links with peer support groups.

Building new communities: We have developed a domestic abuse programme in Urdu and this has helped women from the South Asian community to build a support network.  Their feedback has been that they find the programme addresses their specific cultural needs and issues.

When women access refuge we strongly advise them not to disclose details to people within the community, such as family names and the village that their parents have come from. What we have seen is that women resettling into the community stay in touch with people they have either met via our service or other women from refuge and they form their own community where they support and keep each other safe as a result.

Access to mental health services: Coupling peer support with access to therapeutic programmes and counselling is essential in order to address mental health needs (such as anxiety and depression) as well as isolation.

Training and awareness for professionals and communities: This is essential to ensure that practitioners can spot indicators of risks and know how to respond, even after a family has fled their community. Over the past 2 years, we have regularly attended social groups and community centres to provide awareness raising sessions regarding ‘honour’-based abuse and forced marriage, which are a vital opportunity to impact cultural attitudes and provide insights into the community’s views and concerns.

Victims and survivors of ‘honour’-based abuse and forced marriage need and deserve a chance to rebuild their lives, which include a safe home and community. Professionals and communities must work together to ensure this is possible and to never forget the continued challenges for families as they move towards a ‘settled’ and ‘safe’ life after facing abuse.

 

Housing experiences of a domestic abuse overcomer

This blog was written by Margi Isaac, one of the founding members of VOICES. For an audio version of this blog, scroll to the bottom of the page or visit our Soundcloud profile.

“I felt as though I was going through a thick, impenetrable fog every day.  Having to trust those advising me even though I understood little of what they were saying to me.  My children were terrified of being homeless and having to send our pets to the RSPCA – they still have nightmares about it now”

I am sixty-seven years and eight months old as I write this account of my experiences where housing is concerned. I experienced fifty-five years of domestic abuse and violence. Indirectly as a child witnessing my dad’s abuse of my mum, and directly within two abusive relationships spanning seventeen years; including thirteen years of marriage within the first relationship and twenty-four years (including twenty-three years and nine months of marriage) in the second relationship.  

I experienced the connection between housing and domestic abuse while growing up within social housing, as a private owner within the two marriages and again as a social housing tenant with my two children.  

Apart from pressures to forgive and stay through my Christian faith (through the general teaching that God hates divorce), we were far from family and I could not face my children becoming homeless. When I was trapped within domestic abuse the help available – advertised in newspaper reports and television programmes – somehow went over my head. All my energy was consumed by ‘walking on eggshells’ daily in an attempt to keep myself and my children ‘safe’. 

I had married my second husband in April, 1987 believing he was ‘safe’ (survivors can miss warning signs with new partners, particularly if they are abusive in different ways) and left December 2009, after I was offered a private rental from friends and I felt safe there surrounded by church ‘family’. Moving into my friend’s accommodation also meant that I could take my children’s pets. My children’s pets were their only emotional support. Previously I had decided not to go into refuge because my children would be devastated if they had to leave them behind.

We were there for four years until the family needed their home back again. So in February 2014 I began the nightmare search for a home for me, my two children and our pets. During the following three months, we experienced the trauma awaiting any victim/survivor needing a home:

1. Accusations of intentional homelessness: the local social housing officer told me that I had “chosen to make myself homeless’’ by leaving our (original) home – even though every room was filled with nightmare memories.

2. Challenging advice: the social housing officer advised me that I did not have to move out, but could ‘squat’ until evicted. I told them I could not do that because my friends needed their home back and had school age children. Yet, the advice remained the same as our moving date drew closer.

3. Not seeing vulnerabilities: the local council officer told me (within five days of being homeless) that as a healthy pensioner – I was sixty-four at this point – they had NO obligation to offer emergency bed & breakfast to me and my two children (despite one suffering severely from ME & Fibromyalgia – which research shows is common for domestic abuse victims/survivors). If we did not find somewhere we would be on the street.

4. Private landlords do not like tenants who must use Housing Benefit.

5. Private landlords do not like pets:  even when they are the emotional anchor for someone. My children were terrified of being homeless and having to send our pets to the RSPCA – they still have nightmares about it now.

6.Victims and survivors often have little understanding of their housing options and rights: I felt as though I was going through a thick, impenetrable fog every day. Having to trust those advising me even though I understood little of what they were saying to me

7. Bad credit history is common amongst victims and survivors: For anyone without money/bad credit history (which most victims/survivors of domestic abuse experience), trying to get tenancy/bank accounts/deposits/etc is a nightmare.  Even though most of us did not want this, the reality of refusing and saying ‘NO!’ to our abuser about money and loans was just too horrific to contemplate. So we agree and sign on the dotted line.

In May 2014 we finally found a two-bedroom private let from the local housing association. Because it had a garden we could keep my children’s pets. I spent eight hours the day before we were due to move out between the local council offices and the letting agents until the keys were finally given to me at 5:30pm. Only then did we know we would not be homeless.

We have been here just three years. My children, who are both in their twenties, share a bedroom. Next year the house is meant to be demolished with the rest of the estate. The housing association have not made the private lets into social lets because when they come to demolish our homes they will have no obligation to rehouse us, even though they have been happy to take almost double the rent (in my case through Housing Benefit) from those within these private lets.

I will be 68 in 2018 and again face homelessness – all because I finally left domestic abuse.  

 

About

Margi Isaac is one of the four founding members of VOICES, a domestic abuse charity in Bath. She also works with Christian victims and survivors of domestic abuse, to encourage them towards safety even when their faith community may pressure them to prioritise their abusive relationships.