There was a picture in my local paper this week of four jubilant women from North Devon Against Domestic Abuse celebrating a funding bid win. To those who know, this picture shows more than a celebration; it conveys the relief of of a community who know what important work the charity do.
As a service providing the only womens' refuge left in the county, winning this bid isn't an opportunity for growth, it's another short period of stability. A few more years of being able to deliver services, staff not being anxious about jobs, and a chance to take a bit of focus off keeping afloat and put energy into what they are there for, delivering services. This is old news to the charity sector who survive like this year after year, but for domestic abuse services, it shouldn't been the case.
The thing about Domestic Abuse Services is that they can often be the key to not just moving a family to safety but enabling real and tangible long term change. The kind of change which takes families away from needing other essential, expensive services.
A 2013 Fact Sheet Produced by Womens Aid found
. 75% of cases of domestic abuse result in physical injury or mental health consequences
.The cost of treating physical injury and mental consequences due to domestic violence is £1,396,247,000, more than 3% of the total NHS budget.
.Nearly 75% of children who are registered as 'at risk' live in households where domestic abuse occurs
.1 in 3 women that attempt suicide or self harm have been victims of domestic abuse
.50-60% of CAFCASS (Children and Families Court Advisory Support Service) cases involve domestic abuse.
The findings go on and what is evident is that despite the staggering prevalence of domestic abuse and the amount of resources being used to intervene, there is still not nearly enough of the right stuff being done to enable women and children to stay safe and well. This is the stuff that Domestic Abuse Services do best.
Anyone who regularly sits around a table making plans for a family; social workers, health visitors, education welfare services; will know that the domestic abuse worker; if she has been able to make it; is usually the helpful body doing the leg work and hand holding while you assess and report.
In the same way that Domestic Abuse Services exist in secret locations behind closed doors, their presence in a families multi-agency planning is often equally lacking in visibility. Yes, there are MARACs (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conferences) IDVAs (Independent Domestic Violence Advisors) and specialist police officers, but the front-line services themselves should be more than just a life raft for women to hang onto while they have to navigate social care and courts.
Domestic Abuse Services should be strong advocates for the women they serve and equally respected experts at the table.
Having done a straw poll on a handful of Social Workers i know it seems Social Work training doesn't give Social Workers the depth of knowledge and understanding of the complexity of Domestic Abuse and it's impact on the families who experience it. The information is out there, much of it in the hands of independent organisations and survivors, It is just not getting out to the people that work everyday with survivors.
A professional who doesn't engage with a domestic abuse service, not only undermines a woman who has probably taken some time to be persuaded of the reality of her lived experience; is also making one helluva judgement on the skills and referral procedures of an established service. This is not uncommon in the courts, in social work, in health. Everyday, women are having decisions made about them and their children by people who have very little understanding of the experience that took them in front of these authorities in the first place.
What strikes me, when i reflect on this, both as a survivor and as a professional, is that it is not only women who are being oppressed by a structure apparently geared towards their protection, but so are the very services that support them. This is problematic. Oppressed and isolated people can't sustain productive lives and function healthily when they are in a state of fear, anxiety and instability. Exactly the same goes for organisations. These organisations, more than many, really need to be able to function well, and that means money.
There is a need for Domestic Abuse Services to sit outside of a statutory framework but all the evidence would suggest that integrated, stable and well resourced Domestic Abuse Services make economic and practical sense.
I hope our local service continues to stay strong and this period of stability will see it thrive. What I really hope too though is between now and the next essential bid for funding, some policy change will mean that they never have to struggle again. Like eradicating domestic abuse altogether, this is an unrealistic hope, but small changes matter... and i've changed my mind.... they should open the champagne and be proud. They are also survivors.
Womens Aid 2013 Factsheet is available here: