Practice blog

The unique and vital role of the Housing Idva

Claire Karslake is a Housing Idva for Splitz Places of Safety Project, with over 10 years’ experience as an Idva. In this blog, she discusses the unique challenges of her role, and how she helps her clients to get the housing support they need. For an audio version of this blog, scroll down to the bottom of the page or visit our Soundcloud profile.

“My advice to housing providers is when a survivor of domestic abuse is sat in front of you, remember they are not ‘just a roof’. They are human beings with stories to tell, and unless you a have walked a mile in their shoes you have no idea of the unimaginable things they may have been through to get them here today”.

After 11 years as an Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (Idva), I’ve realised that our clients experiencing homelessness and domestic abuse need a different approach. They do not always get an empathetic response from the Housing service and are left questioning their decisions to leave and become safe. Relationships need to be built between our clients and Housing. Clients leaving and abusive partner are at their most vulnerable and they need wraparound support as well as crisis management and safety planning to reduce the DVA risk. Being rehoused does not mean that need comes to an end and the support offered needs to reflect this.  Even more, emergency housing provision-such as refuge and B&B-doesn’t always provide a space for women and men with multiple and complex needs or older children.

Places of Safety was developed to respond to this gap in support and our response is two-fold:

First, we provide homes within the community that are a safe place where anyone can rebuild their lives free from violence and abuse. It’s a place where a client’s son who is over 16 can remain with their family, where male victims can bring their children to be safe, and where women and men with complex and multiple disadvantage can receive a service that recognises and responds to their needs. Our project’s aim is not to replace or replicate the vital work of refuges.

Second, Places of Safety provides a specific Housing Idva. This is me.  My sole role is to support women and men who are experiencing possible homelessness alongside domestic violence and abuse. As a Housing Idva I have a much smaller caseload. This gives me the time and space to build relationships and provide holistic support, which is especially vital for individuals who are facing domestic abuse and homelessness alongside multiple and complex needs. I am able to go to appointments with my clients at housing, solicitors, the GP – wherever they feel they need support.  It is also my job to work closely with the Housing Options team; to advocate for my clients, ensuring that Homeless applications are activated promptly and investigations are done promptly.

“As an Idva, my starting point is belief, and conveying this belief to other professionals is a major aim of my role’’

That is why another key element of my role is to give the Housing Options teams across the eight districts of Devon necessary training around domestic abuse risks and responses. It is essential that housing professionals better understand and respond to individuals’ experiences of domestic abuse amongst other needs and circumstances.

This is a very new project so we as yet have little evidence to provide. However, with just two current Places of Safety we have successfully and safely housed three families, helping 13 children. The feedback from our training has been good and we are hoping to really affect the culture within housing teams, helping them to see that they need to look at the person and not just the housing need.

My advice to housing providers is when a survivor of domestic abuse is sat in front of you remember they are ‘not just a roof. They are human beings with stories to tell, and unless you a have walked a mile in their shoes you have no idea of the unimaginable things they may have been through to get them here today.  We need to move forward from looking at bed spaces to supporting and caring about the individual in order to affect change for the better.


Claire Karslake is a Housing Idva for Splitz Places of Safety Project. Claire has over 10 years’ experience as an Idva. Splitz has delivered services to people experiencing the trauma of domestic abuse since 1989. We are women and girl focussed with 85% of our referrals being female. We deliver a holistic, person-centered approach that is best placed to meet the varied needs of our community. We are committed to working with other agencies to deliver an integrated, coordinated, community response. 


Keep up with the latest research, expert content and best practice from SafeLives


What does it take to be an Outreach worker?


In this short video, our Head of Learning and Accreditation Jo Morrish explains how the role of Outreach worker can be different to that of an Idva in terms of the type of support offered to victims and survivors of domestic abuse. 




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By Kate

Why a Gendered Approach to Supporting Women Experiencing Homelessness with Histories of Violence is Vital

Lisa Raftery is the London Development Manager at Homeless Link. In this blog she talks about the specific needs of women experiencing homelessness, and why a gender neutral approach often fails to support women. For an audio version of this blog, scroll to the bottom of the page or visit our Soundcloud profile

“Women experiencing homelessness” conjures up many different images of women: women with children in refuge accommodation, living in homeless shelters, sofa-surfing, exchanging sex for a bed or sleeping rough on the streets.  

These women, regardless of their exact situation, usually have one thing in common: violence. Estimates range between 44% - 89% of women who are homeless have also experienced violence either during or prior to becoming homeless. Violence during childhood and/or adulthood plays a significant role  in how a woman is affected by homelessness. We also know, from St Mungo’s Rebuilding Shattered Lives report and work by AGENDA that these same women also report a range of other adverse childhood experiences that often extend well into adulthood. 

With such wide experiences of violence and abuse contributing to women’s homelessness, many women also go on to develop mental health issues, PTSD and substance dependency falling into the multiple and complex needs category.  Currently around 30% of people accessing homelessness services are women, and recent figures show that it’s just 12% for those sleeping rough. We know however that women sleep rough differently to men and will often be in “hidden” homeless situations, and therefore will not show up on official statistics. Yet, despite women’s unique and complex experience of homelessness, very few homelessness services are gender specific and responsive to women’s multiple disadvantages and needs. 

Given the reduction in gender specialist services and limited refuge spaces for women with complex needs, we must ask how many of these women are able to access the support they need (see AVA's Case by Case report)? How can we evidence the need for gender specialist support to be systematically available to all women regardless of their level of need? And how do we recognise and respond to individual factors - such as violence and mental health, as well as structural factors - such as poverty, inequality and welfare cuts, which combine to contribute to women’s homelessness and put women more at risk? 

Lana and Claire’s story highlights how the current system fails women with histories of abuse and subsequent complex needs. Through Expert Link they are able to share their experiences in the video below:  

Lana and Claire’s respective stories highlight the failings of the current system to recognise the gendered nature of the abuse they have suffered, and how the effects of this abuse can manifest in multiple and complex needs such as substance misuse and mental health issues. Claire talks about how despite being provided accommodation due to her alcohol dependency, she was also evicted for that very same dependency. What could services have done differently to better support Claire? Fighting for and achieving gender equality is the most powerful way to ensure women are lifted out of poverty, and suffer less abuse, mental ill health, and homelessness. What more can services working with women experiencing homelessness and policy makers do alongside this to improve the support for women and prevent other women from becoming homeless?  

Four key areas to consider: 

  • A cross-sector, multi-agency response: Women’s services need to be linked in with homelessness services and vice versa. If you are a women’s centre or specialist VAWG service get in touch with your local homelessness services working with women and develop a relationship. A great example of this partnership approach is Brighton Women’s Centre and Worthing Churches Homelessness Project, where the homelessness project provide the accommodation and the Women’s Centre provide the gender specialist support.  

  • Gender specific support: Men and women’s needs differ hugely, as do their routes into homelessness and it is clear that generic gender neutral support is not effective in supporting women experiencing violence and homelessness. Women need gender specialist support, and this needs to include both funding and skilling up of frontline practitioners. 

  • Trauma informed approaches: Understanding what has happened to women instead of asking what is wrong with women, recognising why a woman is using substances and providing trauma informed responses to empower her with alternative coping strategies and the support she needs.  

  • Safe and secure housing: A report by Gudrun Burnet from the Domestic Abuse and Housing Alliance (DAHA) highlights that safe secure housing is critical for women fleeing violence to rebuild control and emotional safety. 


For more information about the work of Homeless Link and our work with the sectors to improve support to women experiencing homelessness please contact Lisa Raftery, London Development Manager at  

Lisa Raftery, London Development Manager at Homeless Link has worked in the public and charitable sectors for 15 years firstly in central and local government commissioning a range of services including VAWG, homelessness and health services. Now for the charitable sector at Homeless Link delivering the Pan London Umbrella Support Project (PLUS) funded by London Councils to strengthen the London Homelessness Sector. Lisa is passionate about the issue of women's homelessness and the need for greater recognition and funding of gender specialist services, and through her work aims to encourage greater collaboration between the sectors to better support women experiencing homelessness. 

Homeless Link is the national membership charity for the homelessness and supported housing sectors. We represent over 750 organisations, working to help them improve the support they offer to vulnerable people, and campaigning for policy change that will help end homelessness. We provide training and events, information, resources and one-to-one support on a range of policy and good practice issues, to improve the sustainability and outcomes of frontline services. We also lobby national and local decision makers to develop a favourable policy environment, increase funding, and drive change for the sector. 

For more expert insight and practice tips around homelessness and domestic abuse, visit our Spotlight homepage


Interview: SafeLives Trainer Briony Williamson on the importance of support workers for young people


Briony trainer for young peoples training

Briony has been working in the Learning and Accreditation team at SafeLives for nearly five years, training on our Idva, young people’s practitioner and outreach worker’s courses.

This Autumn she will be delivering Responding to young people affected by domestic abuse: expert level and in this interview she talks about why we need to take young people's relationships seriously. 



Our recent report Safe Young Lives on young people and domestic abuse highlighted the shocking fact that young people experience the highest rates of domestic abuse of any age group. Why do you think this is?

In part I think it’s because it is in anyone’s first relationship, at whatever age that happens, that they are at the highest risk of abuse. They are still learning what a relationship looks like and inevitably they are very vulnerable to somebody who might be controlling or abusive and mislead them about what a relationship should look like.

Secondly, young people have traditionally been treated as children and the severity of abuse in their relationships – in fact their relationships in general - has been underestimated or not taken seriously. Unfortunately a lot of practitioners’ approaches can reflect that. Things may be dismissed that we know from our work and our research are in fact very serious and mark the risk of harm as very high.


What advice in particular would you give to someone working with young people affected by abuse?

I think a common issue is that the vast majority of support workers - and I include myself in this - aren’t young people anymore! In fact, for many of us, when we were young people was quite a while ago, so our frames of reference are very different. A lot of professionals fall down by trying to be cool, by trying to act like they are on the same wavelength as the young person and that they understand exactly what life is like for them. But the reality is that we don’t.

Instead it’s important to learn how it’s possible to work with young people in a way that isn’t patronising or condescending but acknowledges the differences between you. You need to find a way for that young person to relate to you, trust you and work with you. By building that trust and working with them in a really respectful way, you can take steps to improve a young person’s safety. And by helping them understand what a healthy relationship should look like, you can support them to improve their future relationships too.


What do you think learners take away from the Responding to young people training?

The first 8 days of a foundation course forms the core training and covers all of the basic skills that we believe any practitioner should have. For example, how we relate to people, how we listen to people, needs and risk assessment, case management and so on. The expert course (and the final four days of the young people’s foundation course) builds on that learning to consider the specific issues relating to young people, for example how to effectively support gang affected young people, identifying and addressing honour-based abuse, FGM and forced marriage.

We talk about child sexual exploitation and we also focus a lot on the use of technology to abuse, which I think is an area of real concern for a lot of practitioners. We often hear people say that they don’t fully understand how the internet and apps can be used by an abusive person to control their partner, so we have built this into all of our training courses.


Technology is changing all the time. To what extent does the training reflect this?

The training is as up to date as it can be on the day. There are obviously new apps coming out all the time so we send practitioners away not only with the knowledge of what is available right now but also with access to resources so that they can stay informed beyond that point.

It’s the same with substance use. We can train you on this one day but whatever substance is the current ‘in’ thing will probably be different next month, so we aim to send practitioners out knowing the current information and also where they can find updates on a regular basis to keep themselves up to date.


You’re clearly very passionate about ensuring young people get the support they need. Can you explain why you believe it to be so important?

Since working with SafeLives, my main focus has been on the Idva programme but I’ve also worked on projects like the young people’s practitioner training and it’s made it really clear to me that this is where our work needs to start.

If we’re going to end domestic abuse, we have to start at the beginning. And in fact the beginning is even before these young people, but in this instance we are talking about young adults who, from when they start their first relationships in their teens, are starting a pattern that could run throughout the rest of their lives. So if we can work with them at this early stage, help them address the risks in their relationships, talk about what a healthy relationship is and explain what they should be able to expect, then we can begin to break that cycle. 

And that’s why this course is so important to me because although Idva work is crucial, it cannot change anything in isolation and  we need roles like young people’s support workers and outreach workers because they really can change lives.


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By Kate

Reflections on the role of the Hospital Idva

Kathy Bonney is Head of Safeguarding at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust. In this blog post, she discusses the impact of having an Idva embedded within the hospital Safeguarding team.

Domestic Abuse and Safeguarding 

The Care Act 2014 came into force in April 2015 and defined adult safeguarding as 'working with adults with care and support needs to keep them safe from abuse or neglect'. It sets out a clear legal framework for how local authorities and other health and social care agencies should protect adults at risk of abuse or neglect.

Within the Act the list of recognised categories of abuse was expanded to include three additional types of abuse, one of which is domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is now recognised as the jurisdiction of Safeguarding Adult Boards across the country.

Health and Domestic Abuse

In addition to direct injuries sustained as a result of domestic abuse, there is good evidence to support the fact that women who are abused by their partners can suffer significant physical and mental health problems.

If we examine the reasons for attendance at hospital for those women who have experienced domestic abuse (who are known to us) we can see a picture of poor health including chest pain, recurrent infections, bowel complaints, anxiety and depression.

Within East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, and other Trusts like ours, we have the opportunity to reach thousands of women who have experienced domestic abuse; they use our services every single day. With over 500 people coming through our emergency department and urgent care centres each day, over 1000 in-patient beds across our 5 hospitals, plus maternity services, hundreds of out-patient appointments, day case procedures and community appointments, we are likely to meet women who have experienced domestic abuse. We also employ over 7500 staff, many of whom could also be experiencing domestic abuse.

The Hospital Idva

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust was in a fortunate position to be supported by the local provider of domestic abuse services. This started a few years ago as part of the IRIS project; bringing Idvas in to health, predominantly placed within the emergency department.

Integrating the Hospital Idva into our Safeguarding team enabled us to raise awareness of domestic abuse across our clinical services, which led to staff recognising the signs of Domestic abuse in their patients. The opportunity for patients to disclose domestic abuse was available, and the Hospital Idva became involved with the daily ward routines, including attending board rounds to assist staff in identifying patients at risk, and improving their knowledge and understanding of domestic abuse.

Most importantly, patients were afforded the opportunity for risk assessment, advice and initial safety planning before they left their hospital bed. We have also had patients who have been discharged from our hospital straight into a refuge, and we have had a few patients who were discharged to another life, simply taking the clothes and belongings they had with them in hospital to start a new life free from abuse elsewhere.

The Hospital Idva position lends itself perfectly to the 'One Chance Rule'. Many of the patients who we have supported have not been known to the police or other services; they have simply taken an opportunity to seek help and support whilst in our care. We have also had patients who may have denied they were experiencing domestic abuse, and those who have disclosed but do not wish to accept the help and support available. These patients may return to our Trust through another pathway, such as though our maternity services, and it may be at a later stage that these patients are ready to accept the specialist help they need.

Only recently a patient attending a gynaecology clinic appointment asked for help; she had been informed what was available during previous contact with our services, and she had made her mind up to ask for the support when she came to the hospital again; 'enough is enough' she said to the clinic nurse. 

Staff and Domestic Abuse

As a consequence of promoting the Hospital Idva role across our clinical services we found our staff began to refer themselves to us for specific advice and support in relation to domestic abuse. This simply grew – the more staff became aware of the Idva and her role, the more referrals we received. Staff were supported either by the Hospital Idva directly, or their local domestic abuse services.

Our own safeguarding team members, including myself, also engaged with individual staff members who chose to have ongoing support following initial assessment, safety planning and specialist support from the domestic abuse services. We learned so much;  staff had lots of episodes of short-term sickness, listed as 'back pain', 'stomach ache', diarrhoea and vomiting', and other minor conditions that simply disguised the truth that they were experiencing domestic abuse.

Patterns of sickness emerged, such as frequent days off on a Monday and Tuesday. Managers had been critical of these staff, never thinking for a moment that they may have bruises to hide following a weekend of drunken abuse. We have been privileged to support individual staff who have trusted us to ensure their story is sensitively told, and this has led to a greater understanding of domestic abuse amongst managers and HR Business Partners.

The support has been unbelievable within our Trust, from the Board members to our car park managers who willingly reserve safe car parking spaces for staff at risk. A special mention has to be given to our Occupational Health and Well Being service who have introduced Routine Enquiry of domestic abuse for all staff who access their service. Finally, we now have a cohort of people who have experienced domestic abuse and received support. In turn they are able to offer peer support to other staff, and this has been of great value to all involved. 

The Hospital Idva going forward

There have been many changes in relation to investment in services for domestic abuse. We now find ourselves, an Acute Hospital Trust, with limited access to an Idva. It would be wonderful to introduce Routine Enquiry across all in-patient services, but it is essential that we are able to meet the needs of those patients who disclose domestic abuse. As part of our safeguarding role, and high on the safeguarding agenda, we would like to strengthen the support in hospital for those who are experiencing domestic abuse.

We welcome the opportunity to prove that having Hospital Idvas working closely with Hospital Safeguarding Teams will not only increase the numbers of people disclosing abuse – and receiving support – but will ultimately improve the long term health outcomes of many hundreds of people.

We're calling for every hospital to have an Idva. Read about our Cry for Health research.